oedipal mother complex

What Is an Oedipal Mother?


The oedipal mother is an overbearing mother. She is the “devouring mother”, as some might call her. The oedipal mother archetype or the Oedipus mother complex refers to a certain kind of behavior. Also, this kind of behavior brings about the development of the oedipal complex in a child.

The oedipal mother herself is not sexually attracted to her son. But, she might be the one who promoted his behavior.

Reason for a woman to develop Oedipus mother complex

The oedipal mother is a lonely woman. Research has shown that women who show symptoms of the oedipal mother are overbearing. They dictate the lives of their children and keep them on a leash.

It is more likely for women who have nothing other than their children to develop the archetype. They have only their children and don’t wish to lose them. Therefore, they act overbearing and controlling. They have hopes of keeping them as a child so they don’t grow up and leave them. These behaviors lead to two main complexes in their children:

  1. Oedipal complex
  2. Electra complex

The Oedipal Complex

The Oedipus complex is a concept of psychoanalytic theory. There are two types of this complex:

The positive Oedipal complex: This is when the child is sexually attracted to the opposite-sex parent. He/She develops a hatred for the same-sex parent.

The negative Oedipal complex: This is when the child becomes sexually attracted to the same-sex parent. He/She hates the opposite sex parent.

Sigmund Freud introduced these concepts in his book ‘Interpretation of Dreams’.

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

Oedipus is based on a Greek mythological character called Oedipus. Most importantly, the latter killed his own father, Laius, and married his mother, Jocasta. A play based on the Oedipus Rex myth was written by Sophocles in 429 BC.

Modern versions of this play were released in Paris and Vienna in the 19th century. Furthermore, the play received great renown in 1880 and 1890.

The Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud attended one of these plays. He proposed a theory in his ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ (published in 1899). He states that an Oedipal desire is a natural but, psychological phenomenon that naturally occurs in human beings. However, it is the cause of much guilt.

Six-Stage chronology on Sigmund Freud’s theoretic evolution of Oedipus Complex

This is the six-stage chronology on Sigmund Freud’s theoretic evolution of the Oedipus complex:

  • Stage 1. 1897–1909. After his father’s death, Freud watched the play ‘Oedipus Rex’ by Sophocles. Thereafter, Freud begins to use the term “Oedipus”. As Freud wrote in a letter in 1897 – “I found myself feeling a constant love for my mother, and feeling jealousy and hatred for my father. I now consider this a normal and natural childhood feeling.
  • Stage 2. 1909–1914. Freud Proposes that Oedipal desire is the “nuclear complex” of all neuroses.
  • Stage 3. 1914–1918. He considers incestuous behavior between the child and either parent.
  • Stage 4. 1919–1926. Complete Oedipus is complex. He considers identity and bisexuality into his theory on the Oedipus complex.
  • Stage 5. 1926–1931. Freud Applies the Oedipal theory to religion and custom.
  • Stage 6. 1931–1938. He does research on the “feminine Oedipus attitude”. It is now known as the ‘Electra complex’ and “negative Oedipus complex”.

The Electra complex

Carl Jung proposed a theory about the Electra Complex in his book ‘Theory of Psychoanalysis’. The ‘Electra complex’ is a girl’s competition with her mother for the love of her father. Moreover, the Electra complex occurs in the third—phallic stage (ages 3–6)—of five psycho-sexual development stage:

  1. Oral
  2. Anal
  3. Phallic
  4. Latent
  5. Genital

The child’s obsession with the same-sex parent is a visible example of the Electra complex and the Oedipus complex. It indicates their direction of developing sexual maturity. Sigmund Freud proposed that girls and boys resolve their situations differently. Hence, men and women who are still in the Electra and Oedipal stages of their psychosexual development, are “father-fixated” or “mother-fixated”.

The Electra complex is derived from the Greek mythologic character Electra. She plotted revenge with her brother Orestes, against Clytemnestra. She was their mother. Furthermore, they attacked their stepfather, Aegisthus. This is to avenge the murder of their father, Agamemnon. Moreover, Freud brought forth the female parts of the sexual development theory.

He described the dynamics of a girl’s competition with her mother for the sexual possession of the father. This was called the feminine Oedipus attitude(now known as the Electra complex). This is the negative Oedipus complex. Yet it was his collaborator Carl Jung,  who in 1913 brought about the term Electra complex. Freud rejected Jung’s term, describing it as psychoanalytically inaccurate. He said, “That what we have said about the Oedipus complex applies only to the male child alone. He also said that they were right in rejecting the term ‘Electra complex’. Therefore, this seeks to emphasize the difference between the attitude of the two sexes”.

The Phallic Stage

In Freud’s research, the phallic stage is the third stage of sexual development. It is seen between the ages of three to six years. Here, the infant’s sexual desire centers upon their genitalia. This is also the erogenous zone. The children become aware of their bodies, the bodies of other children and their parents. Then, they express physical curiosity by undressing and exploring each other’s bodies and genitals. During the phallic stage, they learn the physical differences between a man and a woman. They also learn the gender differences between boys and girls’ experiences. These affect the psychological dynamics of the relationship between the child and the parent. The Freudian psychosexual development has five stages, they are:

  1. Oral stage
  2. Anal stage
  3. Phallic stage
  4. Latent stage
  5. Genital stage

The body has certain defense mechanisms at these stages:

  1. The first one is repression. Because the memories are blocked, emotional outbursts and unconscious ideas are cleared from the mind.
  2. The second mechanism is identity. By this, the child incorporates the personality characteristics of the same-sex parent into his or her own. In so adapting, the boy diminishes his anxiety. This is because similarity to his father protects him from his father’s wrath as a rival.

Final Words

The Oedipal mother is the instigator of the Oedipal complex. The Oedipus mother archetype indirectly promotes the development of the Oedipal complex in a child. Besides, this kind of situation thankfully is still rare.

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