The Oedipus Complex: Understanding Freud’s Famous Theory

The Oedipus Complex, also known as the Oedipal Complex, is one of Sigmund Freud’s most famous theories in psychoanalytic theory. It refers to a psychological state where a boy experiences unconscious sexual desires and feelings for his mother and shows hostility towards his father. The concept, named after the Greek myth of Oedipus, has been debated and criticised by many since its inception. In this article, we will discuss the history and implications of the Oedipus Complex.

History of the Oedipus Complex

The Oedipus Complex was first introduced by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1899. The theory emerged from Freud’s observation that his patients had repressed sexual desires and fantasies, which they were often unaware of, and that these desires were the driving force behind their psychological symptoms. Freud believed that children between the ages of three and five years experience unconscious sexual desires and fantasies for their opposite-sex parent. In boys, this phenomenon led to the Oedipal Complex, while in girls, it was called the Electra Complex.

The term “Oedipus Complex” comes from the Greek myth of Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. Freud believed that all children experience these sexual impulses, but through the process of socialisation and repression, these desires become unconscious and repressed.

Structure of the Oedipus Complex

The Oedipus Complex has three stages, and each stage is characterised by unique psychological factors. The stages of the Oedipus Complex are:

Stage One: The Oral Stage

The Oral Stage is the first stage of the Oedipus Complex and is characterised by the development of the child’s libido or sexual drive. At this stage, children explore their world through their mouths and lips, and any form of gratification or discomfort is experienced through eating or sucking. The oral stage is essential because it lays the foundation for the child’s relationship with others, particularly the mother. Children in this stage develop a deep attachment to their mothers, who are their primary sources of nurturance and care.

Stage Two: The Phallic Stage

The Phallic Stage is the second stage of the Oedipus Complex and occurs between the ages of three and six years. This stage is characterised by the child’s focus on their genitalia and their sexual impulses. At this stage, Freud believed that a boy experiences sexual desires for his mother and feels that his father is a rival for his mother’s affection. Boys become jealous of their fathers and seek to replace them in their mothers’ affections. This stage is also when boys develop their sense of gender identity and begin to identify with their gender.

Stage Three: The Latency Stage

The Latency Stage is the final stage of the Oedipus Complex and occurs between the ages of six and twelve years. At this stage, the child represses their sexual impulses of the previous stage and redirects their energies towards external activities such as school, sports, and friendships. The child’s sexual impulses become dormant, and they become less interested in their relationship with their parents.

Criticism and Controversy

The Oedipus Complex has been widely debated, criticised, and studied since its inception. Some have claimed that the theory is outdated and irrelevant, while others see it as a crucial aspect of psychoanalytic theory. Critics argue that the Oedipus Complex is too focused on male development and ignores the experiences of girls and women. There is also criticism that the theory is too deterministic and assumes that all children follow the same developmental path.

Despite the ongoing debate surrounding the Oedipus Complex, many researchers have studied the concept and its implications on child development and mental health. One study found that children who experienced difficulties in resolving the Oedipus Complex were at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety later in life. Another study explored the relationship between the Oedipus Complex and sexual dysfunction in adulthood.


The Oedipus Complex is a prominent theory in psychoanalytic theory that is characterised by a boy’s unconscious sexual desires and feelings for his mother and hostility towards his father. The concept has been widely debated, criticized and studied since its inception. Despite the controversy surrounding the theory, the Oedipus Complex remains an essential aspect of psychoanalytic theory and has implications for child development and mental health.


FAQs about Oedipus Complex

What is Oedipus Complex?

Oedipus Complex is a psychoanalytic theory that suggests some children may have a sexual desire for their parent of the opposite sex and see their same-sex parent as a rival. This theory takes its name from the Greek myth of Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.

Is Oedipus Complex still relevant today?

While Oedipus Complex is not widely used in contemporary psychoanalysis, it continues to be a topic of discussion and debate. Some argue that certain psychological patterns and behaviours can be traced back to early childhood and the influence of parent-child relationships. However, its applicability to modern society is controversial.

Can Oedipus Complex be treated?

Various forms of psychotherapy can help people address and resolve feelings related to early childhood experiences, including those related to parent-child relationships. However, it is important to note that the Oedipus Complex theory has limitations, and not everyone experiences it in the same way. Treatment should be tailored to an individual’s needs and personal experiences.


1. Maccoby, E. E. (1982). The development of sex differences. Stanford University Press.

2. Freud, S. (1913). The interpretation of dreams. Basic Books.

3. Jung, C. G. (1912). The psychology of the unconscious. D. Appleton and Company.