The Oedipus complex is a psychoanalytic theory proposed by Sigmund Freud. It is a crucial stage in the normal developmental process and involves a desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex and a sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex². In this article, we will explore the Oedipus complex theory, its historical context, and its significance in psychoanalytic thought.

Historical Context

Freud introduced the concept of the Oedipus complex in his book “Interpretation of Dreams” published in 1899². The theory takes its name from the Greek mythological character Oedipus, who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. Freud used this myth as a metaphor to describe the psychological dynamics that occur during a specific stage of childhood development.

The Oedipus Complex in Boys

According to Freud, the Oedipus complex typically occurs during the phallic stage of psychosexual development, which takes place between the ages of 3 and 6¹. During this stage, boys develop unconscious sexual desires for their mothers and view their fathers as rivals¹. These feelings of desire and rivalry can lead to fantasies of getting rid of the father and taking his place with the mother¹. Freud argued that these feelings are driven by the child’s innate sexual instincts and the desire to possess the parent of the opposite sex.

The Resolution of the Oedipus Complex

Freud believed that the Oedipus complex is resolved through a process called identification. Boys identify with their fathers and internalize their values, attitudes, and behaviors, leading to the development of a masculine gender identity¹. Through this identification, the boy substitutes his desire for his mother with a desire for other women¹. The resolution of the Oedipus complex is a crucial step in the development of the superego, which represents the internalization of societal norms and moral values.

Criticisms and Contemporary Perspectives

Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex has been subject to various criticisms and has evolved over time. Some critics argue that the theory is based on limited evidence and relies heavily on subjective interpretations¹. Others suggest that the Oedipus complex may not be universal and that its manifestation can vary across cultures¹. Contemporary psychoanalytic perspectives have expanded upon Freud’s ideas and incorporated new insights from fields such as developmental psychology and neuroscience.


Freud’s Oedipus complex theory has had a significant impact on the field of psychoanalysis and our understanding of human development. While the theory has been subject to criticism and revision, it remains a cornerstone of psychoanalytic thought. The Oedipus complex provides a framework for understanding the complex interplay between sexuality, family dynamics, and the formation of identity. Further research and exploration of this theory continue to shed light on the intricacies of human psychology.

Further reading on this topic is recommended for a more comprehensive understanding.