The Oedipus Complex: Development of One’s Sexual Identity and the Risk for Neurosis


Summary. Sigmund Freud’s childhood development stages remain an influential idea. Out of the sequence of the oral, anal, phallic, and genital stages, the phallic phase between 3 and five years with its rise of the Oedipus complex seems to be a central psychic reference point. Freud’s Oedipus complex model suggests that overcoming the competition with one’s father or mother for the affection of the other parent (of opposite sex) is defining one’s sexual identity. Unsuccessful passing respectively suppression of the Oedipus complex risks to result in neurosis in later life.

Freud’s oedipal development phase

Considering Freud’s life development stages from childhood to adulthood may remain worthwhile to consider as child development may indeed provide a better conceptualization of the mind than research data from exclusively adult studies [1]. Models following the one of Freud, for example, the relational model by Melanie Klein, started to focus more on earlier mental development childhood phases [2]. Freud considered the phallic stage from around 3 to 5 years [3] to be the age when the Oedipus complex arises to become the central psychic reference point [4] and acting as the “nuclear complex of development” [5].

The Oedipus complex’ influence on personality development

What Freud discovered through self-analysis to be a child’s competition against the parent of the same sex for the one of the desired opposite sex remains very influential in modern psychoanalysis [6]. According to [4], the Oedipus complex is inherited by all human beings and therefore also explains everyone’s bisexuality and finally, according to how the Oedipus is overthrown, the development of sexual identity. The oedipal mechanism gets imprinted in the Ego as self-identification that influences the functioning of the Superego [4].

Development of neuroticism

According to Freud, how an individual is overcoming the Oedipus complex is determining whether he/she will develop neurosis [6]. In other words, suffering from an unresolved Oedipus complex leads, according to the oedipal theory, to increased neuroticism, letting people experience more and stronger negative feelings [7], such as jealousy and envy as directly resulting from Oedipal complexes. Consequently, Eysenck isn’t as elaborative as Freud in explaining the emergence of neuroticism when just saying that neuroticism has a stronger biological basis than most of the other personality traits [8]. However, both Eysenck and Freud are compatible with each other in that both neuroticism as a predisposition and as a possible result from the innate Oedipal complex indicate more or less direct inheritance of the trait.

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