Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Reconsidering the Oedipal Complex

Originally posted on November 27, 2013

I’m thinking that a little bit of this is a good thing. I was watching an attractive young mother coo over her baby, about 9 months old, and I thought, “Hm, I want an Oedipal complex. I don’t want to marry Mom or have sex with her, but I do want her to absolutely delight in me and play with me. I’d like to find her attractive in some general way, and nice.

In reality, I had a mixed relationship with my mother, a wonderful mom in some ways: She was older, fat, dedicated to keeping me alive, a great cook, and had many other virtues. But—not complaining, you understand—but it was mixed. I remembered something said by a psychic I consulted in the mid-1970s, Helen Palmer, in Berkeley. It was something like “One aspect of karma is the way we are born into the absence of what we need.” Well, I needed a beautiful female energy who enjoyed me thoroughly, and in whose enjoyment field I could bask and grow like a flower on a sunshiny spring day. Bless her, my mom kept me alive—no mean task—and cooked well, and offered a secure home, and many other gifts—half of which I may never know what it really took. But I don’t think she really enjoyed me—or maybe she was burdened by the superstitious belief that to let me know would sort of hex me. Anyway. (I am happy to say that I have one now for 37 years with my 2nd wife Allee!)

Returning to the dynamics of the Oedipal Complex: What if we need a little of that? Not too much but also not too little—a balance. Probably that balance is a bit different for each individual. There are a number of these in-between balances people need, such as a little playful capacity for insanity, a little loosening up, a little of all sorts of stuff. Too much is annoying if not pretty crazy, but there is a category of too little, too! What if I had too little Oedipal energy? Can there be such a thing? Sure, once you know what to look for.

Freud did have an Oedipal complex—reinforced by premature sexual excitation by a nanny, a young doting mother, an older forbidden father—such a family complex was not that uncommon in middle Europe in the Victorian era. But there were all kinds of other family constellations. Some moms were drunk, stretched thin, too many other children, angry, depressed, and some dads were really the mothering, caretaking one. I’m not even going near the various ways different marriages and parents might have reacted to a little kid’s explorations into his or her own sexual pleasure. The point is that there can be such a thing as not enough delight and enjoyment of a child’s delight and enjoyment, and that interpersonal non-reciprocity can be disappointing; or there can be enough, which can generate a pleasant residue of that reciprocity. (There can also be too much, which can be over-stimulating, and generate a sense of narcissistic entitlement, or maybe all sorts of shame and guilt because the kid can’t and doesn’t really want to reciprocate. Such feelings are part of the Oedipal complex!)

I don’t think that all jealousy arises from the triangle of the parents and the child. Sometimes it comes out of interactions with playmates. There can be triangulation process with peers, too, that can result in jealousy. It happens around age 4-5, and for most kids it has nothing or almost nothing to do with sex. It has to do with the fact that jealousy appears among peers like this: Playmate A is sometimes the best fun to play with, more than playmate B; but then, at other times or types of play, playmate B is more fun; and sometimes—here’s where the green monster of jealousy comes in—A and B seem to be having more fun and leaving one out, doggone it, doggone them! Argh!

Anyway, of late I’ve been contemplating the idea that some kids are emotionally slightly conflicted—in some cases more than slightly—by a lack of positive “Oedipal” or mother-child rapport, or having fun together. And sometimes it’s in-between, okay in some ways but not in others. But little kids are too innocent or stupid to make those distinctions, so they accept and take for granted the good parts and consciously or unconsciously miss the deficits. More about the not-enough-Oedipal complex when I think of more to say.

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