Have You Heard of the Electra Complex?
The Electra complex was proposed by Carl Gustav Jung to adapt the well-known Oedipus complex to women. The Oedipus complex refers to the love, or sometimes obsession, that boys feel for their mothers, and the Electra complex does the same for girls towards their fathers.
Freud thought that how much we control and repress our sexual impulses as children could influence whether we develop psychological problems as adults. So according to early psychoanalysis, not only would this complex exist, but it would also be the root cause of many apparently inexplicable ailments in adulthood.
The story of Electra
When Jung studied the Oedipus complex to find its daughter-father variant, he had to look to Greek mythology to find answers and give it a name that was faithful to its definition. In doing so, he discovered the story of Electra.
According to Greek mythology, Electra was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Her mother, who is also believed to be her lover, killed her father when he returned from the Trojan War. When Electra found out, she and her brother plotted to kill their mother.
This led Jung to choose Electra as an appropriate name for the complex he had described. This complex is said to develop and manifest between 3 and 6 years of age. You might think that it would last throughout the woman’s whole life, but it’s more common for it to last for 2 or 3 years and then disappear.
Although they might seem similar, the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex are actually quite different.
Although it might seem pathological, most children show attachment to their parents. This isn’t necessarily negative, although it is necessary to know how to manage it so that children gain more independence from their parents as they grow up.
The Electra complex
The Electra complex is even further separated from the Oedipus complex because the degree of attachment is much higher in girls than in boys. The most notable characteristics include the following:
- The girl develops a strong desire for her father, which translates onto other men in her life who play a father figure role. As she gets older, she seeks potential partners who share similarities with her father.
- She lives in constant competition with her mother. The girl notices how much time her father spends with her mother, how special their connection is, and that makes her want to compete with her for the father’s attention.
- She gets jealous of her mother. The mother is competition, monopolizing the object of the girl’s desire. The girl knows that she has certain limitations in the area, so she will endure constant jealousy towards her mother.
These are a few of the characteristics that define the Electra complex. But why would it develop? According to Freud, it’s because the daughter hasn’t fully completed the sexual, or phallic, stage of psychosexual development.
One interesting thing to note about the Electra complex is that at first, girls feel closer to their mothers than their fathers. The problem arises when they become aware of the sexual differences between men and women. They notice that their fathers are different from them and their mothers. This is the beginning of the rivalry with the mother for the father’s affection. She desires affection from this person who is so different from her, who makes her feel protected, who is an authority figure.
What is the major difference between the Electra complex and the Oedipus complex? It’s that boys who suffer from the Oedipus complex are afraid of their fathers, because they see them as superior. Therefore, they try to hide the desire that they feel towards their mothers because they don’t want to be found out. This does not occur with girls, who openly compete with their mothers and aren’t afraid to confront them.
All of these situations can be normal, as long as they don’t last for too long. They can become a problem if they turn into obsessions and lead to a constant search for the perfect partner, someone who is the most like the desired parent. With the Electra complex, the woman seeks to feel protected like she does with her father.
This complex has its origin in psychoanalysis and currently has insufficient clinical relevance to be regarded as important today, the way it was during the beginning of psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, it is a part of the revolutionary thinking proposed by psychoanalysis, which highlighted the importance of childhood sexuality, and more importantly, the transcendence of the bonds of attachment we form at an early age.