OK…I want this blog to be as accessible and free from jargon and theory as reasonably possible. However, I do not want to sanitise it or patronise readers. So, before I say what I planned to talk about, I am going to briefly explain the Oedipus Complex:
I guess most people will have heard of it and most will know it is something to do with Freud. Some may have an idea that it is something to do with young boys wanting to have sex with their mum. (Some of you will know exactly what the Oedipus Complex is and may well understand it better than me. This section isn’t for you – feel free to scroll down.)
Freud thought that children go through a stage where they want to usurp the parent of the opposite sex, “kill” them off and climb into the marital bed. It is very important to point out that Freud was talking about an unconscious fantasy – something which happens outside of the child’s immediate awareness.
Freud was not saying young children are literally day-dreaming about having sex with mummy or daddy or that they would, in reality, want this to happen. Nevertheless unconscious fantasy does impact on external (and conscious) behaviour. And children do attempt to “seduce” parents in the general sense of that word. On a banal level this would mean, for example, a young girl going doe-eyed and battering her eyelids to get something she wants from daddy (more ice cream, a piggy-back or whatever).
A lot depends here on whether you accept there is such a thing as an “unconscious” – the existence of which is disputed – and its impact on human behaviour. Indeed, even among those who accept the role of the unconscious (such as psychoanalysts) the Oedipus Complex theory is controversial.
While I am no Freudian or psychoanalytic purist I do believe in the role of the unconscious. I would find understanding and helping the children I look after very difficult if I did not. I also think there is a truth to the idea of an Oedipus Complex.
It is, in part, because of the Oedipus Complex that young girls who have been sexually abused feel guilty about it, believe that is was their fault and on some level they must have wanted it to happen. I cannot emphasise enough- I am not saying they are right to feel this way or that they did in fact want it to happen.
But here is the important thing, even if they did on some level want it to happen it is irrelevant. Sarah, the young girl I look after, who has been sexually abused by her father, talks openly about having a crush on me and can often behave in a very seductive manner. However if I was to try to have sex with her she would be completely traumatized and the responsibility would obviously be entirely mine. It is my task to maintain the Oedipal boundary not Sarah’s. She can do whatever she likes.
Sometimes, in my work, you suddenly notice something – a behaviour pattern or a link which has never occurred to you before. Last night Simon, my boss and the director of the organisation, came to the home for dinner. From the moment he arrived, Sarah was smiling at him, metaphorically battering her eyelids and, yes, being seductive. But she was also suddenly very denigrating and hostile towards me.
It occurred to me that while I am the main “dad” figure in the home that I work in, Simon is the “dad” figure for the whole organisation. The most powerful “dad” in Sarah’s eyes. So there is no need to seduce me when she has his attention. This fits with what we know about her history as very much “daddy’s favourite” among her siblings.
It is obviously deeply troubling for Sarah that she feels the need to behave this way (and of course a lot of it will be unconscious on her part). But for me, terribly, it was something of a blow to the ego. I was left feeling that there is nothing “real” in my relationship with Sarah, that there is no part of it that is a healthy attachment and I am simply being manipulated.
It is well-known, among people who have any insight, that people do my job, in part, to get their own needs met. Very few will admit it but one of those needs is the need to be needed…
That was how I felt yesterday – tomorrow I may feel something different….