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Terman, D.M. (1984). The Self and the Oedipus Complex. Ann. Psychoanal., 12:87-104.

(1984). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 12:87-104

The Self and the Oedipus Complex

David M. Terman, M.D.


Freud' monumental insights into the nature of inner experience and the genesis from and continuity with the vicissitudes of childhood life have provided the means to chart the new world of the psychoanalytic situation, which he also created and discovered.

The central feature of this terrain was the Oedipus complex, first formulated in his letter to Fliess in 1897. Though his systematic use of it began with “The Interpretation of Dreams” (1900), the first actual publication of the term (Oedipus complex) was in 1910.

Freud' conception of the Oedipus complex emphasized the importance of renouncing the infantile incestuous aims. In the topographic model, this resulted in freedom from neurotic symptoms, whereas conversely, the retention of oedipal aims caused neurotic symptoms. After Freud introduced the structural model, he conceptualized the important structural developments, i.e., the formation of the superego, as a consequence of the renunciation of the incestuous objects. Using the mechanism he had conceived in “Mourning and Melancholia,” he postulated the internalization to be a consequence of the loss. For boys, the motivation for the incestuous renunciation was, of course, castration anxiety. This renunciation then strengthened the internalized prohibiting father by making available the aggression formerly directed to it.

Schafer (1968), in his erudite consideration of the problems of internalization, points to a number of ambiguities in this formulation.

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