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Young, R.M. (1988). Consider Laius. Free Associations, 1(13):150.

(1988). Free Associations, 1(13):150

Consider Laius

Robert M. Young

Whatever we may wish to say about Oedipus, consider Laius. He saw Oedipus as a threat to him from birth, maimed — or abused — him and had him set out on a hillside to die. The initial murderous impulse was from Laius, who experienced Oedipus as a threat.

From that moment until they met at the bridge, Oedipus did not, as far as we know, experience murderous interactions between himself and his adoptive father. But when Oedipus and Laius met at the bridge, it was once again Laius who was the aggressor. This was the moment of projective identification. He behaves aggressively towards Oedipus, who takes up the projection, identifies and (unknowingly) kills his father.

So the initial murderous impulse comes from the displaced father, believing — rightly or wrongly — that the mother will favour the son over him and that he will be pushed out from the idyllic couple. On this account, Oedipus is the innocent victim of one projection and then the recipient of a projective identification.

Whence came Laius's murderous feelings? And what, if anything, had Jocasta done to feed or elicit Laius's belief that Oedipus was a threat to him?

These thoughts seem to me to cast new and interesting light on the classical Oedipus complex and to invite us to consider much more carefully the point of view of Laius and Jocasta. These are not merely ruminations about classical mythology. They seem to me to bear on current debates about child-battering and the sexual abuse of children.

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