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Laufer, M. (1982). The Formation and Shaping of the Oedipus Complex: Clinical Observations and Assumptions. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 63:217-227.

(1982). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 63:217-227

The Formation and Shaping of the Oedipus Complex: Clinical Observations and Assumptions

Moses Laufer


Freud maintained that the Oedipus complex as a development landmark could be conceptualized as taking place only at the time of the phallic phase. Freud's theory is that it is the culmination of a very long process whose primary result, in developmental terms, was that the ego now had to act as an organizing and unifying agent of all of one's past, while at the same time adding a new agency of the mind which he called the superego. With the resolution of the Oedipus complex, infantile sexuality would begin to be left behind.

Since Freud, there have been a number of developments and controversies related to the Oedipus complex. The confusion which has arisen is that some of us use the insights we have gained about pre-oedipal life as themselves holding the answers to many of the psychopathologies we meet with clinically. My own view is that unless these insights about pre-oedipal life become part of a development framework, culminating in the Oedipus complex and, through its resolution, in the internalization of the superego, then we miss something which is fundamental in our understanding and in our efforts to undo psychopathology.

For Freud, the relationship between sexuality and the Oedipus complex was inseparable. The assumption I put forward about the Oedipus complex is that the image of one's own body which has been organized by the end of the phallic-oedipal period determines the form of the oedipal resolution, and remains central to one's later sexual life and psychopathology.

If, in our clinical work, we avoid the meaning of genital sexuality and the meaning of the sexual body image, but interpret mainly those aspects of the patient's life which are pre-oedipal (and therefore non-incestuous), then we lose the chance of creating the possibility of the patient having an active relationship to his sexual/genital body, and the patient loses the chance of ever feeling himself to be the owner of his own sexuality.

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