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Steele, M. (2010). The Quality of Attachment and Oedipal Development. Psychoanal. Inq., 30(6):485-495.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(6):485-495

The Quality of Attachment and Oedipal Development

Miriam Steele, Ph.D.


What does it mean for a boy or girl to have resolved the Oedipal complex? Among the indicators traditionally considered are a lessening and transmuting into blended emotions and understandings of what were intense (id-based) longings for closeness with one parent, and compelling aggressive feelings for the other parent; a positive (ego-based) identification with the same-sex parent; and the establishment in the child's mind (superego) of a firm moral sensibility—a mix of ideals regarding how one should behave and prohibitions serving as a guide as to how one should not behave. In a longitudinal perspective, it may be assumed that marital satisfaction may be most evident in adults who have minimal, if any, ongoing Oedipal conflicts.

Research methods applied in longitudinal attachment studies of typical development have, at least indirectly, provided a reliable and valid assessment of many of these same psychic processes. In the following is a summary of some prominent psychoanalytic theorizing regarding Oedipal issues and triangulation, questions that have been raised about the role of father in the early life of the child, the nature of the Oedipal conflict, and what it means to resolve this conflict. Importantly, this is a selective review of material that makes for a credible union between the aforementioned psychoanalytic assumptions about Oedipal development and the findings of longitudinal attachment work (e.g., Steele and Steele, 2005a). Interspersed with this review of psychoanalytic writings on Oedipal issues is information on research measures that have been obtained that can help therapistsw consider influences of early infant–parent relationships upon subsequent development, and intergenerational influences, providing some empirical support for classical and contemporary accounts of Oedipal processes.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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