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Blum, H.P. (2010). Adolescent Trauma and the Oedipus Complex. Psychoanal. Inq., 30(6):548-556.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(6):548-556

Adolescent Trauma and the Oedipus Complex

Harold P. Blum, M.D.


The Oedipus complex, that enduring constellation of childhood fantasies of love, hate, incest, murder, sex, and aggression, and feelings of jealousy, rivalry, shame, and guilt, is a universal pattern of the human condition. Between three and five years of age, the Oedipus complex emerges as an inevitable set of intrapsychic and interpersonal conflicts concerning the child's relationship with the parents. Freud placed the Oedipus complex as the central organizing developmental phase, embodying the key conflicts of childhood, underlying neurosis, perversion, and character. For Freud, the Oedipus complex, with its wishes, defenses, and prohibitions, was the developmental trajectory for individual socialization and for civilization. His Oedipal paradigm has been critiqued and deconstructed within every new psychoanalytic theory. As a male paradigm, it is no longer considered adequate to characterize female development. Nor are Oedipal conflicts currently regarded as the major determinants of narcissistic, borderline, and psychotic disorders. These severe disorders are now generally more related to pathogenic pre-Oedipal and infantile narcissistic disturbances, as well as to ego and neurobiological deficits. Referring to his recognition of the importance of the pre-Oedipal phase in women, Freud (1931, p. 226) stated, “It seems as though we must retract the universality of the thesis that the Oedipus complex is the nucleus of the neurosis.” However, the Oedipus complex has surmounted its proposed dissolution (Freud, 1924), although dethroned from its former nuclear position in psychoanalysis.

[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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