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Abraham, R. (1982-83). Freud's Mother Conflict and The Formulation of The Oedipal Father. Psychoanal. Rev., 69(4):441-453.

(1982-83). Psychoanalytic Review, 69(4):441-453

Freud's Mother Conflict and The Formulation of The Oedipal Father

Ruth Abraham, Ph.D.


Freud's mother, Amalie Nathanson Freud, may have been the most influential figure in her son's life, the kind of primal figure that many have come to associate with the universal father postulated by Freud in his first great theoretical formulation, the Oedipus complex (Abraham, 1979). The jealous, sexually possessive, and awe-inspiring oedipal figure whom Freud claims every little boy fears and admires, is widely assumed to be grounded in Freud's experience with his own father. But in fact the oedipal father bears little resemblance to Freud's father. The construct does however closely fit the character of his mother and describes with unusual accuracy some important aspects of his relationship to her.

It is the conclusion of this paper that the oedipal father is constructed largely from characteristics of and experiences with Freud's mother. These characteristics and experiences were originally projected by Freud onto his father, and later by intellectual extension, onto the universal oedipal father.

This projection was in the nature of a defense dicated by Freud's inability to tolerate the anxiety aroused by some aspects of his relationship to his mother. On the one hand she seemed to the boy to be the source of all nurturance and love. On the other hand she appeared overwhelmingly powerful, sexual, and possessive. He adored and depended on his mother and yearned to approach her for the satisfaction of his needs, but he could not help fearing, avoiding, and defying her. He was torn by his love and hatred of her. This paralyzing conflict of ambivalence forced an early splitting of his mother's image.

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