What Is the Electra Complex?

G. Wiesen

The Electra complex is a concept from Neo-Freudian psychology that involves the psychosexual development of women, with special attention to their development as girls. According to Neo-Freudian concepts, young girls begin to develop an awareness of their gender with reference to other girls and boys, especially their parents. During a certain stage of psychosexual development, girls may identify first with their mothers, but then recognize their fathers as different in terms of gender. Ultimately, the girl becomes attracted and drawn to her father, while becoming jealous and angry toward her mother who she sees as competition; if this is unresolved then it can lead to development of an Electra complex.

In early stages of development, girls typically identify with their mothers.
In early stages of development, girls typically identify with their mothers.

In Greek myth, Electra was the daughter of Agamemnon, and after her father's death she conspired with her brother to kill her mother and new stepfather. The basic idea behind the Electra complex stems from Freud's theories about the psychosexual development of people, especially during infancy and childhood. In Neo-Freudian psychology, the third stage of psychosexual development is the "phallic stage" and involves the discovery of sexual differences between boys and girls. This typically occurs between three and six years of age, according to this particular view of psychology.

As girls get older, they tend to be more drawn to their father and see their mother as a rival.
As girls get older, they tend to be more drawn to their father and see their mother as a rival.

The way in which this type of complex can develop, is through an unhealthy or unresolved phallic stage of psychosexual development. According to this theory, healthy development occurs as a girl recognizes the difference between herself and other boys or men, and initially identifies with her mother. What happens, however, is that she develops an attraction to her father, as a figure of power and strength in her life, and begins to see her mother as competition for his affection. This leads to anger and jealousy between a young girl and her mother, which is ultimately resolved as the girl comes to find her own identity and once again aligns herself with her mother.

Normally, a girl ultimately finds her own identify and once again identifies with her mother.
Normally, a girl ultimately finds her own identify and once again identifies with her mother.

If this resolution does not occur, however, due to an abusive household or other situations that prevent a final identification between the girl and her mother, then an Electra complex can develop. Since the girl never goes beyond the competitive drive against her mother for her father, she often continues to look for father figures in future relationships. This is often seen in women who look for men very much like their father, either physically or in terms of their relationship and the types of men they prefer. An Electra complex can also result in women being quite domineering, as they look to finally achieve the acquisition of their father that they never had in childhood, or more submissive since they are looking for acceptance from the father figure.

A woman suffering from an Electra complex might continue to seek father figures in relationships.
A woman suffering from an Electra complex might continue to seek father figures in relationships.
Theories of the Electra Complex derive from Sigmund Freud's Oedipal Complex.
Theories of the Electra Complex derive from Sigmund Freud's Oedipal Complex.

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Discussion Comments

anon991769

This is me. I am 20, and I still get jealous and disgusted when my father and mother kiss, and hold hands. I didn't like date nights when I was a kid. I can't help it, I love my dad, more than I do my mother. We've become great friends, though.

anon271224

That's me and my mum. She's always trying to bribe me but I absolutely hate it. My dad's so strict but I'm unusually close to him.

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