The Oedipus Complex: Solutions or Resolutions?, by Rhona M. Fear

How our attachment experiences determine our response to unresolved oedipal issues

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I always think it is fascinating to discover what makes a particular author write about a particular subject, whether that individual has a predilection for fiction or non-fiction. It is all a part of one’s central curiosity as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, I dare say, to want to discover “what makes an individual tick”.  We analysts function in many ways rather like detectives – detectives with empathy (hopefully)!  And so you may wonder what led me to write a book about the Oedipus complex, and its relationship with attachment theory.  So I will tell you the story.

I attended a fascinating seminar presented by Michael Jacobs in July 2013 on the subject of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.  The oedipal dynamics of the play, evident as they were, in the way that Jacobs presented various video excerpts from the play, set me thinking about my own case-load, both past and present.


oedipal dynamics

As I drove to my own therapy one day from Herefordshire to Birmingham, I mused upon the number of times in which an unresolved Oedipus complex had been at the root of different clients’ difficulties.  As I mentally enumerated the various cases, I realised that clients in general when they presented in therapy had attempted to find one of two different types of ‘solution’ to their dilemma with which they were faced as a result of their oedipal conflict.  I mused upon this “fact” for some time.  Gradually, it occurred to me that the ‘solution’ that they sought to use was in direct correlation with the nature of their individual attachment schema.

I am sure it will come as no real surprise to those of you who are therapists to know that very few clients who present in our consulting rooms are fortunate enough to possess a secure attachment schema.  It is as if such individuals possess an armoury or toolbox with which they can fight off “the slings and arrows of turbulent fortune”.  Those of us with an insecure avoidant or insecure ambivalent attachment schema do not seem to have the same resilience, or ability to withstand adversity. Some of us, at some stage of our lives, are wont to find our way to a therapist’s consulting room, to seek some objective help with our difficulties. Thus, all of my clients suffering from an unresolved Oedipus complex could be categorised as having either an insecure ambivalent or insecure avoidant schema.

At this point, I decided that it would be interesting to write a book about this subject matter. It had also been one of my ambitions for a long time, since I began training as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in the late 90’s, to present theory to my contemporaries in approachable language and in a style of writing that is easy to grasp.  To that end, I have tried in my book (the first half of which is devoted to theory, the second half to case studies of theory in practice) to present Freudian, Kleinian and feminist theory in language that is accessible to all.  I have explained all the terms that you may not understand, and I have used italics to highlight the main theoretical concepts, so that you may more easily grasp their importance, and find them again when you revisit the text.  I hope my years as a lecturer in politics and sociology in an earlier career have helped me in this endeavour.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867). 'Oedipus and the Sphinx,' 1864. oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum (37.9): Acquired by Henry Walters, 1908.

‘Oedipus and the Sphinx’ by Ingres

I put forward the view that the theory of the Oedipus complex has much to commend it but it is often ignored because the majority of people fail to understand and accept its nuances. First of all I put forward Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, tracing it from his first mention of it onwards through until he put forward two differing arguments for the dissolution of the complex.  I offer various critiques of his theory, and I also try to set his theory in its sociological and historical context.  I then do the same for Kleinian theory, and I finish with a brief overview of feminist theory to offer a more contemporary perspective. At the end of the first part I seek to promulgate the thesis that there is a causal correlation between attachment theory and the Oedipus complex.

The second part of the book is devoted to six extended case studies.  These attempt to enable the reader to see how I work in practice, and to show how the work in the transference often proves to be the most healing.  The change is sometimes priceless, and felt to be such by the individuals.  Others settle for wanting less change; I am strongly of the belief that it is not ethical to force anyone to go further than they would wish to travel. They are not perfect pieces of work; as Patrick Casement says, we make mistakes, and then we need to talk them through with our patients and learn from them.

I hope, above all, that you learn from the book and that you come to realise, as I have, that psychoanalytic psychotherapy can be fun, and richly rewarding – for both therapist and patient!

36979Rhona M. Fear BA(Hons), MA, is a UKCP registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist and has been in private practice in Worcestershire since 1994. She is also an accredited member of BACP. She specialises in working with patients in long term therapy. She first qualified as a counsellor with Relate in 1990. In order to broaden her horizons, she then undertook a master’s degree in counselling studies at the University of Keele from 1994 to 1996. Shortly after this, she began training as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in 1998 and qualified in 2004. This involved a number of years in five-times weekly therapy and a considerable number of years of intensive supervision of her clinical work, as well as academic seminars and work with a number of twice-weekly training cases, and the presentation of a final qualifying paper.  Her latest book, The Oedipus Complex: Solutions or Resolutions? is published this week by Karnac Books.


2 thoughts on “The Oedipus Complex: Solutions or Resolutions?, by Rhona M. Fear

  1. Pingback: The Psychomatrix: A deeper understanding of our relationship with pain, by Doreen M. Francis |

  2. I have an unresolved Oedipus complex am gay father died when was 6 I am now 51 still hate dealing with men have trouble with groups of men espically being surrounded I feel I have Oedipus guilt I wonder how the symptoms could manifest themselves


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