Juliet Mitchell on The Sibling Complex

Siblings and Psychoanalysis

In this fascinating interview for UCL, psychoanalyst and author Juliet Mitchell discusses how siblings profoundly affect the development of our egos, and how our early experiences with or without brothers and sisters map out our sense of self.

In her work, Mitchell has urged analysts to pay more attention to the place of siblings in the subject’s psychic economy and their impact on the psychic structure. The trauma of a sibling’s birth leads the child to question its very existence and to the murderous desire to eliminate the ‘usurper’. But the baby also being an alter ego loved by the mother, the challenge is to overcome the violence and accept its sibling as like itself but not identical to itself. This leaves room for more than one person to be the mother’s child and introduces the concept of seriality.

Siblings_in_Psychoanalysis_Image (1)In this interview she explains the origins of her pioneering development of the original Oedipus complex to include ‘the sibling complex’:  “Suddenly this central rock, the Oedipus complex, shifted slightly – and there were these dancing, squabbling, children behind it”.

Her work addresses such questions as:

  • are siblings mere inheritors from parents when it comes to unconscious processes and the structures of the mind?
  • what might psychoanalysis be able to tell us about siblings that would help us to understand better our individual and collective psychic and social world?

Juliet Mitchell is a Professorial Research Associate and Founder Director of the MPhil/PhD Programme in Psychoanalytic Studies at UCL Psychoanalysis Unit. She is also the Founder Director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge, a Research Fellow at the Department of Human Geography, University of Cambridge and Fellow Emeritus of Jesus College, University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the British and International Psychoanalytical Societies and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Her most recent books include Siblings: Sex and ViolenceMad Men and Medusas: Reclaiming Hysteria and Effects of Sibling Relationships on the Human ConditionFeminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole Freudienne; and Psychoanalysis and Feminism;

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