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Electra Complex

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Electra and Orestes, from an 1897 Stories from...

Electra and Orestes, from an 1897 Stories from the Greek Tragedians, by Alfred Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Freudian theory, the Electra complex is the group of feelings arising within a young girl, aged three to five, who wishes to possess her father and eliminate her mother.

For Melanie Klein, these feelings begin as early as the first year of life.

The Electra complex is outlined less clearly than the Oedipus complex, the counterpart complex for young boys. With the Electra complex the girl apparently envies her father’s penis, desiring it for herself to the extent of fantasizing about bearing his children—the origin of the term “penis-envy.” Her unrealistic, unattainable desire causes her to resent her mother. And the young child’s mind translates her extreme psychological discomfort into the fantastic belief that she’s been castrated by her mother.

A feminist response to this is expressed as follows:

The idea that the Electra complex is referred to most of the time as “penis-envy” shows where Freud was in his thought process. He simply thinks the male psyche is the dominant entity in human relations, and that female influence is secondary. This may be due in part to his belief that girls have weaker superegos, where morality is developed and values internalized. We develop this judicial component of our personality during the phallic stage.¹

¹ Amy Simokaitis, “Freud: Let’s Talk about Sex,” October 13, 1999. http://www.umsl.edu/~mgriffin/psy302/Simokaitis/electra_complex.html

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