Electra Complex and Freud: Definition, Story & Examples

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  • 0:01 Freud's Theories
  • 1:09 The Story of Electra
  • 2:46 Sigmund Freud's Stages…
  • 4:28 The Electra Complex
  • 5:43 Is The Electra Complex…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

Electra is a historical heroine who helped to kill her own mother. Learn about how the Electra complex relates to the Oedipus complex as well as Freud's theories of psychosexual development and how he believed we relate to our parents.

Freud's Theories

The Oedipus complex is a common, well-known term created by Sigmund Freud. In psychoanalytic theory, it refers to the powerful mother-son relationship in childhood. The Oedipal complex explains how boys develop a sense of themselves and their personalities through sexual desires and conflict with their parents. Sigmund Freud named this complex after Sophocles's play called Oedipus Rex, in which Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother.

Sigmund Freud put a substantial amount of importance on unconscious drives for pleasure in the development of personality. Freud's theories of personality involved mental conflicts and sexual desires and how those desires are resolved, or unresolved, in childhood. The symptoms of sexual conflict in boys were aptly named after Oedipus, whom Freud believed personified these drives.

But what about girls? Freud had plenty of ideas about the sexual and personality development of females as well.

The Story of Electra

In Greek mythology, as told by many great Greek playwrights, Electra is a princess of Argos. Argos is a metropolitan area ruled by Electra's father, King Agamemnon, and her mother, Queen Clytemnestra. There is much strife within the family - Electra's sister, Iphigenia, is sacrificed before the Trojan War by order of the gods, and Electra must send her twin brother, Orestes, away to rescue him from her vengeful mother.

When King Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War, he finds that his wife has taken his cousin, Aegisthus, as her lover. Clytemnestra and her lover conspire and kill King Agamemnon. Electra is devastated and prays for her brother's return to avenge her father and claim the throne. Orestes returns to Argos when he comes of age. With the aid of Electra, Orestes kills both his mother and her lover and reclaims the throne of Argos.

There are many similarities between the stories of Oedipus and Electra. Each involves both sexual conflict and murder. Although Freud's ideas seem very extreme to today's psychotherapists, sexual conflict and murder are very often at the heart of our more contemporary stories as well. Nearly every modern movie and TV show has those themes at its heart. So, let's review Sigmund Freud's ideas about personality and development so we can understand the Electra complex.

Sigmund Freud's Stages of Development

Sigmund Freud believed that our personalities are formed in early childhood. He believed that the development of the personality was based upon how a child reacts to internal drives for pleasure, specifically the erogenous zones. Erogenous zones are those areas of the body that stimulate pleasure, including the mouth, lips, tongue, anus and genitals. Freud related certain ages to these erogenous zones and believed that a child's needs focus on a specific erogenous zone at each developmental stage. He named these the psychosexual stages of development.

From age three to about age six, the primary erogenous zone is the genitals. It is called the phallic stage because of Freud's conviction that the penis is the most important organ for both male and female development. Freud believed that children begin to notice and touch their genitals at this stage.

According to Freud, all young boys have a desire, conscious or unconscious, to replace their father as their mother's sexual partner. The young boy is equally as scared of the father finding out his desires and castrating him. This is the basis of the Oedipal complex, which happens within the phallic stage. Healthy resolution of this phase occurs when the child gives up their fantasy of replacing their father and tries to become like his father instead. This leads to the boy understanding his own sexuality, gender role and a sense of morality.

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