What is a Complex?

Even though I have never taken a psychology class, I am interested in many of their concepts. The idea of a complex in general is defined as a pattern of emotions based around a specific human quality. There is the famous Napoleon complex which states that short people are more envious and harsher towards taller people. I am interested if complexes are naturally within us or if they can change, as a quality such as height can change over a lifetime.

I have not read Freud in depth, but this article presents a strong introduction to his research. It presents his views of the psyche (division of id, ego, and super-ego), and the creation and control of pleasure. One famous theory attributed to Freud is the Oedipus complex, named after the tragic hero of Greek mythology. In the classic play Oedipus Rex, Oedipus unknowingly kills his biological father and marries his biological mother. I’m not sure about Freud’s thought process, but he comes to the conclusion that all males want sex with their mother. He further expands on this by arguing that “the hero of the Oedipus legend too felt guilty for his deeds and submitted himself to self-punishment, although the coercive power of the oracle should have acquitted him of guilt in our judgment and his own” (205). This further makes me question Freud’s philosophy, as this suggests that Oedipus could not help the fact that he had sex with his mother. The morality of his statement hinders my comprehension of his psychology contributions. Any psychology experts want to help me understand Freud’s statements?

3 responses to “What is a Complex?

  1. Freud isn’t saying that what happened with Oedipus was determined by will, just that it happened. The fact that he killed his father and marries his mother is what the complex is named after. In this case it is the event that is relevant to the name, not the motive. In the case of the Napoleon complex, it is not called that because Napoleon was was known for hating tall people, at least I do not think that this is the case, but it is named this way because it is a widespread belief, even though it is false, that Napoleon was short.

    Your question of whether or not people grow out of complex’s is very interesting and it probably differs. I would imagine that you can grow out of these complexes, for example you grow taller and are no longer envious of others since you know that you are tall. It probably depends on the comlpex.

  2. As you can see, Freud’s claim is extremely controversial. Freud’s basis of his theory surrounds libido and thanatos. Libido are urges, often sexual desire. Thanatos is simply aggression, the desire to destroy others. The Oedipus complex represents a specific conflict happening during the third psychosexual stage of personality development called the phallic stage. Freud hypothesizes that the source of pleasure at this stage is one’s own genital. Thus, boys have unconscious wish to have sex with their mothers, and girls unconsciously want to have sex with their fathers. To answer your question whether these complexes are solved, it is stage dependent. As Freud hypothesizes, if one cannot solve the specific conflict at that stage, that conflict will stay with him throughout development. The Oedipus complex is important to be solved during the phallic stage because it is the beginning of superego and morality. Thus, those who fail to solve the conflict might experience more troubles down the line.

  3. Your comments answer my questions but also bring up more. Assuming that Freud is correct in his hypotheses, why do we have thanatos? Where does the desire to destroy others come from, and could this mean that humanity has a natural tendency to destroy each other? Do the complexes that are formed during the phallic stage apply to each and every single person? For example, does the Oedipus complex still prevail for girls if she grew up without a father? If the Oedipus complex is meant to be resolved, how would one approach the resolution? Psychology just got a lot more interesting for me…

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