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Friday, August 2, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Oedipus Complex and Trauma Regression

Dear Jeannie, 

In a medieval fantasy story, my protag is the second-in-line to take over a noble house. His Father, the Lord, and his mother pile unreasonable expectations on him to be the perfect successor. Since divorcing himself from those expectations and trying to find a true path for himself (something he has yet to find), his parents have treated him coldly. During this time, he has been having frequent sexual relations with both male and female prostitutes (despite being entirely heterosexual), selected due to their resemblance to his parents. Later in the story, he gets extremely drunk and attempts to seduce his Mother with the hope of sleeping with her. Could this be explained as an unhealthy desire for their praise, love and affection, or is it likely there is something else going on? What would a psychologist conclude about him?

Unknown in the UK

Dear Unknown,

Welcome back again. :)

Freud would call this a classic Oedipus Complex. In so striving to be like his father (relate to him, identify with him as a male), he is attracted to his mother, who obviously finds his father attractive, or she wouldn't have had sex with him and procreated. (Or so the theory goes.) You could explain his coming on to his mother by the fact that he got extremely drunk. However, since you have him purposefully selecting prostitutes because they "resemble his parents," this adds a psychological element to the story for sure. It's also pretty extreme for a heterosexual to engage in homosexuality without a very good reason. I'd want to know what does sleeping with the men (and the women) do for him? Is it a sense of power over [those who look like] his parents? Is this his way of being in control? I'd probably go that route rather than the love and affection route, but the answer is found in how he feels about his actions.

A therapist would conclude that he has daddy and mommy issues. :)

Dear Jeannie,

Why is it that some people never grow up, emotionally, or psychologically? I mean, we all know middle aged, older, and even elderly men and women who act like spoiled kids, and feel entitled to whatever they want--but what is it that lets them stop developing? They lose their tempers if they have to wait in lines, you can't get them to stay for a doctor's appointment because they won't sit that long in the waiting room; and everything is always somebody else's fault. I get how that part looks, I've seen it. What I don't get is what lets an adult keep that child's mindset.

Trying to Remember What It Felt Like to Be Two

Dear Trying to Remember,

In a nutshell, trauma can arrest a person's development, keeping them stunted and stuck with the mindset of a much younger person. The adult population I work with have many of the same traits as their children...but sometimes it's worse. Adults are more savvy, manipulative, and coercive. Research is showing that trauma affects the way a person's brain develops, and if the trauma occurs prenatally or during the first five years, the damage done to the brain is significant. The adult is not aware that they are "stuck," of course. They might have fleeting moments of clarity when they look at other adults and wonder why they haven't finished high school or, more likely, why these other adults have had such an "easy ride" (lack of seeing their responsibility in the matter). It's tough, but treatment essentially harkens them back to their childhood, to try to get them unstuck. Let them be a kid without fear of repercussion, and introduce them to adult concepts (b/c they probably never were taken care of very well by their parents)...and so on. Vicious cycle, that trauma.

Best of luck to you!

Got Questions?
Post them anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle.
I'll get to them in future Dear Jeannie columns.