Happy Mother’s Day: From Your Son, Oedipus

“The sexual wishes in regard to the mother become more intense and the father is perceived as an obstacle to the; this gives rise to the Oedipus (Ed-i-pus) Complex”.

Most of us have heard of the Oedipus Complex, developed by the father of Psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud. It is that gross understanding that a boy is sexually attracted to his mother and thus views his father as an enemy! It is named after the Greek King of Thebes…who ironically was not intentionally sleeping with his mother. In fact, when he found out, he gouged his own eyes out!

In case you missed that lesson in high school, here’s the story! The king of Thebes, Laius, was warned by the oracle of Delphi that he would have a son who would not only kill him, but also marry the king’s wife, the child’s own mother. The king remembered this warning when his wife gave birth to a male heir. Laius immediately gave the child to a herdsman with the instruction to kill the infant. The herdsman drove a spike through the baby’s ankles (Oedipus means swollen-footed) and left him on the side of Mt. Cithaeron to die. Lucky for young Oedipus, he was found by peasants, Polybus and Merope, who adopted him as their own.

As Oedipus grew, he became curious and decided to visit the oracle at Delphi himself. Without revealing to him who his birth parents were, the oracle told Oedipus that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Thinking the prophesy was about his adopted parents, he set on a journey to a new land. On his journey he encountered a carriage going in the opposite direction. The driver struck Oedipus to get him to move out of the way. Enraged, Oedipus killed the the driver and the man inside the carriage, King Laius.

Oedipus traveled to the city of Thebes, which at the time was being terrorized by a Sphinx, killing every traveler who couldn’t answer her riddle. Without hesitation, Oedipus answered the riddle correctly, causing the Sphinx to plummet off of a cliff. Because of his heroic actions, the people of Thebes announced that Oedipus was there new king and should marry the newly widowed queen Jacosta, his mother. The two parented 4 children together. Eventually the town was cursed by the gods because the murderer of the king still remained in the city. It is eventually revealed that Oedipus is not only the murderer of his father, the king, but also the husband of his mother, the queen. Distraught, Oedipus gouges out his own eyes and Jacosta kills herself.

This epic story of Oedipus is not what we think of when we think of Freud’s “Oedipus Complex”. In fact, the whole “eye gouging” thing makes me think that Oedipus really wasn’t as into his mother as we are led to believe. So why is this complex a thing?

John Bowlby, the creator of Attachment Theory stated, “the propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature”. For most of us, that first “strong emotional bond” is with our mothers. All of our firsts experiences of safety, comfort, happiness, and peace are centered around her and therefore, she becomes our first love. She is our first love not in the sense of something sexual as proposed by Freud, but rather, she displays an unconditional positive affection simply because she wants to. It brings her joy so see us loved! And so we love back in any way that we can. We make macaroni art and give her flowers. We create cards out of construction paper and draw pictures of her that people confuse for monsters. Why? Because we love that she loves us. With that great power to love as a mother, comes great responsibility. Just as a mother can be our first love, she can also be our first heartbreak. Who she is, has a lot to do with who we become. I am great, because mine was greater!

Happy Mother’s Day
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