The Electra Complex, first introduced by Carl Jung, is the female counterpart to the Oedipal Complex. It is associated with a period of development during which a girl has increasing love for her father and increasing animosity toward her mother, usually between the ages of 3 and 6.
History of the Electra Complex
Jung developed the theory to characterize behavior he saw in female clients that mimicked the Oedipal Complex during the phallic stage of psychosexual development. According to Jung, girls experiencing the complex suffer from penis envy, and resent their mothers as a perceived source of their castration. They spend increased amounts of time with their fathers and may flirt and practice adult sexual behaviors—without any actual sexual contact—with their fathers.
The complex is named for Electra, whose mother murdered her father according to Greek mythology. Electra retaliated by arranging to have her mother murdered.
Sigmund Freud disagreed with Jung that there was such a thing as the Electra Complex, and emphasized that it was boys and boys alone who experienced love for one parent and hatred for the other. Freud has been repeatedly criticized for his sexism.
Electra Complex in Contemporary Psychology
There is no scientific proof of Jung’s theory, and contemporary mental health professionals are unlikely to use the Electra Complex as a window through which to understand an adult’s psychological development. However, the Electra Complex occurs during the time at which children are increasingly aware of gender, so Jung’s anecdotal data about the complex may correlate with gender awareness in children rather than a particular complex. There is also ample evidence that girls learn early lessons in sexuality from both parents.
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Last Updated: 08-6-2015
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Jaime MAugust 28th, 2015 at 10:09 AM
Is there a more current analysis that addresses the challenges, even hostilities, that occur between mother and daughter?
LaverneMarch 3rd, 2016 at 4:42 PM
An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you ought to publish more on this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but usually folks don’t speak about these subjects. To the next! Cheers!!
MigdaliaMay 4th, 2017 at 7:07 PM
Well, I studied Jung in my high school years; and I must say I completely understand this concept now more than ever. My husband’s child, is obsessed with her father and it’s not in a healthy way. She has rebelled against her mother and her mothers family until she sees my husband physically. She refuses to do schoolwork, therefore, has failed and has to be retained another year. This child is obsessed and it is scary. My husband refuses to believe this theory because he is narrow minded and won’t accept anything except that his daughter misses him so much that she fails school. That child needs major therapy.
alison GunsonDecember 29th, 2019 at 6:26 AM
Interesting that the world of psychology seem to be dismissing this theory but i am actually very close to a real live situation of this very thing, the daughter even got the father to divorce the mother at age 14 and take her with him and now at 30 years of age is jealous of any woman entering his life and shows no respect for her fathers relationships, equally he encourages this and seems to also encourage very intimate one to one time with his daughter who is almost 30 and he also disrespects therealationship between his daughter and her boyfriend who is never invited home with her at Christmas or Easter yet he expects his daughter to come home and expects his own girlfriend to step back during these visits. His relationship with his mother is very odd too.
EliseMarch 22nd, 2021 at 12:17 PM
I can for sure say that the Electra Complex is real. I am dealing with a teenage girl who I need to find help for this very issue. She is sexually attracted to her father she has admitted this to both of us. I am her step mother by the way. Her parent share 50/50 custody.
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