Saturday, November 21, 2015

the oedipus complex and family systems

In working with substance abuse, I often have a situation in which my 20, 30, 40, and even 50 year old patients are living with their parents.

There are many arrangements between parents and child, but one that I see fairly regularly is interesting to me.

It concerns the mother as "in the middle" between the father and son. The son feels that the father is judgmental/critical of him. Sometimes this is explicit, and sometimes there is silence and the son believes that the father thinks of him that way.

The son and father communicate to each other through the mother, or avoid conversing with each other and only seem to talk to the mother.

This arrangement is known to cause the mother pain. She is anxious because of it; she may be run down and get sick often.

Often when this is noted I'll ask "Does it feel true if you say my mother deserves to be hurt/in pain/etc. ?" and many will affirm it and bring up grievances against her.

The mother is both intimidated by the son and fears that he will wind up dead.

I'm not able to ask all the questions I'd like to ask for each patient to satisfy theoretical curiosity. If a self-statement takes them to the past or onto another aspect of their intrapsychic life, I follow their lead. Thus, I can't say something is ubiquitous. However, the mother's intimidation by the son often follows from her father. A few patients compare themselves to their grandfathers and compare their mother's fear of them to her fear of him. This, of course, is the phallic image that McDougall was the first to bring my attention to.

The other aspect is on the altruistic side and represents the deep object of Death. The son is in projective identification with the mother and puts his own anxieties about the loss of the object into her while behaving the like the parental imago. This "Death" can be physical and literal (i.e. anal) but can also concern reputation/image (phallic) and just disappearing (volar). For the most part, it is literal death in the descriptions.

Interestingly, despite the animosity and criticism the son has for the father, analysis will show that he has much in common with him and it almost seems like they have to fight and create difference because otherwise they are actually too much alike.

I've brought up this before as the re-personalization of the imago. The neurotic has his of her parent(s) in his or her life and instead of being concerned with their own success or love out in the world, he or she becomes concerned with their parents again. This is a dynamic operation. The pulling back from ego and object drives/ideal is replaced by talking/complaining about the parent(s). Of course, the parent(s) must be taking care of the him or her for this to occur.

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