Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

How did Freud account for girls’ Oedipal complexes?

Freud had a hard time accounting for girls’ Oedipal complexes. Because he tied psychological processes so tightly to specific body parts, he ran into trouble when he focused too narrowly on the penis. How can a girl have an Oedipal complex if she has no penis to be castrated? His solution was the Electra complex, named for a character in a Greek tragedy who conspired with her brother to kill their mother in order to avenge the murder of their father. In Freud’s view, the little girl realizes that her mother does not have a penis. She loses respect for her mother and turns to her father, whom she now values more than her mother. She is tormented with penis envy herself and blames her mother for her own lack of a penis. She resolves this dilemma by identifying with her mother’s childbearing abilities. She realizes that she will grow up to have a baby just like her mother and accepts that as consolation for her lack of a penis. Freud infamously concluded that because girls cannot be influenced by castration anxiety, they were likely to have weaker superegos than boys.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Psychology Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App