The Decline of the Oedipus Complex

  • Jessica Benjamin
Part of the Path in Psychology book series (PATH)


Contemporary psychoanalysis has, metaphorically speaking, shifted its focus from Oedipus to Narcissus. It no longer attributes central, unequivocal importance to those instinctual conflicts and their resolution that develop through the triangular relationship of child and parents, the Oedipus complex. Instead, pathologies of the self, or narcissistic disorders, have increasingly become the focus of psychoanalytic practice and discussion. More generally, issues that begin in the mother—infant dyad, the preoedipal issues of early individuation and self-formation, take precedence over neurotic conflicts pertaining to defense against instincts or drives. As articulated by Kohut (1971), chief exponent of the focus on narcissistic disorders, our age is witnessing a transition from the problems of Guilty Man to those of Tragic Man, from the thwarted search for drive satisfaction to the desperate search for fulfillment of the self. Such formulations of change by psychoanalysts have, in turn, been popularized in contemporary social criticism—with greater and lesser accuracy—in terms of “the new narcissism.” In this rhetorical usage, the pejorative meaning of the word narcissism and the invidious comparison between Oedipal Man and the New Narcissist are readily discernible. Here the decline of the Oedipus complex is seen as linked to the decline of authority and morality that engendered Guilty Man’s conflicts with his drives but spared him Tragic Man’s disorganization of the self.


Gender Identity Mutual Recognition Parental Authority True Differentiation Sexual Division 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica Benjamin
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for the HumanitiesNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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