You probably heard about the fact that even though Freud has been considered the father of psychology for his great contributions, he is also the one who has been criticized the most. Two weak points in his theory about human personality are the emphasis on sexuality and aggression of human nature. Despite the fact that we are all sexual beings and that’s because we have to reproduce to continue our existence, that does not mean that aggression and sex desires definitely and always run our lives. But this is a topic that has been already exhausted and repeatedly criticized, so it does not make sense to repeat what other critics have said about Freud on this topic. However, the fact remains that his theory on personality development is referred to by some psychologists, even today, as quite possible. Unfortunately many people upon hearing about these stages of personality development according to Freud will be terrified and will be influenced to believe that we humans are already born pervert and have such uncontrollable sexual desires right from the beginning of our existence, and so we must be bad. Freud manages to influence us so greatly, to not even stop and second guess him on this theory, and that’s because Freud touches the deepest fears of human nature and brings it on the surface with his stages of personality development. The deepest fear of human nature is to be overthrown by the younger generation (Kronos’ effect I would call it). Even though instinctively we want our species to survive, that is why we look forward to mate and reproduce (Remember Aristotle’s view : Humans are just social animals), on the other hand, we are reasonable beings and so, we know that once we get older we will not be as valuable and as respectable as we were when we were younger. In this aspect, we instinctively fear our younger generations with the same force as we love them and depend on them for the continuing of our existence.

So let’s quickly look at Freud’s stages of personality development:

First year of life= Oral Stage

Age 1 – 3 = Anal Stage

Age 3- 6   = Phallic Stage

Age 6- 12   = Latency Stage

Age 12 – 18  = Genital Stage

Age 18 and after  = Genital Stage continues

By looking at personality development as if it parallels the course of sexuality development this will naturally lead us to accept what Freud also concluded in his own horror that a mother becomes an object of desire for a little boy and father becomes and object of desire for his little girl. Freud called this Oedipus effect, as in Greek Mythology’s story where Oedipus kills his father to marry his mother.

Why I think Freud was wrong on reaching this conclusion is the fact that it is the adult who fears the younger, and not vice versa as Freud tries to present it. Adults project their fears on the younger generations and younger generations become defensive, by acting upon those fears and therefore setting a course of actions known as self-fulfilling prophecy. Even Freud himself had some doubts on his own theory on Oedipus effect. I noticed this when I was reading Freud’s original work “The Ego and The ID.” I came to realize that Freud may have had a lucid moment, a moment or two but then these moments were totally lost in the sea of assumptions about Oedipus effect. Freud himself mentions in this book that stages of personality development parallel stages of sexuality, but Oedipus effect kind of does not fit with the idea of Ego, because Ego is supposed to make peace between inner desires (ID) and super image (Super Ego) that we want others and society to see us as. Therefore, based on what Freud too agreed on, we can say that there is no need for the Ego of the little boy to assume the role of a father to please his mother or the role of the mother for the Ego of the little girl to please the father, because either mother or father are outside objects, which Ego has no business dealing with. Ego (according to Freud himself) deals with feelings inside of us in relation to our ID and our Superego and has nothing to do with objects outside of us. Therefore it is not our Ego’s job to worry and please outside objects like mother and father. Hence, it is not little child’s Ego that starts the rivalry between himself and the parent of the same gender. It is the parent’s Ego that thinks and fears the rivalry and projects this fear on the little child by means of putting down, isolating, or insulting the child.

Reading Dr. Jung’s work on child’ personality development we can see that he paints a different picture from that of Freud’s, and Jung’s picture seems to be more accurate at describing what really goes on in the mind of a child at the early stages of personality development. According to Dr. Jung, sexuality and how babies are made is nothing more than a curious concept to explore. Indeed the child may have no idea what sexual desires are and how they feel about sex, but the child is very observant, as we are reasonable being after all, and so the child will draw his own conclusions about love life  and what is this couples’ business, in particularly of mom and dad, in quite a natural way.  But, that does not mean that child is desiring it, or fantasizing about it or wanting to take part in it and take the place of the mother or the father in order to please the parent of the opposite gender, unless the child is forced to think that this is what can actually happen. And only adults can force a child to think this way by acting upon their fears and making the talk about sex as a taboo, or criticizing the child for questions he or she may have about sexuality, and shutting them down to think that this topic is the forbidden fruit. Being forced to think this way by parent’s fears and criticism about the curiosity that the child expresses on this topic, this will drive the child to think that he/she must explore sexuality on his own in order to grab the forbidden fruit before someone else does.

In support to Dr. Jung’ theory on child’s personality development I can share my own experiences as a child first, and then as a parent that proves exactly that it is the adult who fears the rivalry not vice versa as Freud assumed. For example, I never had any close relationship with my father before high school years. He always kept himself distant from me, and for any question I had he directed me to my mom saying, “Go ask your mom about that” or “listen to your mom, or whatever your mom says is right.” Only in high school years when my father had to help me with translating some math and science problems from Russian books that my teachers gave me to prepare myself for math and science competitions, representing our school, only then I became visible to my dad. At that time we created a strong bond of father daughter team mates because we both loved math and science to the point that we never noticed the time passing by or how tired we were. My dad helped me with so much dedication and he never complained of doing so much or being busy with other things. I became his priority in helping me learn as much as I could and getting ready for that competition. And I won all the completions, one after the other, because of my father’s dedication. I remember one time we were so exhausted, late at night, that while my dad was asking me the questions from the books, he doze off, and then as he was reading the next question I dozed off. At that point my mother intervened and took the books off our hands and urged us to call it a night. So, there was nothing between me and my father other than an authoritarian figure. When I was a little child, I only saw my dad as someone who gets angry too quickly so it was better get out of his way. Even my cousins were scared of my dad. I remember my aunt telling her three year old son to eat his food or Uncle Jimmy (my dad’s nick name) will yell at him. When this method had a good effect, all my aunts and uncles used my dad’s presence to scare their children to behave or eat their food. One day my little cousin did something so funny that changed all this. We were gathered in a family reunion, which we often did back then in Albania, one of my little cousins saw my dad coming in and he yelled, “Run children, run hiding, because Uncle Jimmy-the Wolf is coming.” My dad heard this and he was hurt a lot and from that day on, family members tried to keep quiet about the fact that his new nick name now was Uncle Jimmy-the Wolf. So, having a dad like this it is hard to imagine a sexual connection between a daughter and a father as Freud described, yet, I can tell you that my mother always feared that, and this is how she showed it. When little episodes of disagreements flared between my mom and my dad when I was little, which by the way were so common at our home, my dad always asked for my opinion as the only witness around the household; I was their only child. So, for example, one day dad told my mom that the mop she was using to mop the floors had a very bad smell and it was time to change it. My mom took this as an insult and denied the smell. She got even more upset when dad asks me whether I smelled the bad smell too. I told the truth that mop was smelly. My mom got so furious and as usually, and I repeat, USUALLY, accused me for loving my father more than I loved her. The way she said it insinuated the very idea that Freud talks about in Oedipus effect.

Now as a parent, I knew not to make the same mistake my mother did with me, of accusing me as a trigger of her own fears. When my youngest daughter turned five she became curious about sexuality too, as all children do. Her dad and I were divorced at that point in her life. As a result, we can say, without doubt, that she had no need for rivalry or to compete with me to win her dad or compete with her dad to win me, as Freud insinuated in his idea of bisexuality. Yet, my daughter was observant, very observant, and she knew that couples kiss and hug, and that their hugs and kisses are different from mom’s, dad’s or bother’s hugs and kisses. She became curious at this stage of her personality development by looking at me, her own mother, as an object of observation to explore more about sexuality, not because it was supposed to happen but because it happened quite by accident, just as Dr. Jung also explains in his book “The Development of Personality: Papers on child psychology and education.” How she became curious about me and sexuality was when one evening as I kissed her goodnight and because she moved her head too fast, I accidently was too close to her lips when I kissed her. Instinctively I backed off, and tried to get into a better position so I would reach her cheek instead of her lips. This instinctive action of mine made her curious as why I reacted that way when I was too close to her lips. She picked up the signal not from what I said, which I said nothing, but from my reaction. So every evening as I would aim to kiss her cheek she would instantly move her head so I would end up kissing her lips. I realized she turned it into a joke first and decided to keep it that way, without scaring her with these ideas we as adults carry about what is right and what is wrong about sexuality. It was too early for her to even understand anything. Therefore, I continued in the same way as a joke by making faces and saying “EW!” each time she played the trick on me. The more I showed my disgust as a way of saying no that was not acceptable, the more she laughed and the more she forced me to get closer to her lips and she reached the point that she even held my head so I would not escape but end up kissing her on the lips. Was she being sexual or was she being playful as a child about something was forbidden to her? It was both, not because she was feeling sexual desires but because she wanted to know more about sexuality. She wanted to comprehend the idea of people kissing and why it is OK for some people to kiss on the lips but not OK for others.  I realized at that point that I had to have a talk with her and explain what she really wanted to know. So obviously she had the idea that husband and wife, girlfriend boyfriend can kiss each other on the lips, because she had seen it on TV. Therefore, the first thing she asked me was, “Why can’t I be your husband, so I can kiss you on the lips?” This question was so innocent and there was no sexuality involved even though the topic was about sexuality. It is exactly what Dr. Jung described that brain and body do not develop at the same pace, and this contradiction brings lots of questions and confusion. The more we feed into our children these ideas of judging and stereotyping certain preferences in sexuality, by terrifying them about what is right or what is wrong, what is proper or not proper, the more our children will react to this criticism by either becoming rebellious and breaking the taboos or becoming too scared and too impotent because of those taboos.  That is why I did not lose my temper as she night after night after night turned into her mission to trick me and so I would end up kissing her lips. I did not get mad at her when she asked to be my husband either. I laughed with her but I also explained to her that two adults kiss on the lips because these two adults were two strangers before and they want to become very close to one another, to know one another better that way. But a daughter and a mother, or a daughter and a father have already known one another, not only from the day she was born, but even before that. I explained to her that she was first in our hearts and our minds, and as her dad and I became closer she was conceived when mom’s and dad’s cells joined together and hugged one another. From these two hugged cells she was conceived. Hence, I told my daughter that we know one another long enough and do not need to kiss on the lips, because we are not two strangers trying to get closer. And that was the end of it. She never asked again to be my husband, or trick me to kiss her lips. Next curious game was about boobies, which turned into another funny story, and my oldest daughter has her little sister’s song about mom’s boobies recorded on her cellphone.

From Dr. Jung’s perspective we can say that since brain and body do not develop at the same pace our children may have spontaneous curiosity about their sexuality, but that does not mean that they have sexual desires and that their mother or father becomes the object of affection with that intention in mind as Freud assumed. I believe Freud was either too superficial to reach into this conclusion about Oedipus effect or he was reflecting upon his own fears as an adult about the younger generation taking his power away. With this new perspective on personality and sexuality development we can see that we as adults project our fears and our dirty thoughts into our children’s minds. This may not be intentionally, however, it hinders our children progress and creates all kinds of doubts and desires to break those taboos we inflict on them. The more we show our fears as parents or caregivers the more our behavior will motivate our child to try the forbidden fruit.  Hence, it is not the child that develops the Oedipus effect but it is the parent that fears the rivalry of the young generation.

One thought on “How parents’ own fears about the forbidden fruit can affect child’s understanding about his or her sexuality.

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