Mythology and neurosis have a common essence. The myths are a symbolic expression of the unconscious universal dramas. As such, they reveal many secrets into our psyche. Mythology is a projection of the collective unconscious and these archetypes manifest even more strongly when their awareness is limited.
The Oedipus complex is a concept of psychoanalytic theory from Freud. It is inspired by the Athenian tragedy, Oedipus the King, by Sophocles. Oedipus could not escape his fate of marrying his mother and killing his father. When expressed in a healthy way, the child’s hatred for the opposite-sex parent and unconscious sexual desire for the same-sex parent urge the young adult to leave his parents’ nest to start his own life, and look for a compatible mate to start a family. The son leaves his father’s home that has become too restrictive for his own development, and finds a woman that shares many attributes of his own mother in order to heal his own childhood traumas. The father represents what is being rejected while the mother represents what is desired.
While mothers are just as affected by parental alienation as fathers, for the illustration of this article, I will refer the mother as the alienator, and the father as the targeted parent. There are many ways a case of parental alienation seems to evoke the Oedipus complex literally:
- When the father is alienated, the son is used as a weapon of war by the mother to psychologically kill the father in the children’s mind
- After the father has been eliminated from the family structure, the son becomes the new de facto husband of the mother. The son is heavily enmeshed and is asked to fill the void left by the father
- Oedipus father, king Laius, attracted misfortune to him and his family because of his dark previous deeds against Chrysippus. King Laius is also the one ordering the killing of his own son Oedipus. The targeted parent’s tragedy can always be traced to unresolved traumas of his own past and this is what he needs to heal to change the alienation dynamics. He cannot see himself only as a victim but needs to take responsibility for his part in the alienation
- Oedipus becomes obsessed in finding the killer of King Laius (before he realized that was him) whom he replaced as the new king because the Oracle said this unsolved murder is responsible for a plague in Thebes. In the same way, the alienated child’s life is plagued by self-hatred as he was forced to reject his father from his life. He does not realize that many of his psychological and intimate problems are directly related to the alienation of his own father.
- In the Oedipus play, Jocasta eventually commits suicide after realizing the horror of incest by marrying her own son, the killer of her husband. Alienators are often very tormented as they eventually realize the psychological damage they have done to their children out of revenge
- When Oedipus eventually learns that he is his wife’s son, he enters a fury and wants to cut his mother’s womb with a sword. This symbolizes the rage of the alienated child towards his mother when he finally realizes how he has been manipulated for so many years
- When Oedipus becomes aware of the tragedy of his fate, he makes himself blind by piercing his eyes with golden pins. The alienated son is also torn by guilt about his own actions, in particular his harsh rejection of his father and his blind enmeshment with his mother. Seeing the truth may be so brutal that he may decide instead to shut down his conscience.
- Oedipus’s sons Eteocles and Polynices end up fighting for power and killing each other. His daughter Antigone commits suicide. The alienated child carries with him the psychological damage coming from years of alienation. As an adult, he is likely to experience similar unfortunate events in his own family life because of transgenerational trauma
The light of awareness has however the power to lift away the curse of parental alienation. As they mature, the alienated children have the ability to see the truth of their childhood, accept the limitations of their parents and start the process of forgiving them. Then, they will be able to break the cycle of abuse and abandonment to give their own children a life that is not plagued by intimacy issues.