Questions about psychoanalysis: the Oedipus Complex and Masochism
A reader of the Revista Psicoanalítica de Madrid asked a number of interesting questions about the article “The Strata of Being”. Since they could be useful for people interested in psychoanalysis, here are the questions and the answers. For reasons of simplicity we will use the generic masculine pronoun.
I’d like to know more about the Oedipus Complex and masochism, subjects that you talk about in your article. I’ll transcribe the paragraphs where you refer to these subjects and then I’ll formulate specific questions.
Page 86: “…(S. Freud) opens the field with his conception of a drive-based unconscious where the forces of sexuality, aggressiveness, narcissism and its ideals, mourning and the great relational organizer, Oedipus, inhabit an unknown world, ruled by principles that escape the bounds of logic and that will be severely frustrated by reality.”
- What are you referring to when you say “the great relational organizer, Oedipus”? Could you develop that idea?
- I also have another question… when you say:“that will be severely frustrated by reality”… firstly, I was struck by the word severely… and secondly, does this frustration have to do with human development or with life in general?
Page 92:“I believe that, in part, this is achieved as the patient introjects the experience that psychic suffering is not gratuitous pain ––nor is it the erotic pleasure of masochists–– but rather that tolerating it and working through it allows him to be who he is.”
I’d like to know more about the erotic pleasure of masochists. On page 90 you discuss Freud’s hypothesis on primary masochism…
- What is the good object?
- How can one identify a masochist? Is it someone who eroticizes pain because their mental apparatus cannot tolerance suffering?
- If this is the case, could you give me a concrete example?
The Oedipus complex is considered to be the great relational organiser because it structures the way love, hate, rivalry, jealousy, sexual desire and identification are distributed in a family (and outside the family, too) for the child.
Each member of the family acquires multiple roles for the child, with different valences, that require the child to play out different relational scenes. We could say that the Oedipus Complex sets the rules for a (complex) game and that this game organises the relationships between each of the participants.
The severe frustration of reality refers to the fact that reality forces us to give up oedipal wishes and omnipotence. When we say oedipal we’re referring to incestuous and parricidal wishes, and by omnipotence me mean the wish to be all-powerful, to be able to control everything, to be the centre of everything.
The frustration is severe because it implies losing something very important to the person. This mostly happens during childhood, although later reality will bring a host of other frustrations along the course of life. We can observe the severity of the frustration in children’s reactions to their parents when they say no (although this depends a lot on how those “no” are implemented) and also along the course of analysis when patients feel the pain, sometimes very deep, of having to give up certain behaviours or ways of being.
With respect to masochism, I’ll reply to your questions one by one:
- The good object is the person that takes care of the child, that offers him stable, constant and attuned experiences of satisfaction. Later on in life, people with whom the adult had good experiences will be associated to this primary good object.
- Freud identifies three kinds of masochism; erogenous masochism, moral masochism and feminine masochism. Erogenous masochism is identified by the sexual pleasure that the masochist derives from physical pain; this is considered to be a sexual perversion only when it’s a sine qua non condition for orgasm. Moral masochism is identified by the unconscious need to hurt oneself, to sabotage oneself, to punish oneself in different situations in life. Feminine masochism refers to the fact that the masochist tends to put himself in a passive-feminine position with respect to whatever is going to hurt him.
- Pain can be eroticized for several different reasons; one of them can indeed be because the mental apparatus cannot tolerate suffering and thus transforms it into something arousing-pleasurable by eroticising it. This can happen at several different levels. Freud postulates primary masochism in order to try to explain how the child can bear early frustrations. It’s a hypothesis on early childhood and is difficult to observe; however, we can clearly observe how later on in development certain situations can be masochistically eroticized in order for them to be more bearable. A clear example of this is abusive relationships where, instead of being the helpless victim of the other, the situation can be masochistically eroticized, thus transforming the pain into pleasure and allowing the victim to feel some degree of control over the situation.