According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, a common psychosis exists in women which has been given the name "The Medea Complex," after the ancient Greek play Medea by Euripides (480-406 B.C.). In the article titled "The Medea Complex: The Mother's Homicidal Wishes to Her Child, by Edward S. Stern, (April 1948), the author summarizes four symptoms of this condition.
The situation in which the mother harbours death wishes to her offspring, usually as a revenge against the father, is described and named the Medea complex.
It is shown that there is considerable resistance against admitting these thoughts to the consciousness of the mother or any other person, but that they are of general occurrence.
The Medea complex causes many marital difficulties, e.g., dyspareunia, prevention and interruption of pregnancy, failure of breast feeding, and other disordered domestic relations.
It explains such matters as baby farming, disposal to others, and neglect of children, unjust accusations of cruelty to children such as blood libels, and acts of covert and overt cruelty to them.
A recent book dealing with a flagrant case of the Medea complex is a memoir titled A Child Called "It," by Dave Pelzer, a man who endured incredibly shocking physical, mental and verbal abuse from his mother for many years. The book is covered in eNotes.
The article in The British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that death wishes against the sons as revenge against the father "are of general occurrence." The mother's point of view is not hard to understand. She falls in love with a man and bears one or more of his children. Then when he decides to leave her, she feels violated in more ways than one. First she is stuck with raising his children, and second, the fact that she has one or more children makes it difficult, if not impossible, for her to get married again. Since the father is not available as the object of her hatred, she could make her children the objects of "displaced aggression," as the classic Medea did in Euripides' play.
It would appear that women suffering from the Medea complex are far more likely to abuse sons than daughters. No doubt the boys remind them of their fathers. With daughters the mother is more likely to try to turn the girls against their father, or even to turn the girls against men in general.
In a famous American criminal case, Susan Leigh Vaughan Smith was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 for murdering her two sons, ages one and three, by pushing her car into a lake with the two small boys strapped in their car seats. The case gained worldwide attention due to her assertion that a black man carjacked her and kidnapped the two boys. She will not be eligible for parole until 2024.
As with the Oedipus complex, a term borrowed from Oedipus Rex by Sophocles (497/6-406/5 B.C.), the ancient Greek authors seem to have had a deep understanding of human character long before the time of men like Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung.