Sigmund Freud

Start Free Trial

According to Freud, what role do parents play in the lives of neurotics?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his book Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1899, Freud argued that young children of approximately ages 3 to 5 have the unconscious urge to kill the parent of the same gender and to become sexually intimate with the parent of the opposite gender. He named this idea the Oedipal Complex in boys and the Electra Complex in girls. The boys during this period fear that their father, whom they feel envious of, will castrate them. Girls feel that they have already been castrated and blame their mothers.

Once children identify with the parent of the same sex and view that person as a model for themselves, they can start to develop a superego. Parents have a role in reassuring their same-sex child that they are not going to castrate them (or haven't already done so) and in forming a mentoring relationship with their same-sex child so that the child can get over the Oedipal or Electra complex. If they don't, neuroses can develop.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Freudian psychology, many things are related back to parents and to early childhood development. In terms of neuroses and neurotic symptoms, Freud argued that many things were the direct result of actions by the parents.

A typical trend has been shown that the parenting styles and actions in early development do create some lasting effects. For instance, if fear of failure (through punishing bad grades or chastising accidents too severely) is reinforced too much, children tend towards anxiety and detrimental perfectionism. In the same way, many authoritarian parenting styles can lead to depression, antisocial behavior, and other neuroses. Obviously, it is very common for the parents’ behavior to effect the child’s long-term development, which reinforces Freud’s theory and shows the importance of proper parenting.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The effect of parental personality traits has not been well-studied, but some research suggests that the role parents play in their children's lives does have a correlation on the development of neurotic or undesirable behaviors.

In 2014, Stein et al. published research linking mental health problems in children to mothers who are young, less educated, and have a diagnosis of mental illness themselves.

An article published in the European Journal of Social Sciences in 2012 linked differing parenting styles to varying forms of neuroses in children:

  • Males diagnosed with anxiety are statistically more likely to have a mother with an authoritative parenting style.
  • Males diagnosed with psychosomatic disorders are more likely to have fathers with authoritative parenting styles and mothers with permissive parenting styles.
  • Both males and females diagnosed with hysteria are more likely to have fathers with authoritative parenting styles.

In 2017, Pearson et al. published research on mothers who have Borderline Personality Disorder and its link to depression and suicide in their children.

There are many factors that determine the development of neurotic behaviors, and early childhood experiences is only one potentially contributing factor. Other factors, such as an individual's overall environment and genetic predispositions, also must be considered when determining the origins of such behaviors.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Freud, parents play a large role in the development of neuroses in their children. For example, in his case study of the Wolf Man, a wealthy Russian, Freud traces the Wolf Man's neurotic fear of animals to a fear his father would castrate him. The Wolf Man associated animals with castration because (along with other inputs, such as a story of fox losing its tail) he once saw his father chop a snake, a phallic symbol, into pieces.

Further, Freud argues that the Wolf Man experienced a primal scene when he was very young. For Freud, a primal scene is a sexual encounter that the young child is unable to adequately understand. In this case, the Wolf Man's glimpse of his parents having sex convinced him that his father was "hurting" his mother. The Wolf Man, in turn, came to have a neurotic, masochistic desire for being beaten by his father so that he could take the position of the mother.

Freud tied much of neurosis to improperly processed scenes, events, and memories from a child's earliest life, which is why he recommended talk therapy. This way, an adult could correctly frame what happened to him as a child and be cured of his troubling neuroses.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial