Study Guide

Sigmund Freud Buzzwords

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I'm not talking about enormous buildings with multiple units. Nor am I referring to something that is simply complicated.

Let's just say a complex is a cluster of concepts about a powerful feeling. I was really into complexes and even had a few myself. Which is why this part's so interesting: the complex is usually too overpowering to deal with, so we bury it deep inside of us. But it doesn't go away. Ugh, those pesky complexes just show up through other behaviors—some of which we are not even aware of.

Oedipus Complex

Prepare for a mind scrambler. The Oedipus complex is the granddaddy of all my theories of psychosexual development, so you might say it's the single most important concept you'll ever learn. Ever.

Let's say you are this sweet little boy (or girl) in preschool with your Thomas the Tank Engine shirt and a love of swinging from the monkey bars. Little do you know that at this age, you are deep in the process of ego development, a vital part of which is the growth of the Oedipus complex.

Yeah, you know where I'm going. But before you get all freaked out, let me just say that the Oedipus complex is not a child's straight-up desire to kill Dad and get Mom in the sack. Nope, it's a symbolic process in which the child feels threatened about sharing mom's attention with dad. When it comes down to it, your dear old dad is standing between you and 100% of mommy's attention. And that's no bueno.

You should also know that I name this complex after the protagonist of the Greek play Oedipus Rex. As much as his family tries to change his crappy fate, poor Oedipus ends up murdering his father (for real) and marrying his mother (for real). Ick—we know.

Castration Complex (a.k.a. Castration Anxiety)

Girls may go through some version of the Oedipus complex, too. After all, who doesn't want mommy all to herself? But, ladies, I must tell you: only boys can experience the castration complex because—to put it bluntly—they are the only ones with, well, testicles.

The castration complex is all about hardcore Oedipal rivalry with daddy, because little Johnny is terrified that daddy is going to castrate him to impede his sexual contact with mommy. Johnny eventually shifts from having hateful, murderous feelings for daddy-o to identifying with him—wanting to be like him—so he can find his own old lady who's just like dear old mom. Allying with Dad also lets him fantasize about being in the role of mom's wild sex partner.


Death Drive/Instinct (Later Dubbed Thanatos)

Humans have two drives, one of which is the death drive/instinct. That's the human urge to self-destruct and do crazy death-defying stunts. (Check out Jackass if you need visuals.)

Libido/Life Drive (a.k.a. Eros)

See how well it complements the Death Drive? The libido drive's a little cheerier, as it relates to survival, making babies, eating, drinking, having sex, and other reality television topics.

Ego, Id, Superego

The mind is made up of three parts: the id (our more instinctual side), the ego (which connects those instincts to the actual world around us), and superego (our inner policeman—he makes us feel like jerks when we are bad, helps us control our naughtiness).


I love me some personality disorders. It's old fashioned to think neurosis is about the actual nervous system. As soon as one of your fundamental instinctual urges is thwarted, you'll get a neurosis, too. So watch out.


We all have certain urges that, in order to remain upstanding members of our hard-won civilization, we can't just act upon willy-nilly. So what do we do? We repress 'em! We deny 'em!

Repression is a highly recommended defense mechanism—just keep it all locked up inside, hidden in your unconscious, which is sort of like the forgotten storage unit of your mind. But be warned: even as you push aside memories of losing your puppy in a horrible accident involving a broken leash and a UPS truck, those memories will fester, and indirectly affect your behavior and your life experience. Every time you see that big brown delivery truck coming down the road, you will break into cold sweats…


That's the deep down nook of the psyche. Much of what is stored up in your unconscious is unreachable. Other fragments—like memories, fantasies, impulses, urges, dreams, and projections may be hovering below the surface—and can be brought out by some good Couch Time with yours truly.

Penis Envy

Some males suffer from their own form of penis envy, but it's not the same kind I was talking about. (Allow me to refer you to "small penis syndrome" for that concern.) Penis envy is what happens when a woman realizes she doesn't have a penis (insert shocking music here), which of course causes irreparable feelings of inferiority.

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