Thoughts on the Œdipus & the Contingent Nature of Models of Socialization: report on a personal journey

Thoughts on the Œdipus & the Contingent Nature 
of Models of Socialization: report on a personal journey

   by Howard H. Covitz, PhD                     

         While in the Natural Sciences, it is most often assumed that researches are independent of such loosely defined constructs as value, meaning and notions of good and evil or right and wrong, in the Psychological and Social Sciences, such theoretical neatness may be a luxury, at best. It may be argued that psychological theories of development, for instance, as well as the nosologies that arise from them, are inextricably intertwined with views of the healthy polity, of the well individual and even with ethico-religious and literary images of the good life. How can we possibly, after all, specify a developmental growth towards wholeness that is independent of the definitions that boundary these very notions? And how can we reasonably hope to conceptualize any aspect of human development without attending to — or at the very least allowing for — the exigencies of social and political and religious life.  With such an invitation to interdisciplinarity in mind, the following come to mind: Does it behoove thinkers in the Behavioral Sciences to grapple with the presentation of consonant theories for the many frameworks in which their works develop and apply? Are researchers free from pursuing this taxing endeavor? Is the application of a discovered and singular superordinate paradigm to many thought venues useful? Or is such an endeavor little else than a defensive narcissistic belief in the applicability of our own model to a world that beyond such work is most often out of our control and beyond our beck and call?

            These questions will be pursued by example with the argument following in three parts. In the first section, I review work on a twenty-plus year old suggestion for an alternative theory of Œdipal development, that ultimately demonstrated the failure of extant researches to permit a reasoned choice between this novel theoretical model and Freud’s now classical one. Thereafter, I allude to Weltanschauungen that are interdependent with one or the other model for these intergenerational battles that toddler and parents pursue. Two thirds of a century ago, in a polemic against religion and theoretical anarchism, Sigmund Freud (Introductory Lectures XXXV, S.E. 1933a, p. 158) rhetorically queried: “Does psychoanalysis lead to a certain Weltanschauung?” Answering this question in the negative, Freud counterpoised empirical science against illusion and emotion. Science, in Freud’s way of thinking, was about capturing the truth or, at least, about approximating closely towards the truth, while illusion was of and about the magical fulfillment of the wishes of childhood. I shall disagree with the implicit view of Science that precipitates from such thought as Freud’s on this matter. Lastly, I return to the just-noted queries and wonder whether the construction of consonant theories has value and close with a tentative recommendation — what I shall label a prespecification model for enquiry in the behavioral sciences.  

         Before proceeding, I would repeat the words of Freud (1940E: S.E. 23:273): “I find myself for a moment in the interesting position of not knowing whether what I have to say should be regarded as something long familiar and obvious or as something entirely new and puzzling.”  

The problem: an interdisciplinary trek or Une Saison en Enfer  

         Never before — not, when a youngster, when I tried to study Biblical exegesis and not when, as a young man, I tried to do fundamental Mathematics — have I experienced such a Season in Hell as I have during the past years when my interest turned to the application to other contexts of an emended view of the Œdipus complex that I had been talking-up, even then for more than seventeen years. I shall indulge myself by sharing with you the confusion that has overtaken me in this interdisciplinary work that, I must say, chose me. I should add that as an arrogant youngster, I would have ascribed a sense of being chosen by the work only to madmen and lunatics; so much for the hubris of youth.

            On a wintry day in 1978, I sat in an audience listening to a paper titled “On the waning of the œdipus complex” (Loewald, 1979) — a work that I had already examined. As the author read, I found myself entering into a quiet reverie about the dreams of the more flamboyant of the two biblical Josephs:  

And he said to them: “Please, listen up to this dream which I have dreamt. And behold we were gathering sheaves  in the midst of the field and behold my sheaf stood up and was erect and behold your sheaves arose and bowed to my sheaf.... And behold I dreamt yet another dream and behold the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing to me.

            It struck me, that day, as curious that Joseph would be so brazen as to present these dreams but odder still, that his brothers would be willing to consider a now famous attempted fratricide to solve their frustration with this irksome adolescent. Noting a similarity between the geometric structures of these dreams and the productions of certain types of people suffering from narcissistic personality disorders, I later argued that (Covitz, 1982):  

(by) letting go of the content of the dreams ... and concentrating on the evanescent choreography of its characters, we see something else. There is a sameness in his mode of relating with each family member; each plays the same role, each a duplicate of the other. Beyond this, we note an absence of communication between the dreams’  faceless dancers. For instance, we may note that the celestial bodies are individually in orbit about Joseph; each separately relates to Joseph and to no one else.

Who among us, I asked, would not contemplate homicide to avoid a redaction of our personhood to the status of being just another face in a chorus of faceless dancers?  

            In the months and years that followed, I came to believe that Freud in his work on the Œdipus, not unlike the European sea-going discoverers who sought the East by sailing West, had discovered something else than what he had anticipated and imagined. The Œdipus was there ... but its driving dynamic was, perhaps, not the conjoin of sexuality and parricide. It also occurred to me  that there was a pressing need to distinguish between  social relationships, on the one hand, and the sum of two or more dyadic relationships, on the other. Joseph’s dreams contained representations of many dyads; but, in the sense that they were duplicates of each other, they were, after all, the same. These Josephean structures were apparent, as well, in the relationships described by narcissistic patients for whom a capacity to see the world from another’s vantage point, to empathize, was missing. Without empathy, I reasoned, there is, after all, but one Other! Put another way, triadic/social relationships required a capacity to see the other as subject, to allow the other to be center of his or her own cosmos. For the maturing child, I concluded, to enter the Oedipal situation, it would be necessary for him to have achieved adequate dyadic relations with both parents. But for him or her to successfully leave the Œdipus, a representation of the relationship that exists between the parents must have developed in the Psyche and have become acceptable. In this sense, I opined, the mastery of the Oedipus Complex brings with it or is brought by the psychological acceptance, on the part of the child, that two people can have a relationship independent of the child — a process first attempted within the family and with the parents.

            A little background on Freud’s Œdipus is, perhaps, necessary before continuing. While most often ignored by empirical researchers, Freud had, in fact, introduced three Œdipus complexes. The one bandied about most often, the Positive complex, charts the toddler’s progress through stages in which he or she seeks to incestuously attach to the hetero-sex parent and to parricide the same-sex parent. But together with this, Freud early-on postulated the general existence, and not just in neurotics, of a Negative complex in which attachment towards the same-sex parent was sought, together with the violent removal of the hetero-sex parent. Confusing matters still more sharply, was Freud’s contention that the general rule was an alternating of these two Simple complexes in a dance-step that moved back-and-forth between them; this he labeled the complete Œdipal situation. In all three models, success in leaving this limited mode of relating was contingent on parental threats which deterred this doomed-to-failure set of childhood fantasies and behaviors.

In later position papers and a more recent volume, I outlined the following five-stage developmental process that was, I posited, at the core of Freud’s Œdipus complexes:  

Stage I A period dominated by a (paranoid-like) incapacity to accept the  thoughts, desires, or needs of another whether self-referenced back to the child or not, begins the process.


Stage II A more progressed stage in which the child develops a capacity to recognize the inner stirrings of another, though a refusal to recognize another’s inner world remains except when the related thoughts are self-referenced back to the child.  

Stage III The toddler’s capacities to allow for the inner stirrings of another  fail, during a third phase, but only when confronted by another’s thoughts or deeds that relate specifically to a third person.


Stage IV A period during which the above potentials are consolidated but continue to fail when the child directly witnesses relationships external to him- or herself (corresponding to Freud’s Primal Scene).


Stage V Finally and in the best of circumstances, the child comes to accept in certain limited intimate contacts — and betimes even to cherish— relationships external to him- or herself and begins to carve out capacities for empathy, intersubjectivity and socialized object love, as well as a canonical precipitate of these functions, that we may associate with an awareness of the needs  for social order and laws.

            Trying my best to be a good scientist (i.e., a skeptical and open-minded thinker/knower of the observable), I searched for literary support, and imagined that I had found just such a leitmotif in the Book of Genesis. There, I found a document that preached against Narcissism and that presented a God oblivious to the sins of passion most customarily associated with the Œdipus. In 1995. I committed myself to testing my own and Freud’s models against the weight of extant experimental studies and offered-up hypotheses that might support one model or  the other ... and I reviewed ... and informally crunched numbers ...  and reviewed ... and crunched some more[1].

            And while it may have been facile to note that support for my Elemental Œdipal was more robust than for Freud’s, in fairness, at the close of this study, I had to admit that he who begins in a skeptical Cartesian Dubito, sometimes ends in that self-same position. In any case, I had agreed to let the cards fall where they might ... and they did ... they fell on doubt.    

The Gambit

            So, there I was caught between two stools.  Freud’s model, which begins in the monad and the regulated rhythms that typify biological and sexual patterning seemed quite reasonable, as did my Elemental Model which chose instead to begin inside a view of anthropos as member of a polity of mutual concern and interest, I sought to follow these models to explore where each might carry me.

           The inclination to view the individual as monad was apparent not only in Freud’s work, but in movements as separate and diverse as: Coue’s formulaic and semi-hypnotic treatments in the early decades of last[2] Century[3]; the self-actualization counseling modalities of its middle years; the focus on enlightenment during the tumultuous sixties and seventies; Kohut’s Self-Psychology that seemed to take the Psychoanalytic community by storm during the past thirty years; and in faddish notions such as Co-dependency that tend to pathologize attachments and dependencies. In contrast to these, the family therapy and group therapy movements, the Interpersonalists (Sullivan and Horney, for instance), the Systems folk (students of von Bertallanffy and, perchance, Lewin), the Attachment theorists (Bowlby, Ainsworth, Stern, and Stolorow and Atwood, as but several examples), and the Object Relations theorists have consistently taken, to varying degrees, the position that the primary aim of development is resident and understandable in the child’s or the adult’s style of attachment to his or her world.

            All this pointed me toward the following troubling conjecture:  

The particular form of the Œdipus complex that one chooses, may well be dependent on the choice of a particular Weltanschauung, a particular World View — be it social, political or religious. This View predetermines, so to speak,  the aims of development and, therefore, the constituents of a sanguine existence. The Œdipus will, for instance, appear differently depending on whether we accept a Biological, Monadic and Individualistic view or one in which Psychological Attachment and Intersubjectivity are seen among the primary goals of such development.

            The limbs of the World of Psychological Theories — it thus struck me like a precipitous influenza — were unavoidably shackled, pinioned by the need to pay tribute to antipodal wishes for separateness and the equally strong wishes for attachment. These self-same shackles, I reasoned, must bind the behaviors of the communities in which we live. With this in mind, I noted similarities in comments made by Dag Hammarskjøld (1957) and Sigmund Freud (1933):  

Do you wish to forfeit even that little to which your efforts may have entitled you? Only if your endeavors are inspired by a devotion to duty in which you forget yourself completely, can you keep your faith in their value. This being so, your endeavor to reach the goal should have taught you to rejoice when others reach it. (Dag Hammarskjøld - 1957 in Markings, p. 153, 1964)


Our mythological theory of instincts makes it easy for us to find a formula for indirect methods of combating war. If willingness to engage in war is an effect of the destructive instinct,... bring Eros, its antagonist into play against it. Anything that encourages the growth of emotional ties between men must operate against war. These ties may be of two kinds. In the first place they may be relations resembling those towards a loved object, though without having a sexual aim. ... ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ This, however, is more easily said than done. The second kind of emotional tie is by means of identification. Whatever leads men to share important interests produces this community of feeling, these identifications. And the structure of human society is to a large extent based on them. (Freud, 1933B, S.E. 22, p. 212)

         Hammarskjøld claimed that our endeavors to succeed — tempered by a unity with values and aspirations and a dutiful spirit to life-tasks — might lead to the possibility of the experience of vicarious joy in others’ successes; this claim, at first glance, seemed simplistic and naive, not being able to avoid our experience of the World, our knowledge of the two to three dozen wars that rage at any given hour, or the memories associated with our own century of genocides, all of which speak against the likelihood of such transcendence.          

         Furthermore, the rhetoric, chauvinism, and reasoning of nations did strike me as involving the self-same mad processes that possess neurotics. Like an hysteric, one state might utilize its economic infirmities or boundary-weaknesses as reason enough to subjugate its neighbors. Like a paranoiac-obsessional neurotic, some theocracy could rationalize incursions into or impose sanctions upon other states based upon some differing religious perspective. And like the forthright pervert, and in various and sundry ways not so dissimilar from his obsessional cousin, a lunatic nation not infrequently — and  based on some sacred wish to maintain Narcissistic integrity of its own type —  embark on a mission of racial purification, subjugating those deemed to be inferior to some theoretical principle of eugenics — in much the same way that a fetishist reduces his or her lover to the status of an object. Each, I imagined, could be placed in one of the five categories outlined for the novel model of the Œdipus!  

         I did find myself in agreement with Freud that man’s narcissistic aggressions may never be subdued and, still, I wondered about his addendum to his letter to Einstein (above), in which he avers that there is a psychical antagonism to war that arises from the progressive evolution of culture and  civilization — to each of which he ascribed pacifistic inclinations.  

         I tentatively concluded, then, that Love, Pacifism, and Recognition of Similarity  might serve as proof against the Biological selfishness that moves us to engage in Wars. This was offered in spite of the unavoidable recognition that the more selfish inclinations move many members of our species in other directions and toward bellicosity. As in the tensions that I thought I had found between the self- and other-directed polarities in development, I came to imagine each of us confronting a Schismatic World — and not solely in the arena of International Politics. This schism, I averred, was quite comparable to the dichotomous view of Man qua Selfish Biological Monad versus that of Man qua Socialized and Intersubjective Being. And not being shy, I had (Covitz, 1997, Chapter 6) suggested a great deal more, as I entertained a discussion of law and civilization.

            There, I had argued that the acceptance and practice of laws was different than the acceptance of a rationally-based code of behavior. While the latter deferred not a great deal to the needs of others but made sense, the former focused on the needs of others but frequently made little sense. Socrates’ willingness to go to his death made little sense unless examined from the potential impact on his Society that an absconding from the face of the Law might entail; only with this in mind, might nobility be ascribed to his suicide or, perhaps, to any other deed perpetrated in the name of some Code of Law. I, in the end, reasoned that: it was in the very act of accepting and allowing for the relationship of others, first of all one’s parents, that a sense of right and wrong might come into being. I suggested, therefore, that the Superego or Conscience or, may we even call it, the Social-Agency was birthed from three sometimes conflicting potentialities:  

•  the capacity to accept an-other’s relationships, which tempered Narcissism and opened the youngster to a world of considerations surrounding the subjectivity of an-other;


• the resulting capacity to internalize the relationship between the parents; and


• the ability to internalize each parent’s relationship to the child, whereby each parent’s sense of  justice and injustice might be transmitted to his or her progeny.

  I did worry about the conflicts that might result from such an amalgamated Superego that was fabricated from both Narcissistic components and others that seemed wedded to the image of mankind in attachment to others —  yet, this is where I was led!  

         As this process in me unfolded, I came to recast, as well, my understanding of the curative factors in psychoanalytic treatment. No more was it specifically either where Unconscious was let there be Conscious or where Es-It-Id was let there be Ich-I-Ego! Instead, I saw the treatment process as one in which two protagonists — one locked into relating unwittingly on the basis of relational history and another equally locked into both relational history and theoretical specificity — came to slowly abandon these self-referenced pinions and to work to cherish each others’ inner worlds and to accept each other as unique others, as subjects, each in their own right. And no less, I add en passant, did my vision of children, in-law children, grandchildren, spouse and parents and my relationships to them alter as my view restricted itself to this lens.  

         This directed me to a first attempt at posing a central question: How shall a choice of adherence to Freud’s Symbolic model or, instead, to an Elemental model for Œdipal development impart any difference to my thinking about the larger World  in which I live or to one in which I might hope to live?  

         This was, perhaps, not quite the question for which I was looking, but served as a place to start. I was certainly, with this question (above), involved in the pursuit of an immodest enquiry, one of great scale and broad scope.  I was, nonetheless, interested in whether this new view might address this broader scape. I accepted as a given that our notions of health are both expressed in and expressed by certain types of cultures and civilizations, that we, thereafter, value and promote; notions of health and of cultural values were now inseparable in my mind.  

         I demonstrate this with several detours. Consider, first, a theocracy of the type that may have existed at the time of the Inquisitions. Health, one may assume, was correlated in that society with inter alia two  matters: adherence to a certain code of religious practice and membership in a specified community. Outliers to either of these requirements were, presumably, thought of as ill or criminal and, as documented in the Maleus Maleficarum, were treated by the soul-doctors of their time, the Inquisitors. We take a second similar example. Robert Coles (1963), early in his career, reported finding himself in the disquieting position of being asked to treat certain purportedly ill white children in the American South whose neurosis, according to the parents who brought them for treatment, was, pointedly, their failure to hate or deprecate their black friends. And lest there be any doubt, such children and their distant kin, e.g., Spaniards who may have sheltered perfidious infidels, Germans who protected Jews, Homosexuals and Gypsies in the Third Reich  — all these may be deemed ill in the certain restricted sense of their having failed to adjust to their environment.  

         Our notions of health and illness, in fact, alter in relatively brief periods of time and across imaginary, international borders. Consider our shift in thinking that either once or now has tended to confound fervor with fanaticism, depending, that is, on our judgements concerning these matters. Fervor may well be connected with health and character while fanaticism is associated with madness. In recent years, we have witnessed those who considered a religious leader to be a madman for sentencing a blasphemous author to die for his purported heterodoxies. But who is mad? There was a time when the dissemination of Bibles, no blasphemy, just the dissemination of sacred texts, was punishable by a justifiable death. And there are many, still, who might consider perfidious attitudes toward one’s country, even those neutered of overt action, as capital crimes. Are those who perpetrate or recommend these punishments men of fervor or are they credibly insane? Are fanatics, patriots, and war heroes well? Ethics change and so, apparently, do attitudes towards health, as one moves in time and place.  

         How might we, I then wondered, attempt to evaluate health or illness? We could choose Freud’s dictum for emotional well-being, namely the capacity of the monadic self to reap satisfaction from Love and Work. In examining, for instance, one whom most would consider a lunatic, Adolph Hitler, we might explore the man’s biographies and breathe a sigh of diagnostic relief in realizing that he was not satisfied with his station in life, was sexually a coprophile, and, likely, was incapable of more conventional sexual gratification. Thereafter, we could justifiably code him according to this or that diagnostic disorder. Some may find it disheartening, though, to consider that other mass-murderers have been deemed sane by criminal courts and their appointed experts — at least, sane enough to be executed. And many fanatical religious leaders who have led their devotees to war may well pass muster in psychological and psychiatric evaluations based on this paradigm of: work + love = health. From the perspective of the Elemental Œdipal, however, wherein health is to be measured by the capacity for accepting and valuing the inner world of another, there is preciously little doubt  concerning the illness of any of the characters we’ve just now discussed, except, that is, for Coles’ young white charges in the South.

            Ah! I have travelled far afield of specific interests, but, perchance, I can now return and briefly respond to my most recent questions. Freud’s model for Œdipal development, sitting squarely as it does in the midst of the individual’s psychology and his or her capacity to balance the requirements of civilization with the need for instinctual gratification, would attribute healthful benefits to a society in which gratification of the individual’s instinctual needs is permitted within certain reasonable guidelines. The model that we have designated the Elemental Œdipal, however, would require much of this, not all of this, but something else as well. We say much of this for we can envision a society in which certain sexual gratifications and even certain work gratifications are restricted, but where healthful development may proceed and feelings of well-being may accrue, nonetheless. The good deal more, as you may have anticipated, refers directly to a societal norm centered on a primus inter pares view of others. Those who cannot accept or refuse to accept and value the inner stirrings and relationships of others in such a society would comprise its population of psychologically ill individuals, considered, that is, from this most idiosyncratic perspective.  

         Consider with me, if you would, America and much of the West in these early years of the Twentieth First Century. Our civilization highly cherishes the rights of individuals and appears to share certain specific attributes with theories of libidinal expression and their opposition to Civilization. Some of the slogans of this culture — privacy, free enterprise, market economy, etc. — are representative of the wish for these individualistic rights. I am not intent on advocating against this type of society. Rather, I come to emphasize the muted tones of another voice which the Elemental Œdipal expresses. Among the tensions that are manifest in our society is that which pits those who petition for and emphasize individual rights against those who advocate for, what might be called, according to the dominant religion of this culture, Christian Charity. Here, two World Views — difficult to precisely demarcate — come to our attention. One may be said to promote a notion of health based in the individual’s capacity to successfully garner what he or she can from their communities (like Hermes the Trickster), i.e., to love and to work. In this system, illness might well be measured by the failure to glean succor from the world. The opposing view discovers health within one’s relationships and, specifically, in the capacity to accept and, possibly, even promote another’s harvest as one is tending to one’s own fields (Dag Hammarskjøld). Bringing to mind the debates in the Houses of contemporary Western Governments, we note that these two paradigms often find no comfortable resolution. Perchance, in the end, it is through such tensions that balances are maintained while permitting  dissonant voices to offer-up their respective resonances!

         I shall move towards closing this section with a personal descriptive anecdote, leading up to brief comments concerning the sense of choseness of groups — still another application of the superordinate paradigm that has infected my thinking. The described exchange may more effectively than words point toward a specific lacuna in certain types of social interaction and to those questions related to health and illness that we shall, alas, not solve. Some years ago, I arrived early at a seminar housed in a religious college.  It was early morning, I had time to spare, and was feeling a familiar morning-elation that usually lasts until the early afternoon and that, in middle age, I’ve come to appreciate. I greeted a man and a woman standing before a display. They asked if I were a student or faculty member at the College. I responded: “No, I’m here for a meeting.” They immediately asked whether I knew any Jews. Feeling this morning ebullience, I responded — in a friendly, if facetious fashion — that I had been sleeping with two such people for thirty, referring to my wife and to myself. I quickly explained my little witticism that I had thought might cut through the tension between a missionary and his designated savage-pagan prey. I was wrong!  

         The conversation continued with my new-found friends noting that they should like, as missionaries to the Jews, to assist me in avoiding soul-rot and eternal damnation. While thanking them as best I could, I wondered whether they had ever considered a first-among-equals view that might permit them to leave another sentient human being in his or her own relationship to his or her own God and world. The gentleman took the lead and proceeded to explain: “Let me give you a medical metaphor. Suppose I had discovered a cure for AIDS and knew that you had AIDS. What shall I do?” I was immediately reminded of a moment twenty-four years earlier when a colleague’s mother-in-law had queried: “Just how does it feel to be a Christ killer?” My fine missionary had compared my having been born Jewish to having AIDS and saw himself as being in a position to redeem me from the pains and consequences of eternal perdition; and my colleague’s mother-in-law, years before, appeared to possess little interest in whether I had atoned for my two thousand year old sin-by-proxy or not. Furthermore, neither apparently could imagine how such comments might affect me. There are moments in life, in any case, when even the verbose among us should pause and measure their words. I thanked him for his kind thoughts and went to my meeting musing on the situation.  It is, let me add, somewhat ironic that I was but footsteps away from a meeting whose topic was multicultural psychology. Such are the ironies of life!  

          But returning to our questions surrounding health and illness, I don’t know whether this man had sexual problems, whether he loved his wife and two children, or whether he gleaned satisfaction from his work. He did seem to be a strapping forty year old, looked healthy and spoke well and kindly of his family and may well have been interested in saving my soul. However, from my own very idiosyncratic perspective, the one I’ve advocated in my work, I have little doubt but that this man failed to successfully resolve the Œdipus as I know it. I maintain, as well, but minimal doubt in my belief that both the society in which he lives and the one in which he matured suffer from some trenchant Narcissistic illness — although, calling it an illness bares my biases in this matter. Truth be told, I have discovered no religions and  no groups that do not consider themselves chosen or special. What clan does not consider itself the special and chosen one of its Totem or God? I have argued, in various and sundry ways, however, that it is possible to revel in one’s choseness and, simultaneously, to appreciate that others consider what is their’s equally special. It was and is my position that this transcendence is the primary task of the collection of crises that comprise the Œdipus complex and socialization processes that may be called by other names.  

         As I dally, just briefly, on the matter of this feeling of choseness, as it might be manifest in religious groups or even competing theoretical groups, echoes of the stages of development that were earlier postulated to exist on the path from Narcissism to Socialized Object Love may be heard. It would seem that at least four levels of group Narcissism are discernible. The first and, possibly, most prevalent in history sees the existence of the other as an intolerable danger and openly seeks the out-group’s destruction. The other is accorded no subjectivity at all and any thoughts to the contrary by a member of the in-group are, more or less, interpreted as traitorous and the equivalent of seeking membership in the hated group.  

         A second level might be described by its war-cries: convert or die! The out-group is permitted existence if and only if it gives up its uniqueness and its identity and joins the in-group. The Crusaders — those who marched on the Turks and sundry other infidels, giving them the choice to accept Christendom or die — were markedly different than the Nazis who, under no circumstances, could allow Gypsies, homosexuals, or Jews to enter the Aryan kingdom of heaven — conversion just wouldn’t cut it in Nazi Germany! It is not clear where to place the House Unamerican Activities Committee of America’s midcentury but, assuredly, many hate-mongering groups function on the earlier of these two levels.  

         The third posited stage represents a far more civil manifestation of this sense of choseness. Members of such groups vitiate the value of another’s prayers or political affiliations while paying lip-service to the out-group’s right to indulge their silliness. With this type of functioning, we see varying degrees of effort expended in order to achieve the in-group’s perspective. My fine missionary friend, one may presume, functioned in this manner. In our brief discussion, he noted that I was undoubtedly chosen but that it was equally certain that I was misguided; having only my best interest at heart, he expressed his love for me and bemoaned the misfortunes that would befall me in the Next World.  

         The fourth and most progressed type of group Narcissism entails the adoption of a primus inter pares view of the other. Referring back to the Biblical character Joseph, I repeat: Joseph’s difficulty was not that he placed himself at the center of the Cosmos but rather that he failed to recognize that his father, mother, eleven brothers and the sister he never deemed to mention — each, individually, viewed themselves as resident in the center of their own cosmological system.  This, I confidently add, is quite a reach in itself. Groups that progress beyond the Josephean mode of relating I associate with this fourth stage.[4]   

         I suspect there are those who imagine that anthropos is capable of transcending even this fourth state and achieving a thoroughly achauvinistic state of being; Freud was not andI am not to be counted, however, in the ranks of such thinkers[5].

  An Interdisciplinary Puzzlement  

         Travellers in the ethereal world of symbols, it is generally assumed, are bound by but several requirements that may be spelled out in a few brief sentences. By way of this, we may imagine a mathematical argument to be configured in the form of a triangle on whose base are arrayed collections of grouped-together premises and at whose top vertex is a conclusion; intermediate to these and on lines parallel to the base are other groups of premises or intermediate conclusions. Arrows point from each and every cluster on every line, beginning with the base, to another cluster on a line at or nearer the conclusion. The Locality Principle of Formal Logic requires only that we satisfy two general requirements: first, that our premises, those on the base of our triangle, are correct, i.e., consensually-acceptable and, secondly, that the arrows in such an argument may be shown to represent the derivability of the pointed-to cluster from the pointed-from cluster of statements under specified rules of argumentation. The resulting demonstration is, generally speaking, deemed aesthetically pleasing, theoretically economic or even elegant if it enlists the fewest number of premises and the fewest possible number of these parallel lines of the argument’s intermediate stages before arriving at the sought-after conclusion[6].

           The matter is not so facile, however, for those who seek to distinguish, in the softer sciences, between rigorous thinking, impressionistic presentation, and rhymeless poesy. Our language is not the language of Mathematics or the Laboratory Sciences and appears to unavoidably lead us to the use of words with multiple and, betimes, contradictory meanings. “The congruence between the construct validity of a concept and that of its operational measure” (Sarnoff, 1971, p. 104) is thereby weakened bringing with it a host of doubts concerning our results. This being the case, we, perhaps, cannot expect from the finished product any more than adherence to the form of the arguments and/or demonstrations that we find in the more rigorous sciences. Laboring under the stress of an equivocal language, researchers in Psychology are, nonetheless, prone to cite the works of others as if these represented consensually acceptable premises. In the end, such proofs may not be substantively different than the ones offered by a blustering five year old boy in invoking the power of his very big father during some street-corner dispute. While the citations of these behavioral thinkers situate the work in an historically progressive  framework, a number of liabilities may be articulated. In the first place, citations from respected authors carry with them the imprimatur of authority and may lead the reader to accept these as the equivalents of the consensually validated premises in other sciences. Secondly, since such citations are phrased, as they may often be, in an equivocal language, their meaning may be difficult to discern, interpret or evaluate. And finally, unlike works in Mathematics and the Laboratory Sciences, psychological studies most often cannot directly measure the variables which they intend to examine; rather, they typically choose other measurable variables or indicators that are presumed to represent or operationalize the elusive ones the researcher seeks to understand. We may, therefore, often have no druthers in the Psychological Sciences but to settle, in the end, on either the choosing between many still-incomplete ways of thinking or on a pasting-together of a number of incomplete and, betimes, contradictory formulations

            I have, thus far in this communication, presented a resume of a tour, representing a gambit that has preoccupied me for these many years — moving me, as it did, from a quiet reverie about an Old Testament character through clinical thoughts, notions for a developmental paradigm, excursions in the land of theoretical tensions to which I have but been able — in these comments — to allude, and from there on to posits about group narcissism and even to musings about the insanities of the larger political and religious groups to which we belong. Still, nearing the end of my journey, I am left with disbelief surrounding what I imagined to be the structure of the argument that comprised these works and am stuck with a multiplicity of queries for which I possess no answers and that relate to how I now conceptualize my process.

            This Saison en enfer was, as I now imagine it, a rekindled one and not a madness that  appeared is from not is ... something from nothing! My initial sense  — though I can no longer hold this thought to be a reasoned one, as I already indicated — was that this process began while listening,  or rather while not listening, to Hans Loewald discuss his “On the waning of the œdipus complex” (1979). It had felt as if my mnemic banks precipitously birthed both the pictoral images of Joseph’s two dreams and a geometric tool  which struck me with the homology of these dreams’ structures, that is, with the image of a singular subject at the hub of his indistinguishable others.

            Reflecting back, then, I had attempted to assimilate these thoughts about Joseph and his narcissistic dreams with what I had previously believed to be at the center of Freud’s Œdipus complex. Finding something discordant in this comparison, I, instead, came to accommodate what I previously thought to be my own thinking to accept what I now imagined was a new idea for me. A novel model for the Œdipus coalesced, based in a developmental continuum that moved from a Bio-Narcissistic self-referenced phase through one in which a primus inter pares view of oneself and one’s others might be born and might, in turn, promote the skills necessary for membership in Polities of Mutual Concern and Interest. Struggling with the many corollaries that seemed to canonically spin off from this thinking, I was pleased as I realized that Freud had himself entertained certain similar ideas that were manifest in the theoretical tension between his Simple and his Complete Œdipal situations. I was pleased, furthermore, as I succeeded in finding a literary leitmotif garnered from a study of what I perceived to be a preaching against Narcissism in the Book of Genesis. And, thus even further emboldened by my successes, I applied this thinking to describe an array of different Narcissistic phases in small groups and even in larger political and/or nationalistic settings.  

         I pause, prior to continuing on to close this communication, with a commentary on a certain hubris that I see in my work and other works similar to it. As the previous writings unfolded and as my thinking about this revised Œdipus complex evolved, moving as it did through child development, individual psychology, group psychology, theories of technique and political musings, I was particularly pleased by the appearance of a singular Weltanschauung that was operational in each of these frameworks — as if I had discovered some great principle of the Cosmos! I remember studying, some thirty five years ago, the writings — he titled them Ultra-Intuitionism — of the Soviet dissident, A.S. Yesinin Volpen. He had brought these with him from his years in Russian Gulags and state hospitals where the ideas were worked through. In that work, the productive Topologist of the 1950’s had not only denied Mathematical Induction, but the Locality Principle of Logic, as well. He reasoned that it was not sufficient proof of a conclusion that the premises of a Mathematical argument and the arrows, its logical impliers, be verifiable. The proof, as a whole he said, needed a Soul, something that bound it together into a unity. Throughout my processes, in the past twenty years, I’ve patted myself on the shoulder, telling myself that there was, after all, just such a Soul that grew out of my thinking in the guise of a unifying paradigm that conceptualized health — of the individual and of the polity — in the progressive capacity to embrace the Other as a Subject in his or her own right. I enjoyed those thoughts even if now I must deny their absolute truth.  

         Let me be direct about this: I have come to question the correct ordering of my work and lean toward believing that, in fact, on that Wintery day that now appears as part of my youth, I had already subliminally embraced that organizing principle and that my studies, since that day, have all been contingent on that unverifiable paradigm[7].  I have come, that is, to believe — and I have come here today to fascinate out loud before you, an audience of fellow sojourners —  that thinkers, Scientists, in spite of their Niemann-Pearson Null Hypotheses and their attempts to remain unbiased, begin their works with an subliminally defined context bounded by some equally unconscious unifying superordinate principle that logically contains their works.  And finally, I have come to believe that readers and students have a Right to Know — perhaps, not the very personal origins of such principles but at least — the structure and essential ingredients of those principles that gird the author’s presented works.

            I leave you, then, with these certain queries, the answers to which I make no claims to possess — and a singular suggestion.  

•  What separates interdisciplinary from unidisciplinary studies? Is it, perchance, the application of a singular superordinate Weltanschauung, Binding Paradigm or Soul to a variety of inquiries or disciplinary venues? Or is it, on the other hand, the bringing together of a number of inquiries independent of the existence of a consonant World View that might bind them together?


• If the former be our choice, are we doing more than disguising a Narcissistic sense that our particular world view, our own Weltanschauung, has universal applicability? That is, might it be that such an endeavor is little else than a defensive belief in the applicability of our own model to a world that, beyond such fantasied moments, is most often out of our control and beyond our beck and call?


• Can we not, I wonder, be humbly satisfied with the acceptance that any given Weltanschauung is but a first among equals whose primary status may precipitate solely from the identity of its proponent, i.e., from the fact that it is ours?


• And, if this be the case, can we not accept the fact that our models — those that seek to represent reality by reducing the number of actual variables so that extant tools and methods may be applied to understanding the ineffable — are not even constrained to avoid mutual contradiction without one or the other being falsified?

         Here I am, then — now after twenty three years of pursuing the application of a singular paradigm to the variety of disciplines in most of which I remain uncredentialed — slowly coming to accept that while I am moved to this process of seeking out a consonance of Weltanschauungen in all these venues, I may well have done little more than  fitting  what I had already believed into the appearance of a scientific mode of thinking. What to say? Humility is most often the last guest to arrive at a party! With this in mind, I recommend that similarly-minded thinkers prespecify, when they can, the guiding paradigms that they bring with them and that they consider to be Sacred. I have come to designate this the prespecification model for interdisciplinary inquiry.  

         I have attempted to demonstrate how a particular madness played out in my lengthy search for a model of socialization that I could embrace in my life and in my practice. I thank you for following along.

  Appendix: Results of An Informal Meta-Analysis  

         An examination under the light of extant empirical studies of this new model with both Freud’s Simple and his Complete Œdipal models was undertaken (Covitz, 1997). Multiple predictions were profferred that, if correct, would have seemed to support the revised model; they were:

Prediction I.a.  The child is anticipated to demonstrate heightened closeness to its primary nurturer independent of that nurturer’s gender.

Prediction I.b.  A balanced distribution of both warm and hostile feelings towards both parents is anticipated during the years associated with Œdipal development.

Prediction II.a.  It is anticipated that it has not been not possible, empirically, to determine whether the sexual productions of this period are overlays on the tender attachments or vice-versa.

Prediction II.b.  It is anticipated that emotional closeness functions as proof against incestuous attachments.

Prediction III.  A correlation between Narcissism and psychopathy is anticipated.

Prediction IV.a.  As was the case with warm and hostile feelings, a balanced distribution of identifications with each parent is anticipated.

Prediction IV.b.  It is, furthermore, anticipated that there is an identifiable propensity to identify particularly with each parent in matters surrounding relational styles.

Prediction V.  It is anticipated that it is precisely the loving and intersubjective stances of the parents that are most likely to move children of both sexes out of their Œdipal dilemmas.

Prediction VI.  It is anticipated that studies will demonstrate evidence of certain Œdipal traits in periods of time bracketing those that are conventionally associated with Œdipal development.

Prediction VII.  No greater degree of conflict is associated with females as compared to males concerning gender identity.

Prediction VIII.a.  A correlation is anticipated between conflictual Œdipal periods and later difficulties with intimacy.

Prediction VIII.b. A correlation is anticipated between conflictual Œdipal periods and later relational difficulties.

Prediction VIII.c.  No turning away of sexual interest is anticipated during the period following the Œdipus.

The following table presents the conclusions from the previous work (Covitz, 1997) based on an examination of empirical studies as they related to the listed hypotheses. E refers to the Elemental Œdipal revision recommended (Covitz, 1997). S refers to Freud’s Positive (Symbolic) Œdipus complex and C refers to Freud’s bi-modal Complete Œdipus complex with its shifts from Positive to Negative complexes.








Closeness of Child to Primary Nurturer during pre-Oedipal years.





Balanced distribution of warm and hostile attachments





Primacy of relational over sexual elements of Oedipal






Inverse relationship between closeness and incestuous feelings.





Association of Narcissism and psychopathy





Balanced distribution of parental identifications.





Identification with both parents by relationship-style.

√-very weak





Loving stance of parents assists in leaving Oedipal.





Evidence for earlier/longer duration of Oedipal themes.

√-very weak  *





No greater gender-specific difficulties in women than in men.





Oedipal difficulty yields disturbances  in capacity for intimacy

√-very weak





Oedipal difficulty yields disturbances  in capacity for relationship

√-very weak





No complete sexual repression in so-called Latency Phase.




* Variable VI was not, for the time being, amenable to experimental study.

  • Selected Bibliography •  

Coles, R. (1963). Farewell to the South. Canada: Little, Brown & Company.

Covitz, H. (1988). Joseph and his narcissistic dreams: the primacy of the Œdipal dilemma. In proceedings of the conference: Memorial Lectures in Honor of Harold Feldman’s XYZ of Psychoanalysis. 16 April 1988, Philadelphia: Institute for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.

_____ (1992).  Fate, choice, and retribution in Freud’s psychoanalysis. In E. Garcia (Ed.)  Understanding Freud: The Man and His Ideas. New York: NYU Press.

_____     (1997). Œdipal Paradigms in Collision: A Centennial Emendation of a Piece of Freudian Canon (1897-1997). Bern/Vienna/New York: Peter Lang

Freud, S. (1953-1974). The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vols. 1-24 (J. Strachey, Ed.). London:Hogarth. (Abbreviated below as S.E., followed by volume:page and listings in vol 24).  
_____ (1909B).             Analysis of a phobia in a five year old boy. S.E. 10:3-140.  
_____ (1912X).             Totem and Taboo. S.E. 13.  
_____ (1933A).             New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. S.E. 22.  
_____ (1933B).             Why war?  S.E. 22:197-224.  
_____ (1940E).             The splitting of the Ego in the process of defense. S.E. 23:273.  

Hammarskjøld, D. (May 25, 1957). In Markings, p. 153. New York: Knopf.

Kramer, H. & Sprenger, J. (1486). Maleus Maleficarum, ed. and trans. M. Summers. New York:    Dover 1971.

Loewald, H. (1979). The waning of the Œdipus complex. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 27(4), pp. 751-775.

Sarnoff, I. (1971). Testing Freudian Concepts: An Experimental Social Approach. New York: Springer.

Wright, K. (1991). Vision and Separation: Between Mother and Baby. New York: Aronson.    

[1] A list of hypotheses and a chart representing conclusions are appended.  

[2] I find it difficult to refer to the Twentieth Century as last century, all the more so as I consider that whatever I write will be labeled as Twentieth Century thought, much as my own generation tended to affix the tag of Nineteenth Century thought to Freud and his cohort.

[3] Coue would have visitors to his seminars repeat time and time, again: Tous les jours a tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux — Each day and in every way, we get better and better.  

[4] Pathological Narcissism, thus conceptualized, is the inability to embrace others’ Narcissism.  

[5] These thoughts on Groups followed comments by Woody Allan (Reflections of a Second Rate Mind: Tikkun) in which he advocated such a thoroughly achauvinistic potential.  

[6] In the Laboratory Sciences, the situation is similar but with several notable differences. Such arguments may be organized, as they were in Mathematics, in a triangular form with collections of propositions and consensually validated results pointing the way to intermediate propositions nearer the concluding vertex. The rules governing these arrows, however, may now take on statistical and empirical forms and the propositions, themselves, may include such experiments or sequences of experiments. Still, in general, the results are quantifiable or else are expressible in parameters of a well-defined nature.  

[7] No less so do my thoughts rest on the theories that I brought with me than Euclidean Geometry hinges on the Parallel Postulate.

Howard Covitz, Ph.D., was for many years Director of (1989-2001) and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies (Bryn Mawr, PA) and sat on a variety of psychoanalytic boards. His trek to these roles encompassed interests in Religious and Secular Education and Administration, and the teaching of Statistics, Mathematics and Psychology (Temple, Villanova and LaSalle Universities). He trained psychoanalytically at the Psychoanalytic Studies Institute, deciding only later in life to complete the doctorate in Clinical Psychology. He is a frequent contributor at meetings and online discussions (faculty on JAPA_NET) and practices and lives with his wife in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania — from whence they travel to visit their children (and grandchildren) who, with their spouses, have acted as able and persistent collocutors in his writings. The attached paper on the “Contingency of the oedipus complex” draws on his experiences in and after writing OEdipal Paradigms in Collision: A Centennial Emendation of a Piece of Freudian Canon (Peter Lang, 1997). The volume was nominated for the Gradiva Book of the Year Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis in 1998.  Recently, his interests have been expressed in polemics against scientific realism’s penchant for not separating the model theoretic from das Ding (as in “Mammon, sabbath and humility in theory formulation” presented to Association of Science and Culture, March 2000) and in non-adversarial and heimlich reviews of analytic volumes. Other works have addressed diverse interests in biblical characterology, the sanguine nature of embracing the subjectivity of others, psychoanalytic training, the envious male, capital punishment, and rehabilitation strategies for the traumatically brain-injured.