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Shame and guilt are as much interpersonal as intra- individual phenomena in terms of their origins and consequences, as well as in terms of their narrative flow. These self-conscious moral emotions both involve a sense of transgression, are early-appearing in development and can usefully be contrasted in the light of current developmental and clinical knowledge. Based on this knowledge, today’s psychoanalytic theory of the Œdipus Complex and its links to moral development requires revision. Freud was highly selective in his view of Sophocles’ drama and our broader views today can point to more insights about connections. We retell the drama in three ways: with Œdipus as provocator, Œdipus as victim and Œdipus as a seeker of secret knowledge. The first retelling points to an individual/intrapsychic level of action, the second to an interpersonal level and the third to a community/cultural level. Œdipus is a tragic hero in each version. Key elements of the child’s Œdipus complex as we understand it today are then highlighted. These emphasize the role of exclusion in a relationship-motivational theory and add interpersonal, family and community influences to the elements of the child’s intrapsychic conflict.


  • early moral development
  • shame and guilt
  • Œdipus complex
Antoine Guedeney
Robert N. Emde
David Oppenheim
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