Little Oedipus, Happy at Last
by Mark Sichel, LCSW
"When I win, I feel like a scoundrel. When I lose I'm unhappy."
-- Michael*, stock broker
When I win, you lose. This is the essence of the Oedipal conflict, believed by
most psychoanalysts to be at the heart of our struggle with competing and
winning. Competition theoretically operates in the unconscious according to
the Law of the Jungle. (Perhaps this is at the root of the saying, "It's a
jungle out there.") Michael's greatest struggle in trading effectively is the
feeling that he is hurting other traders when he makes money.
In another case study, Dan struggles with the fact that he is bored, unchallenged and under stimulated by his job as an on-line Producer for a newspaper. He received a great job offer from another company, but fears that leaving his job will hurt his co-workers who rely on him. He too feels that to win means someone else will lose.
In the Oedipal myth, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother. This is
an analogy for the notion that if I win, my father loses; if I win my co-worker
or competitor loses. If I shine, other men or women are relegated to dullness. If I stand out, someone else will feel put down. In the Oedipus story, our hero ends up blinded as his punishment for his symbolic successes.
We in the psychoanalytic community treat that blindness as an allegory for castration. That is why when many people try to stand out and achieve to their fullest potential, they fear being cut up, put down, humiliated or alone.
How often have you faced a competitive challenge with the fear of symbolic castration: plagued with thoughts of how your success could hurt others, how others could knock you off your feet, or how others could put you down? What kinds of messages did you receive as a child regarding the dangers of standing out and being "the best?"
Think of these questions as you attempt to compete and win and try to remember that the Oedipal myth is only an allegory: There CAN be more than one winner. Say to yourself: "If I win, it does not mean you lose. There are enough opportunities in the sea of life for there to be more than one winner. My winning will not hurt my father, mother, sister, brother, neighbor, co-worker, next door neighbor, friend or anyone. It simply means that I am a winner!"
*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.
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