LiteratureReviewIt is currently about a century agosince Freud revealed his highly influential views on the saliency of the fatherin child development. Freud’s seminal views on the role of men and fathers hada significant influence on social and psychological frameworks in the early 1900s.Freud’s ideas and conceptualisations of the father were based on the social andcultural doctrine of Europe. In the latter part of the 1900s, the work ofpsychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby of theUnited Kingdom and Margaret Mahler of the United States surpassed the writingsof Freud as their psychoanalytic interests and ideas shifted focus to the mother-childdyad and the significance of the mother in the developmental stages of thechild’s life (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).
According to Ross (1979), the father hasbeen missing from psychoanalytic and psychological literature up until quite recently.However, studies conceptualising the father-child dyad and the paternalfunction outside the mother-child dyad has slowly began to emerge. It has been arguedthat a cause of this apparent abandonment of the father in psychoanalytic literatureis due to the disproportionate development of the mother-child and father-childrelationship as the mother-child relationship involves an initial biologicaland emotional attachment that is apparent and easy to comprehend, whilst thefather-child relationship is more socially and culturally constructed andmediated through the mother’s perceptions of the father. This psychoanalyticreview of the literature will concentrate on the psychoanalyticconceptualisations about the father as according to three interrelated concepts:the role of the father in the Oedipus Complex; the intrapsychic role of the ‘internalfather’; and the role of the father in child development (Trowell &Etchegoyen, 2002). In addition, this review will draw attention to contemporaryformulations about the father in clinical settings.The Role of the Father in the OedipusComplexThe part of Freud’s psychanalytic theorythat primarily pertains to the father surrounds the resolution of the Oedipusconflict. Freud developed specific formulations for males and females toachieve conflict resolution. The formulation for males to resolve this conflictis achieved by fear of the father’s aggression; and the formulation for femalesto resolve this conflict is achieved by fear of the loss of the mother’s love(Lynn, 1974).
For males, the young boy is consideredto develop a sexual attraction for his mother, however the father is believedto thwart his intentions of becoming the object of his mother’s sexual desiresby threatening to castrate his penis. As a result, an inner psychologicalconflict arises as the young boy battles between the fear of losing his penisand the love that he has for his mother. This fear later becomes undeniablewhen the little boy discovers that little girls in fact have no penis. At thispoint, the little boy is spooked by his discovery as he concludes that littlegirls are guilty of such unbecoming desires towards the mother that they havealready been castrated by the father. Hence, he believes that the threat ofcastration is unquestionable. However, the young boy of 3 years old is incapableof fully comprehending this inner conflict. Therefore, psychoanalysts use thedisruptive behaviour in little boys as symbols to interpret this unconsciousand underlying conflict within them.
Freud deduced that when the little boy iscertain at the prospect of castration, he resolves this inner conflict byidentifying with his father and repressing his sexual urges towards his mother.These urges then become so deeply embedded within his unconscious mind that theconflict dissipates as it soon ceases to exist. The little boy’s identificationwith the father causes him to seek to be just like him as he begins to modelhis fathers behaviour. As a result of this, he not only learns from his father tonegate his desires of incest, but to also negate any other forms of inappropriatebehaviour.
Moreover, the little boy learns to adopt his father’s values andbeliefs and strives to adhere to it (Lynn, 1974).For females, the resolution of theOedipus conflict is not as clear cut and consistent as it is for males. The younggirl is believed to have an infantile fixation or obsessive love for hermother. However, she later discovers that she does not hold a penis like herbrother or male counterparts and because her inconspicuous organ is not aslarge and as outwardly discernible, she begins to feel a sense of betrayal byher mother and blames her mother for her lack of this organ.
Thereafter, sheretracts from her mother and turns to her father in an effort to replace hermother in his love and affections and desires to carry a child by him. Freud believesthat because the little girl cannot do this, she eventually aborts the idea andas a result females are believed to never really achieve the resolution of theOedipus conflict. Freud further believes that females hold specks of theirinability to resolve this conflict in their relationships with men as they lackthe powerful fear of castration that compels males to resolve this conflict. Now,once the little girl retracts from her mother in an attempt to supplant her,the little girl fears the loss of her mother’s love. This motivating fear ofloss of love causes the little girl to internalise her mother and as a resultshe begins to identity with her mother. However, since her motivating force of fearof loss of love is not considered to be as powerful as the little boysmotivating force of fear of castration, her identification with her mother isnot as complete as the little boy’s identification with his father andconsequently her Oedipus conflict is never really fully resolved. The implicationof this is that a female’s conscience is believed to not be as fully developedas a male’s due to her inability to resolve this conflict. Hence, Freudbelieves that a female’s superego never becomes as impartial, unrelenting and independentof its affective domain as a male’s.
Moreover, Freud believed that in comparisonto males, females rarely develop a man’s sense of fairness and ability to complyto life’s demands and that the actions and judgements of females are in factmore driven by emotions of positive affection and hostility (Lynn, 1974).The Intrapsychic Role of the ‘InternalFather’In modern-day society, fathers may beabsent from the onset or at some time during a young child or adolescent’slife. There are many reasons for this contemporary phenomenon, including improvementsin fertility regimens, severed marital relationships and changes in thestability of traditional family structures.
According to psychoanalytic theory,although there is an absent physical entity and emotional connection of a realfather, there always still remains an internal picture of the father. Thisrepresentation of the father exists as an internal object within the world ofthe child or adolescent (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).The conceptualisation of the father asan internal object is a matter of intricacy. The experience of having a presentor absent father is of great importance in the development of any child oradolescent.
According to Neubauer (1989), children have an inborn inclinationto fill the emptiness that ensues the absence of the father with an omnipotentimage of the father either as an optimal representation or as an all-punishing,chastising representation of the father. The urge of the child or adolescent is to not just fill an emotional orpsychological emptiness within their internal world, but rather to place thefather as an existing, significant figure within this world. The representationof the father as an internal object is not only influenced by the father-childrelationship, but it is also a result of the mother’s influence in many ways.
It is argued that the child’s internalisations and perceptions of the father isdirectly influenced by the father, but it is also indirectly influenced by theperceptions of the mother. It is the mother’s ideals and expectations of thefather either at a conscious or unconscious level that informs the internalrepresentation of the father. The child or adolescent’s representation of thefather may be further influenced by the relationship that the mother holds withher present partner who might either directly shape the child’s internalisationof the father or influence the mother’s perceptions of the father, thus in partcreating the image of the father within the child or adolescent’s internalworld (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).In addition to this, there is also aninternal representation of the mother in which paralleled forms ofidentification pertain. However, there is a difference in the influencingforces of this development as the child inherently has a more direct andphysical relationship with the mother. The infant develops in the womb of themother and thereafter is completely reliant on on the mother for suckling andgeneral care-taking.
Hence, the child has a more direct relationship with themother than that with the father as the indirect relationship and internalisationof the father is in part constructed and interceded by the mother (Trowell& Etchegoyen, 2002).The implication of an absent internalfather may result in the development of psychopathology within the child oradolescent (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002). According to Chasseguet-Smirgel(1985), sexual perverts or sexual deviants deny the difference between the ageand familial relationship between mother-child and father-child and thusdiscounts the role of the father in the idea and pursuit that he can be theobject of the mother’s affection and sexual longing.
Therefore, it has beenargued that as a result of the absent internalisation of the father, thedevelopment of psychosis may occur within a child or adolescent. Such anabsence of the internal father may be caused by a defect in the cognitive ormental development of the child or adolescent or it may be caused by anunconscious denial to dismiss the reality that exists between generations(Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).The Role of the Father in ChildDevelopment The Father in Clinical FormulationsAccording to Davies (2015), there is adisparity between a large body of existing knowledge on the contributions ofthe father and the extent to which this function has been applied and practicedin clinical settings. In relation to this, psychotherapists have explicitlyacknowledged and confirmed that the father is relatively absent from clinicalthought and application.
With this point, it appears that the father is largelyabsent from the conscious minds of psychotherapists and that there further appearsto be a sort of unwillingness by psychotherapists to include the functions ofthe father in clinical practice. Hence, contemporary explanations will beprovided to not only discuss the unconscious abandonment of the father, but toalso discuss the reluctance of psychotherapists to include the father inclinical practice as a result of unconscious negative associations attached to malenessand fatherhood.In clinical practice it seems that therole of the father is mostly removed from the conscious minds ofpsychotherapists. One explanation for this is that psychotherapists reportedthat their training predominantly included maternal models of psychoanalyticpractice, hence they experienced a sort of unfamiliarity with knowledgeregarding paternal models of functioning. Unfamiliarity of the father inanalytic training programmes highlights general thoughts and processes thatfocus on the maternal function in clinical settings. Another explanation thatrelates to the question of the father in clinical practice, is thatpsychotherapists have found it increasingly difficult to construct the role ofthe father as instinctually as they have been able to construct that of themother. The cause of their inability to instinctually construct the functionaryroles of the father could be as a result of the pre-oedipal experience of themother as the primary caregiver, therefore psychotherapists seem to provideundecided descriptions in formulating the clinical role of the father intherapy.
However, research has shown that when fathers are consciously constructedin clinical practice, they seem to be constructed as absent entities of whichpatients are encouraged to mourn and although this is of significant value tothe patient, the direct and adverse psychological effects of his absence is tobe deeply considered and addressed in therapy (Davies, 2015). In addition, there lies the reluctanceof psychotherapists to include the father in clinical thinking and practice.This reluctance may be caused by the unconscious hostility of clinicianstowards the characterisation of masculinity, men and the father as malevolent,cruel and harmful. This persona of maleness and fatherhood in clinical practicemay be related to the role of men and fathers as historically and culturallyembedded in ideas of autocracy and patriarchy, hence there appears to beconceptualisations of the male figure as insignificant in clinical practices.Moreover, the role of the father has been associated with descriptions of un-empathyand violence as more particularly in South Africa there is increasing evidenceof violent transgressions by men as in case of assault, rape, murder andmutilation of infants, children, women and men alike. Thus, men receive morenegative forms of attention than positive forms of affirmation and as a resultpeople are not unfamiliar with associations of maleness and fatherhood as abandoning,domineering, abusive and violent. Consequently, conceptualisations of thefather may elicit repulsive feelings in the unconscious, thus inadvertentlycausing psychotherapists to reject the idea of the father and further render ittheir duty to protect patients from the atrocity associated with the functionsof the father.
Hence, it appears that functions of the father are abandoned inthe conscious work of psychotherapists as unconscious, unfavourableassociations encompass ideas of maleness and fatherhood (Davies, 2015).