I’m referring to the Freudian stereotype here, the one that tells us that all little girls want to marry their Daddies, rather than asking if you have actually walked down the aisle with your father.
Freud’s enticingly titled phallic developmental phase is open to parody as a somewhat unlikely take of 4/5 year olds falling in love with their opposite sex parent, before re-aligning themselves with the same sex parent, in order not to incur their wrath for the betrayal. But actually, take away Freud’s belief in sex as a major human driver, and the phallic stage is better understood as the period in which a child explores who they are in relation to their gender, a time of assessing the gender roles she sees around her, and consideration of how she fits into the enduring relationship between her parents.
All of which can undoubtedly influence future choice of partner, but which I think is also relevant to the work place particularly when, according to HR Magazine, only 29% of management and executive positions were held by women in 2012. Whatever cracks we’ve made in the glass ceiling, the majority of us still work for men and actually during the week are likely to see more of them than our partners, making them ripe for playing out any unresolved phallic issues.
Freud’s theory was that successfully navigating the phallic stage leaves us with a good understanding of the gender roles and differences of both parents and allows us to separate from them; and, in the case of our father, to be able to form relationships with other men. Lingering issues from this phase however are likely to reappear in future scenarios as we repeat the relationship trying to get it right. Fathers are often for example, seen as the authoritarian parent, and our reaction to his authority – scared and wanting to please or resentful and defiant can all come through in a management relationship, and affect the way we work and how we feel about ourselves in the work place. Alternatively the stern, undemonstrative father can be someone we continue to seek praise or affirmation from, which might be great for our boss, but less so for our own work life balance. Anna Freud herself was very vocal in defence of her father’s work in the face of opposition after his death – perhaps sill seeking his approval?
Freud called this cyclical nature of dysfunctional relationships, repetition compulsion, and Transactional Analysis refers to it as scripts we continue to play out, often without realising, or at least understanding why. It is not unusual for me to sit with a female client bemoaning a difficult male boss and for us to discover together that the feelings she experiences as his employee were similar to those she experienced as a daughter. Understanding the script means that we have a chance to change it, or to accept that this is not something we are going to correct and to move on.
So this June 16th, celebrate your father, but resolve not to let your boss take his place!