Electra Complex issues? How old to be concerned? (BF & his 11 year old daughter)
Before I really start I have a couple of disclaimers: 1, this is pretty long.. in fact I'm apparently exceeding the character limit, so I'll have to split my post into post and response, so if you read through it all, thank you. 2. I've been doing a LOT of reading on this topic over the last few days, before posting, so I understand that there is a whole range of reactions to the behaviors I will describe (some insisting that it's totally normal, and having an issue with them must mean I'm jealous --- to --- that's just wrong, she needs help, and everywhere in between). 3. I also want to point out that I do not think that any of the behaviors I will describe mean that something deviant is in fact going on in my situation, NOR that similar behaviors with other fathers & daughters means that those are deviant relationships (just wanted to acknowledge the complaints I've read from some angry fathers). 4. I studied developmental psychology for my bachelor's, and I also worked for 2 years as a teaching assistant for a Child Development class at my university. I keep up on things, do research, etc. I'm not a professional, but I do try to stay educated on these things, so I feel like my opinions are generally pretty informed. 5. Keep in mind, despite the fact that I'm writing about problem behaviors with my eventually-stepdaughter, I am very close with her. I really enjoy spending "girls time" with her, and quite often she won't want to go do things alone with her dad anymore, unless my son and I are also going. BF is great with my son as well, and we are a very close-knit family.
I have been with my boyfriend for just over 3 years. My 7yr old son and I moved in with my boyfriend and his 11 year old daughter 1 year ago. We each have 50% custody of our children, though because we can both work from home, we usually both end up with more time than that while the other parent works during their time. A lot of adjustments have been made along the way (even in the year prior because we would stay over a lot, even though we weren't living together). I realize that adjustments are always needed in blended families. However, the bottom line in our family is: unless something is really a serious issue, the biological parent gets final say when there is a difference of opinion. For example, even though it's not always great, I sometimes read to my son for an hour before bed, even if it means him not going to *sleep* till 9:30. I can't really push the time earlier because of our daily schedules, which includes a lot of driving because of where my son goes to school right now (long story, not relevant right now). BF doesn't think it's a great idea, but knows that it's my decision.
In the past couple of years, once I started staying over, and especially when I moved in, we have had some issues with BF's daughter's sleeping patterns. She used to always insist on sleeping in bed with him. He claimed that she could sleep alone if he told her to, but that he just liked having her in bed with him-- he slept better knowing she was right there, and safe. I asked him to not have her sleep in bed with us because I saw that time as private time for me with him, since day-time is usually devoted to the kids. It proved problematic. She really fought sleeping alone, and he was defensive and didn't like seeing her unhappy. I would get frustrated at being interrupted while starting to be romantic because she didn't want to sleep in her own room at midnight. It's been a long hard road, but finally she usually sleeps alone, but at least once or twice a month, will cry about it, requiring us to continually check on her till almost 2 in the morning.
There have been issues in the past where I've been frustrated that he's allowed her to act like a baby half the time with him (shirking responsibility, not having to clean up after herself, getting her way on silly things b/c of pouting, him sleeping with her because she doesn't want to sleep alone, etc, but get away with adult-like things (staying up past midnight often, joining in our inside-jokes at my expense, getting her over-the-top, adult-level gifts--like things from tiffany's, etc.). He knows it upsets me, and if I bring it up, he usually gets very angry and extremely defensive at times, but has slowly made some changes, despite his initial resistance. Not everything has changed, but most things are a lot better.
She has begun to go through puberty starting with breast buds about 2 years ago, and now is developed enough to see breasts developing even beneath her bra, in a regular t-shirt. She has started to get a very slightly more curvy build, but has not started her period yet. However, physically, she is very tiny. In fact, my 7 year old might be taller than her now.. it's very close. BF is just barely below average height, and her mom is under 5', so I'm guessing she'll be under 5 feet at adult height too. She is little, so she indulges in being "babied" by her daddy. She insists on him carrying her to bed or from the car if she's tired. Still ***** her thumb unconsciously while sleeping sometimes, and even awake once, recently while she was very sick. She still talks in a baby voice very often, pouts and cries if things don't go her way, etc. etc. However, this is only about 25% of the time. The rest of the time, she acts extremely mature for her age, hanging out easily with 14-15 year olds and not feeling out of place, and is extremely intelligent. She confides in me quite a bit, and has recently started hitting the phase of almost liking a boy in her class (or at least enjoying that he appears to like her), but feels like she's not supposed to like boys yet, so she didn't tell her mom, and only after a lot of convincing did she let me tell her dad.
Issue: There have been a lot of changes for her lately (BF traveling more, the mom recently having a BF move in with her, etc), that I'm sure are contributing, but here's what's been going on:
1. She is still trying to convince BF to sleep with her almost every night he's home, acting extremely disappointed/pouty most nights he says no. Wants him in the bathroom with her while she showers (he's started just staying outside the bathroom the whole time, yet she'll still have no problem coming out naked or toweling off in front of him, despite her growing breasts).
2. Because she's tiny, Because she's tiny, it's easy for BF to think of her as a "little girl" doing those same things, especially he doesn't like thinking of the fact that she's a pre-teen who acts more like a teen, and is going through puberty. So, lately, she has become even more clingy/needy with her dad, to the point of being inappropriate. She is constantly trying to lay on top of him, sometimes letting her hands coincidentally fall to his privates (which he jerks away from), and has recently started trying to touch him skin-to-skin to massage him (the way that I frequently do). Sometimes he ignores it, so it continues, other times, he tells her to stop, and she gets pouty, just like she will often pout if he doesn't let her spoon with him. She's doing a lot more of just hanging on him, sitting on his lap, stroking his face, etc. Even something as simple as kissing on the lips (which they've always done, and I do with my son sometimes, so in and of itself, I don't have an issue with it), she's started trying to do more and more lately-- which he just sees as her "wanting kisses from daddy". Might be, but might be more.
3.BF recently told me that with her current behavior, he's actually worried that she might have a crush on him right now. The other night, staying in a hotel, he was sick, so I was massaging his feet reflexology style to help him sleep. She was in the next bed, and I could see in the dim light that she lay awake with her eyes open for 15+ minutes just staring at me while I massaged his feet, until I finally told her she needed to close her eyes or she wouldn't be able to sleep. Next day, she was constantly trying to touch him and just "be close", more than normal.
She's had moments of jealousy in the past-- 1. a time he got me a gift at the same time he got her a souvenir (which he does for her every time he travels), and she was upset that she didn't ALSO get what he got me (even though it was a dress which would not have been age-appropriate for her) 2. a time she started being very vocal about how she didn't want any other little brother besides my son (who she loves), and making pointed comments about how her dad wouldn't have any more babies (even though the decision was still in the air for us-- him leaning against, me leaning towards). Those issues went away, and things have generally trended towards improvement, and honestly, she loves me and has always pressured BF "When are you going to get married?" "When will you at least get officially engaged?" "Am I going to be the flower girl?" (and then being excited that I said she'd probably be a jr. Bridesmaid, instead of flowergirl).
But in the last week, it's suddenly shift to "IF you guys get married...." instead of "WHEN you guys get married..." Subtle, and I would normally think nothing of that, except that it's coming in the same week as her suddenly mimicking so many of my behaviors towards BF (sitting on his lap to kiss his lips, trying to rub his bare skin, etc.), and BF worrying that she has a crush on him. I know the electra complex is common enough, but it's usually around 3-5 years, not 11, while going through puberty. So is this an issue of competing with me for her dad's romantic affection, and something I need to figure out? Or it is just an electra complex a few years delayed (just like she's a bit delayed in some other areas of development, i.e. sleeping alone, thumb-sucking, etc.).
Not quite sure how to address it. I feel like the only answer is to have more clear boundaries, and be more firm with her about them, but that's exactly what I know BF won't want to do, and will get very angry/defensive about. I've got one shot at "presenting" this to him in a way that he'll probably take into consideration, but basically, I just want to point out to him that some of the things he enjoys doing with her as a "little girl", just have to stop because she's NOT a little girl anymore (i.e. she shouldn't be naked in front of her dad anymore, no matter how comfortable she is with him, she shouldn't be spooning with him, she shouldn't be sitting in his lap a certain way anymore, she shouldn't be trying to rub his bare skin under his shirt, and definitely shouldn't be sleeping with her anymore, etc, etc). And it's not that he can't show her affection, and in fact, he should probably increase appropriate forms of affection, so that she doesn't feel like she's suddenly been cut off and losing him. But that he should not be showing her affection the same way that he does for me-- that she should not be allowed to act like a mini-wife, and that HE is the one who has to set those boundaries because if *I* do it, it will just seem like I'm jealous and trying to compete with her.
By the way, I just looked at more of the forum, and I apologize if this doesn't seem like the right board for my question.. I'd googled and found a very similar thread, that was years old, and finally closed after several responses, and moderator telling others with issues to start their own thread. So I joined and clicked "create a post" without looking around. So if this seemed insensitive, I'm really sorry!
Therese, since joining medhelp several years ago I've seen this story SO MANY times. It's really unbelievable to me, how many girls behave sexually toward their fathers and the fathers (while not initiating) see nothing wrong with their little daughter/girlfriends. I'm amazed. I think in the Relationships Community you'll see it a lot, and the Child Behavior Community. Not so much this subforum.
But I think there's a new post like this every single week, year after year.
First, I was also a psych minor and I don't agree this is an Electra complex. As you know, that stems from a child (girl or boy, the oedipal complex) suddenly realizing what their future will hold, their place in the world. They realize they will some day grow up and become similar to their same sex parent - that's their destiny in life - and they begin to think about how they want to live as an adult. So 3 year olds say something adorable like "when I grow up I want to marry Daddy". It's just a sign of a well-adjusted child in a loving home who is looking forward to growing up and recreating a family.
This is a girl who has watched her father act very sexually in front of her and now she's acting out sexually toward her dad as a result. It's titilating, watching adults in love engaging in sexualized behaviors, and starts erotic physical feelings going in their brains. Similarly, younger siblings with much older siblings who have sexualized relationships with peers (totally normal) begin to act out very precociously with their own peers. Watching erotic behavior eroticizes them.
I think you need to greatly curtail the sexualized behavior you show toward him in public, to the family. The couple in intact families usually isn't overtly sexual a lot of the time, they keep that behavior for the bedroom, and instead show affection in a less sexual way in front of the children.
For you to come on the scene and behave this way with her father, girls who are close to their fathers mimic it. And I don't think she's merely "comfortable" with being nude in front of him, I think she's flaunting her body to attract his attention on purpose. Because she's mimicking you (although she hasn't necessarily seen you show off your body to him, she knows clearly you're getting his attention that way).
Best wishes. I don't see this getting better if you two aren't wiling to turn down the heat.
That is something for me to think about. My first reaction is to think that there's no way that's possible, considering that we're really not very sexual when anyone is around, frankly. He's ultra conscious of PDA, and in fact, won't give me more than a very innocent peck (not even a hint of lips softening) kiss, if we're in front of anyone, including our kids. The most we do is hold hands, cuddle, and I hug him very tightly in a "miss-you" sort of way (again, not sexual), when he's leaving on work trips.
When I talk about massaging him often, that's because I actually do a lot of massage for him... kind of as a hobby. Even got him a massage table as a gift once, and his daughter & my son both ask for turns sometimes, so I'll massage them (fully clothed) from time to time. However, there is nothing sexual about the way I massage him in front of them. If it even borders on touching something too high on his leg, or requires raising his shirt, he'll push my hand away so that neither kid sees too much touch.
Soo... I'm inclined to think that she's not learning to behave sexually towards him from me (especially since she's been behaving towards him this way to an extent since I first met him-- the spooning, wanting to have his arms wrapped around her waist while she sleeps, etc).
But I'll have to watch myself, and see if I start to notice any behaviors that could be contributing.
I'm curious why you don't think of this as a potential electra complex. I read your explanation above, but I've always read differently-- that the mimicking the same-sex parent was out of fear of rejection or punishment for being a rival. ... actually I just looked it up in a couple of my old texts to double-check myself.. One (a child development book) says "Young children desire to possess the parent of the other sex-- feelings that lead to intense anxiety, since children fear punishment & loss of parental love for their unacceptable wishes. To master anxiety, avoid punishment, and maintain the affection of parents, children form a superego, or conscience, by identifying with the same-sex parent, whose moral standards they take into their personality."
And another (an Abnormal Psychology book) says, "Each girl experiences sexual feelings for her father and at the same time recognizes that she must compete with her mother for his affection. However, in deference to her mother's more powerful position and to cultural taboos, the child typically represses her sexual feelings and rejects these early desires for her father."
... so to me, that sounds a lot like what I'm seeing (especially because I think she would have MORE fear of losing my love, considering that I'm not her biological mother).. what gets me is that this is supposed to happen when a child is about 3-5. Again, I think that it's possible this was stunted for her.. especially because there was not the typical affection between her mother and father at that age. In fact, they have an explosively argumentative relationship because they both escalate off of each other (it works out well for BF that I tend to be more of a pacifist, and don't anger easily). Apparently at that age for her, her mother and father were typically screaming at each other weekly, if not more frequently, and not very close physically for a while.
An interesting twist on this, is that her mother is someone who does try to openly flaunt her sexuality-- this is a woman who wears butt-almost-hanging-out daisy-dukes, platform sandals and a slinky one-shoulder top... to a kids' soccer game in the middle of the day, or short skirt and high-boots, and a long coat as a "work" outfit. She is very petite, so she gets away with it more than someone a foot taller than her would.
So... if she were, hypothetically, going through this late.. I worry that she's going to have a lot of confusion in identifying with her female mother-figure (her mom and I couldn't be more different). It's just bizarre to me at this age, and after her dad and I have been together over 3 years now, that she would suddenly feel so clingy towards him, and in competition with me for him... unless it's just simply a matter of hormones and reaching puberty, and displaying in this way...
But, like I said, I'll have to check our behaviors, to see if there's anything I can work on to help the situation.
I guess the reason I don't see this as an electra complex is I basically pick and choose what Freud beliefs I believe, and use his words but not necessarily his explanations.
Having watched 3 boys mature through the Oedipal thing, it was just pure cute when they'd say they were planning to marry me, and at the same time they were saying things that clearly aligned themselves with my husband. At about 3 years old, all 3 of my sons went through this cognitive thing where they no longer would try to behave like me, and would purposely watch and take on my husband's role and behaviors. But they also identified themselves as my future husband. And then about 4 it was totally over, this belief that they would marry me or be my partner.
I think when girls behave the way she is, and her mother is also overtly inappropriately sexual, they feel the power of that sexuality VERY intensely and notice it gets them noticed.
I think the Freud complexes are spurred by a true confusion - they don't understand the time continuum of husband/wife partnerships, they don't quite get their whole role is to choose a partner similar to their opposite sex partner but a different person.
I suspect this girl has watched her mother wield her sexual prowess and she's now doing it herself. Or maybe it's genetic, this sexualized behavior.
I can see your point there. (the cuter form of it). I guess I've been reading enough of the examples of the electra version, how it would be for little girls, as little girls. In this case, she's older, so it would make sense to me to be a blending.. of the hormone-charged early-puberty, combined with the fact that she's been "babied" so heavily all the way through this point in her life.
I had a thought that it could be a result of the fact that knowing she's becoming more of a "woman", she is worried about losing dad's affection and not being his "baby" anymore.. and wondering what other ways she can get affection, and experimenting with the more "womanly" ones, in case the "baby" ones expire. Could be total BS, but it kind of makes sense to me because she almost flits between being baby-ish... talking in a baby voice with daddy, wanting to cuddle, being needy and clingy, and wanting him to hold her while walking around... and being this incredibly mature, very capable young lady.. who has recently started to want to show more womanly affection for her dad. I don't think she knows where to be with it.
In an interesting twist, we found out tonight that she's started her period this week, which could explain the spike in hormones. Unfortunately it seems that BF is having a rough (read: defensive) time of it, since he is now having to admit that his "baby girl" isn't a baby anymore, even if she's tiny. .. sigh. I was hoping that this would prompt him to be more likely to shift his behaviors, with her "coming of age", but it is seeming like he's more determined to make sure she doesn't feel like she's being "pushed out of the nest" and insisting that he needs to make sure he doesn't dramatically change any behaviors to make her feel awkward. And seems upset at me for suggesting that he work on making her feel comfortable with the fact that she's growing up, and getting older, and that it's okay for her to not be a baby anymore.. being extremely defensive about it, as though I'm attacking his parenting.
Frustrating. I honestly don't even know where to go from this point. I'm sure it'll all feel a little less overwhelming in a day or two, but right now-- I just want to crawl into a hole until it all blows over.
Please update.. Having similar issues.. He is taking baby steps but I am struggling with how to handle on my end. Girl is similar age - 10, getting breast buds.. I think she is getting attention and treating him how her biological mother did. (He and I don't live together, she has younger sisters who do not act like this)
How did your situation turn out? I see your thread began in 2013. I have been experiencing similar situation with my BF and his pre-teen daughter....some of your posts felt like I was reading about my relationship....the sleeping in his bed, her refusal to sleep in her own, his spooning her at night, her caressing him like a girlfriend, her "requiring" him to get her into shower, and I believe she is obsessed with him, how she interlaces her fingers with his when they are out in public and how she holds onto him at home, clings to him. We've been together for 15 months but I have not brought this subject up yet. I am uncertain whether our relationship will continue as he told me from the start not to make him choose between us, which I believe this has nothing to do with choosing but his lack of setting appropriate, healthy boundaries.
Wow, I wish I had found someone similar to all of you years ago. I have had almost all of the same issues with my SD as most of you have mentioned. I feel I need to tell you all about my 15 yr. marriage and an unresolved, ignored and therefore condoned elektra complex in my SD. My husband and I have been married for 15 years. So, I have two SDs and no other children. I poured my heart and soul into raising them in the best way I knew how, financially, emotionally and intellectually (my BA is Psych).
From day one, older SD (she was 11 when we got married) rejected me. Younger SD adored me then and still does - no issues there. Recently, older SD was dumped by yet another BF and has allied with her godmother (husbands sister) as her "mom". This SIL attacked me in public verbally for a good 15 minutes, with what was obviously all of SD's "issues" with me. For almost 1.5 years now, we have been struggling to stay married. SD is still inappropriate with H and has now become even more than ever, extremely vindictive toward me. Calls H over and over, and each time, H returns to me angry - with me! I have completely had it. I have given as much as I have to give and refuse to completely lose myself any longer. If the issues with SDs are not dealt with BY DAD at an early age, they will potentially grow into vicious, psychotic adults with SM in her crosshairs at all times. It is DADs responsibility to draw the boundaries for his daughter. Any and all suggestions/discipline that I have ever given older SD are STILL seen as evil (stepmonster/homewrecker is what she refers to me as now). She is 27!!!!! Fix it early and fast - it only grows worse.
Yes, please post an update. I found this post and felt I was reading exactly what is going on in my home! Need the same help/advice! SD is 13, and is definitely infatuated with dad. Have no idea what to do if anything. She acts like "mini-wife", taking over my role, stepping on my toes in every instance, going over schedule of what's going on that week, interfering in conversations, telling her sister what to do (not in the older sister way, in a mother way). She insists he help her in the shower, getting dressed, basically anything that requires him to see her naked. I have said something to him about this a few times, that its not appropriate and she is told old, and he agrees. He has told her, and she says ok, but it doesn't stick. She'll have nightmares and insist he sleep in bed with her. She sticks to him like glue, touching him inappropriately, tickling and lightly smacking. The worst was that one afternoon when him and I were talking in the kitchen, she overheard a conversation where sex came up. She yelled in that she is the only one that should ever have sex with her father. I have never forgotten that. I said something to him about it, and he blew it off, that she didn't know what she was saying. She absolutely did know what she was saying. Her behavior although not mean or cruel to anyone, is just so inappropriate and bordering on disgusting. I don't know what to do. He won't listen to me or believe me. I can also say with certainty though he doesn't recognize any of this. He thinks she just loves him. And with his nasty divorce from her mom, he wants that. Help please!
FebJuneMom, I don't think this is pure "electra complex". This appears to be a situation where this girl has no idea what her place is. She's the eldest daughter in a breakup situation, and her father and his lover are talking sex in the kitchen where she can overhear the conversation in the afternoon.
She has no idea what her place is. Her world is chaos. She wants to have an important role in the lives of the people she loves.
Maybe at this point, best to not discuss sex in the kitchen where she can over hear it, and best to make her role clear - whatever that means in your blended families.
I agree on that point. I have tried numerous times to make her role clear. She wants nothing of it. I am very concerned because I can't see why a 13 year old girl believes its okay to be naked in front of her father, have him help her in the shower, hang all over him, act like the "wife". Maybe because my own daughter doesn't act at all like this and my sister and I didn't (also went through divorce and remarriage at the same age). She only texts with her father, no friends, and those texts all seem to be hearts and "I love you". Her actions have seemed very odd for all the years I have known her, not like any father-daughter relationship I have seen. Her sister is not like this at all.
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