Characteristics of model subjects.

As we have seen, Freud always viewed the Oedipus complex as a universal phenomenon of early childhood. Although this has been criticised by many, universality has been shown to apply to infantile sexuality (see above). Whilst I would not go so far as to apply universality to the Romulus and Remus complexes, perhaps they may be said to have relevance for the majority of (Western) siblings with the appropriate family constellations. At the very least, the complexes may be considered to be as valid as the Oedipus complex. With both types of complex there are obviously cases in which the feelings of ambivalence become pathologically strong, thus resulting in a neurosis. We can conclude from the above sections that the "ideal" subjects should be:

- Of the same sex. Siblings need to be the same sex in order for the younger sibling to wish to take the place of the elder. A younger boy would certainly not want to "be like" his elder sister.

- Reasonably close, but not too close, in age. Siblings need to be far enough apart in age for the elder to be able to remember life before the younger was born and to have been treated differently to him, but they need to have grown up together. In the case of two child sibships, this would probably mean a two to seven year age gap, or two to five years for sibships of three or more.

- Possibly the only children in the family. Research has shown that the family combination with the strongest sibling rivalry is likely to be one where there are only two children and both are boys (1).


In childhood, sibling rivalry is almost inevitable, but as we grow up it can be weakened as we move away and apart from our brothers and sisters. Therefore, the Romulus and Remus complexes are most likely to become neurotically strong in adulthood if the siblings concerned are competing directly for something in which the elder has long been the more successful, so that the younger sibling becomes increasingly jealous at always having been in his shadow.


1) See Leman, Kevin (1984) The Birth Order Book, Revell, New Jersey, p.154.


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ã Robin Tamblyn, 2000.

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