The freeing of an individual, as
he grows up, from the authority of his parents is one of the most
necessary though one of the most painful results brought about by
the course of his development. It is quite essential that this liberation
should occur and it may be presumed that it has been to some extent
achieved by everyone who has reached a normal state. Indeed, the
whole progress of society rests upon the opposition between successive
generations. On the other hand, there is a class of neurotics whose
condition is recognizably determined by their having failed in this
For a small child his parents are at first the only authority and
the source of all belief. The child’s most intense and most
momentous wish during these early years is to be like his parents
(that is, the parent of his own sex) and to be big like his father
and mother. But as intellectual growth increases, the child cannot
help discovering by degrees the category to which his parents belong.
He gets to know other parents and compares them with his own, and
so comes to doubt the incomparable and unique quality which has
he attributed to them. . . .
There are only too many occasions on which a child is slighted,
or at least feels he has been slighted, on which he feels he is
not receiving the whole of his parents’ love, and, most of
all, on which he feels regrets at having to share it with his brothers
and sisters. His sense that his own affection is not being fully
reciprocated then finds a vent in the idea, which is often consciously
recollected from early childhood, of being a step-child or an adopted
child. . . .
The latter stage in the development of the neurotic’s estrangement
from his parents, begun in this manner, might be described as “the
neurotic's family romance.” It is seldom remembered consciously
but can almost always be revealed by psycho-analysis. For a quite
specific form of imaginative activity is one of the essential characteristics
of neurotics and also of all comparatively highly gifted people.
This activity emerges first in children’s play, and then,
starting roughly from the period before puberty, takes over the
topic of family relations. A characteristic example of this particular
kind of phantasy is to be seen in the familiar day-dreams which
persist far beyond puberty. . . .
At about the period I have mentioned, then, the child’s imagination
becomes engaged in the task of getting free from the parents of
whom he now has such a low opinion and of replacing them by others,
occupying, as a rule, a higher social station. . . .
If anyone is inclined to turn away in horror from this depravity
of the childish heart or feels tempted, indeed, to dispute the possibility
of such things, he should observe that these works of fiction, which
seem so full of hostility, are none of them really so badly intended,
and that they still preserve, under a slight disguise, the child’s
original affection for his parents. The faithlessness and ingratitude
are only apparent. . . .
Indeed the whole effort at replacing the real father by a superior
one is only an expression of the child’s longing for the happy,
vanished days when his father seemed to him the noblest and strongest
of men and mother the dearest and loveliest of women. He is turning
away from the father whom he knows to-day to the father in whom
he believed in the earlier years of his childhood; and his phantasy
is no more than the expression of a regret that those happy days
have gone. . . .