The family romance is a conscious fantasy, later repressed, in which a child imagines that their birth parents are not actual but adoptive parents, or that their birth was the outcome of maternal infidelity. Typically, the fantasy parents are of noble lineage, or at least of a higher social class than the real parents.
The family romance (Freud, 1909c) differs from children's sexual theories in that it does not address general questions about the origins of life but rather the question, "Who am I?"—where "I" denotes not an agency of the mind (or ego) but the result of an effort to place oneself in a history, and hence the attempt to form the basis of a knowledge.
The family romance fantasy has several possible aims and sources: revenge against frustrating parents; rivalry with the parent of the same sex; separation from idealized parents by means of their transformation into fantasy parents; and the elimination of brothers and sisters for competitive or incestuous purposes.
The family romance is built on the basis of the child's intuitive knowledge of their parents' emotions, although the parents may believe these perfectly concealed (see Freud, Totem and Taboo [1912-1913a]; also, apropos of the paranoid's intuitiveness, "Some Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality" [1922b ).
Other intellectual capacities are necessary for the creation of a family romance, notably the ability to compare and to relativize. The fantasy may thus be considered the result of a basic psychological attainment, that of the right to doubt—here, to doubt the absolute aspect of parental figures ("Pater semper incertus est "). The family romance is, in fact, linked to the unconscious of the parents. For the father, there can be only one true father, his own, that of the "primal horde"; while the mother associates her child psychologically, particularly her first-born, with her own oedipal attachments (Mijolla). This first childhood romance is often maintained in daydreams well beyond puberty. Its influence is also discernible in the pleasure novel-readers derive by identifying with different fictional characters.
Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor
See also: Cultural transmission; Family; Fantasy; Heroic self, the; Imposter; Latency period; Myth of the Birth of the Hero ; Myth of the hero; Mythology and psychoanalysis; Substitute/substitutive formation.
Freud, Sigmund. (1909c ). Family romances. SE, 9: 235-241.
——. (1912-13a]). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.
——. (1922b ). Neurotic mechanisms in jealousy, paranoia and homosexuality, SE, 18: 221-232.
Mijolla, Alain de. (1987). Unconscious identification, fantasies and family prehistory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis , 68, 397-403.
Corbett, Ken. (2001). Nontraditional family romance. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 70, 599-624.
Greenacre, Phyllis. (1958). The family romance of the artist. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 13, 9-36.
"Family Romance." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/family-romance
"Family Romance." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved May 24, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/family-romance
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.