Family Complexes in the Formation of the Individual: 1938: Jacques Lacan

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1938

A.  English translation by Cormac Gallagher

Published at   and available here.

Introduction from .

The Family (1938)

Written for a major French encyclopaedia when Freud was nearing the end of his life and Melanie Klein had already produced much of her best work, this is a synthesis of classical psychoanalytic thinking organised around the maternal, fraternal and oedipal complexes.  It anticipates Lacan’s later thinking on the Name-of-the-Father and his engagement  with anthropology and linguistics.

Note: Time line available  Mirror Stage: 1936, 1938, 1949, 1966: Jacques Lacan or here

1936: Jacques Lacan presented his paper on the mirror stage to the International Psychoanalytic Congress in Marienbad, but it was not published. Jacques Lacan delivered a paper ‘Le stade du mirroir at the fourteenth International Psychoanalytical Congress, held at Marienbad in August 1936 under the chairmanship of Ernest Jones but it was not published until 1938. Its contents are outlined in his article on the family in the ‘Encyclopedie Française’ available above.

B. English & French side by side

Cormac Gallagher’s translation with the original French now available from Richard G. Klein’s website,, or here

Published in French:

1)  The original French edition of the article was published under the title ‘La Famille’ in Encyclopédie française ,(A. de Monzie, Editor), Vol.8, Paris 1938

2) Republished as: Lacan, J., “Les complexes familiaux dans la formation de l’individu”, in Autres Écrits, Paris: Seuil, 2001 :  Availability given Autres Écrits: 2001 : Jacques Lacan or here.

CONTENTS   (from Cormac Gallagher’s translation)


The Cultural Structure of the Human Family

Psychological heredity                                                                                           Page iii

Biological kinship                                                                                                               iii

The primitive family: an institution                                                                                iv

CHAPTER ONE: THE COMPLEX: A CONCRETE FACTOR IN THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE FAMILY                                                                                    1

General definition of the complex                                                                                   2

Complex and instinct                                                                                                         2

The Freudian complex and the imago                                                                            3


Weaning as ablactation                                                                                                      5

Weaning, a crisis of the psyche                                                                                         6

The Imago of the Maternal Breast

The exteroceptive form—human presence                                                                     7

Proprioceptive satisfaction—oral fusion                                                                         8

Interoceptive discontent—the pre-natal  imago                                                            8

Weaning: The Specific Prematurity of Birth

Maternal sentiment                                                                                                          10

The appetite for death                                                                                                       11

The domestic bond                                                                                                            12

The nostalgia for wholeness                                                                                            13


Jealousy: Archetype of all Social Sentiments                                                               13

Mental identification                                                                                                         14

The imago of a fellow human                                                                                           15

The meaning of primal aggressivity                                                                               17

The Mirror Stage                                                                                                                18

A higher power of the mirror stage                                                                                20

The narcissistic structure of the ego                                                                               21

The Drama of Jealousy; The Ego and the Other Person                                           22

Conditions and effects of fraternity                                                                               24

THE OEDIPUS COMPLEX                                                                                         25

The schematic form of the complex                                                                               26

The objective value of the complex                                                                                27

The Family According to Freud                                                                                      28

The myth of castration                                                                                                     29

The myth of the original patricide                                                                                 30

The Functions of the Oedipus Complex:                                                                      30

A Psychological Revision                                                                                                 30

The Maturation of Sexuality                                                                                            31

The Constitution of Reality                                                                                              32

The Repression of Sexuality                                                                                            34

Phantasies of the fragmented body                                                                                34

The maternal origin of the archaic super-ego                                                              35

The Sublimation of Reality                                                                                              36

The originality of oedipal identification                                                                       36

The imago of the father                                                                                                    38

The Complex and Sociological Relativity                                                                     39

Matriarchy and Patriarchy                                                                                              39

The openness of social bonds                                                                                          41

Modern Man and the Conjugal Family                                                                         42

The role of the formation of the family                                                                         43

The decline of the paternal imago                                                                                  44

CHAPTER TWO: FAMILY COMPLEXES IN PATHOLOGY                                    47

1          PSYCHOSES WITH A FAMILIAL THEME                                                     47

Delusional forms of knowing                                                                                          48

The Function of Complexes in Delusions

Familial reactions                                                                                                              51

Family themes                                                                                                                    51

The Determinants of Psychosis                                                                                      53

Family factors                                                                                                                     54

2          FAMILY NEUROSIS                                                                                            56

Neurotic symptomatology and individual drama

From the expression of the repressed to the defence against anxiety                   57

Specific deformation of human reality                                                                        59

The existential drama of the individual                                                                       60

The degraded form of the Oedipus complex                                                                62

Transference Neuroses

Hysteria                                                                                                                               64

Obsessional neurosis                                                                                                        65

The incidence on the individual of family causes                                                       66

Character Neuroses

The self-punishing neurosis                                                                                            69

Introversion of the personality and 
schizonoia                                                            70

Discord between the parental couple                                                                            72

The prevalence of the weaning complex                                                                       72

The inversion of sexuality                                                                                                73

The prevalence of the male principle                                                                             74

Bibliography                                                                                                                        76

C. Translated by Carolyn Asp

p21-25 & p75-112 of:

This is a partial translation of Lacan’s 1928 text on the family: Les complexes familiaux dans la formation de l’individu: Essai d’analyse d’une fonction en psychologie: Paris, Navarin: 1984: p21-25 & p75-112

Published in ‘Critical Texts': vol 5(3): p12 – 29

References to ‘La Famille’

1) Alphonse de Waelhens ’Schizophrenia’ : translated by Wilfried Ver Eeke : Originally published 1972 Editions Nauwelaerts, Louvain : translation published 1978 Duquesne University Press : On p124 : Chapter Four. Psychoanalytic interpretation of Psychosis. The Paternal Metaphor and Foreclosure, Part V. Lacan’s Study of the Case of Schreber: New Theoretical Contribution : de Waelhens refers to Lacan’s ’The family’ (1938). Quote: He (Lacan) shows how the various renunciations (such as birth, weaning, alienation, through the mirror image, intrusion, the Oedipus complex, and castration) which are successively imposed on the human being are, at the same time, both reactivations and reminders of each other, although at each stage they must structure themselves at a higher, richer, and wider level of integration. However, the condition for this structuring is the correct resolution of each of the previous crises. In other words, the correct liquidation of one phase is the condition for the proper positioning of the terms of the next phase.  Lacan ‘La Famille’ Vol 8. p40-8

2) From Roudinesco’s biography of Lacan (English version):

“In 1948, when  she was working on  the book  about  women  that was to become  The Second  Sex, Beauvoir  came across Lacan’s paper on  the family and  studied  it at length. She  became  so interested in  the  psychoanalytic movement’s internal quarrels  about  female  sexuality  that  she  telephoned Lacan to ask his advice on how she should  deal with  the question.  He  was flattered and replied  that they would  need  to talk for five or six months  in order  to sort out  the problem. Beauvoir  already had plenty  of material for her book  and didn’t feel like spending all that time listening to Lacan, so she suggested they might  make do with  four interviews. He  declined”.

Part V, War and Peace.



7th December 2018 : To request a copy of any text whose weblink does not work, contact Julia Evans: : For fuller details, see Notice : Availability of texts from LacanianWorks by Julia Evans or here



Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst in Earl’s Court, London



Further posts:

Lacanian Transmission here

Some Lacanian history here

Of the clinic here

Dreams here

Topology here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here

Jacques Lacan in English or here

Translation Working Group here

Use of power here