Phaeton complex

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The Phaeton complex is a psychological condition. Maryse Choisy describes it as a 'painful combination of thoughts and emotions caused by the absence, loss, coldness, or traumatizing behavior of one or both parents, resulting in frustration and aggression' [1]. Micha Popper disputes that an unhappy childhood always leads to obsessive urges, citing Winston Churchill as an example where childhood unhappiness had positive results[2].

The theory was devised by Hugh Berrington in 1974. He took data from Lucille Iremonger who in 1970 studied the 24 British prime ministers who held office from 1809 to 1940. She found that 62% of these men had lost one or both parents by age 15, compared to a national average of 10-15% in those times [3]. Berrington found that sufferers from the Phaeton complex are less sociable, flexible or tolerant, but instead are ambitious, vain, sensitive, lonely and shy[4].

The name derives from the Greek myth of Phaeton, a child of the sun god, who demands to drive his father's chariot and in doing so, falls to earth and scorches the Sahara Desert [5]


Neville Chamberlain, UK prime minister 1937-40, having lost his mother by age six, displayed 'all the characteristics of the damaged Phaeton - immature, sensitive, cold, secretive and depressed' when in office, according to Harry Davis.[6]

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is described by Shamim Ahmad as a neglected child, 'having a sense of insecurity that drove him to prove himself worthy'.[7]

In a discussion of the Phaeton complex, Tom Mctague lists Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as examples of ambitious, isolated, detached politicians who suffered a 'deprivation of love' in childhood.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Micha Popper, Hypnotic Leadership: Leaders, Followers, and the Loss of Self, Praeger, 2001, p.25
  2. ^ Micha Popper, Hypnotic Leadership, Praeger 2001, p.26
  3. ^ Mostafa Rejai and Kay Phillips, Leaders and Leadership: an Appraisal of Theory and Research, Praeger, 1997, p. 46
  4. ^ Hugh Berrington, The Fiery Chariot, British Journal of Political Science, 4:345-369
  5. ^ Tom McTague, Boris Johnson meets his Destiny, The Atlantic, 22 July 2019
  6. ^ Harry Davis, The Palace of Crystal, Arena Books, 1988, p. 124
  7. ^ Ammar Ali Qureshi, Non-fiction: the complex Mr Bhutto, (review of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Psychodynamics of his Rise and Fall, book by Shamim Ahmad), Dawn, 12 May 2019
  8. ^ Tom McTague, Boris Johnson meets his destiny, The Atlantic, 22 July 2019