John Lennon

Psychoanalytic and Neo-Analytic Perspectives

By: Elizabeth Mejia Castro


John Lennon is world renown for being the founding member of one of the most influential bands of the 20th century, The Beatles. Born John Winston Lennon on October 9th 1940 in Liverpool, England to Julia Stanley and Alfred “Alf” Lennon, John would grow up knowing very little about either parent. At the age of six he was unofficially adopted by his mother’s sister, Mimi and her husband George Smith. A precocious and creative child, John would suffer many tragic losses before the age of thirty. With the success of The Beatles in during the 60s came about many experiences with drugs, women and fame. His marriage to Cynthia Powell in 1962 produced a son, Julian, born in 1963. Cynthia and John divorced in 1967. In 1966 John met Yoko Ono and three years later they married. After the breakup of The Beatles in 1969, John along with Yoko pursued a prosperous solo career producing classics such as “Imagine”, “(Just Like) Starting Over” and “Happy Xmas (The War Is Over If You Want It)” among many others. His marriage to Yoko produced their only child together Sean Taro Lennon in 1975. John then took a four year break from the music industry to raise his son. On December 8th 1980, John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman in front of his apartment building, the Dakota.

Psychoanalytic/Freudian Perspective
Psychosexual Stages and the Oedipus Complex

John Lennon’s early childhood was anything but stable. Since Alf was constantly absent from John’s life since he was, what can be best described as, a seaman the child rearing was often left to Julia and her gaggle of older sisters. Due to his father’s absence, Julia often got tangled in brief love affairs while her husband was away. When John was about to turn five years old, Julia gave up a daughter for adoption that was a product of an extramarital affair. During this time John was set away briefly to live with his paternal uncle, Sydney, his wife and their daughter for eight months. For a while there were talks of John being officially adopted but he was swept away from the love and stability of Sydney’s care by Alf. In 1946, John’s childhood was disrupted again by the inevitable rupture of his parents’ marriage. Julia had left Alf for another man and took the six year old to live with them. Sometime later Julia’s sister, Mimi, informed Alf of John’s growing unhappiness with his “new daddy” and so he left the sea to kidnap his son. When Julia finally caught up with Alf and John in Blackpool, the little child was forced to choose between his mother and his father. John chose his mother only to be separated from her again to be unofficially adopted by his stern Aunt Mimi. It is this lack of stability early in his life that would later on plague his adolescence and early adulthood with issues controlling his id impulses. Indeed one can argue that due to Lennon’s artistic ambitions were only manifestations of the inability to control his id. Mimi, however, desperately tried to reign in John’s drive for pleasure. Mimi was Lennon’s introduction to the reality principle. Aunt Mimi ultimately reinforced John’s ego and superego.
Aunt Mimi and her husband George Smith provided the youngster with “what every child has a right to-a safe and happy home life” (p. 25). Although Mimi gave him stability it was up to George to provide John with affection. According to Philip Norman’s John Lennon: The Life George and John’s relationship was “…the most uncomplicatedly loving relationship of [John’s] whole life” (p. 32). Yet while John’s primary home was Mimi’s, Julia was never far away and Mimi permitted Julia to visit John as often as she wanted. However this would never supplant the empty void in John’s life of never having a proper mother figure. Julia treated John in a “jokey, flirtatious manner” and John did not refer to Mimi as “auntie” much less mom but simply as Mimi. The relationship between Mimi and her nephew was always lacking intimacy (Norman, 2008). In this instance Freud himself would probably suggest that the lack of this vital figure would leave John a maladjusted adult for all of his life unable to fully reach the genital stage.

As a pupil in Dovedale Primary School, John was praised for his intelligence and artistic capabilities. Although his first love of the arts was the drawing, painting and reading, music came naturally to him from both sides of his family. By the time John was eight, he had learned how to play the harmonica and soon progressed to the piano. Interestingly enough at this age, Lennon’s oral fixation fully manifests itself through his love of music, art and literature. Aunt Mimi, however, never encouraged his creative talents and would constantly barrage the teenage John to focus on his education. This illustrates that while John’s id was eager to slip out, Aunt Mimi often served as the main vehicle for the reality principle in his life. In fact Mimi was so eager on destroying this pursuit that she would later on throw out his drawing and poetry as a teenager.
John Lennon’s teenage years are filled with a plethora of behavioral curiosities some of which were examined by Freud. For instance at the loss of the only paternal figure his life, Uncle George, at the age of fourteen John grieved by breaking into hysterical laughter. Again John’s id takes over his superego by giving into his whims. John became briefly immersed in the phallic stage often masturbating with his close friend, Pete Shotton, during his early teen years (Norman, 2008). Freud would label this behavior as a homoerotic tendency that would prevent maturity into the genital stage (Boeree, 2000). This focus on his genital sexual pleasure soon leads to an Oedipus Complex that would haunt him deep into his adult years. One afternoon after school while visiting Julia who was resting on her bed he accidentally touched her breast. On this incident Lennon later reflected, “…I was wondering if I should have done anything else…I always think I should have done it. Presumably she would have allowed it…” (p. 74). This aspect on the Freudian theory, however, must be adjusted to John’s life. John’s biological father was not involved in his life and was not in a relationship with Julia at the time this occurred. There was no chance of castration anxiety. Despite going through most of the psychosexual stages at some point in his life (although not in the exact ages prescribed by Freud), it has already been mentioned that John would be mostly dominated by the oral psychosexual stage. People who are dominated by this stage focus on their need for knowledge. Knowledge cannot come without any sense of curiosity. John was curious to test the moral bounds of his superego and that of his mother’s. Unfortunately John would never get the opportunity to foster a healthy relationship with his mother. Julia was killed on July 15th, 1958 when John was just seventeen.
Throughout the remainder of John Lennon’s life his oral fixation came through his artistic endeavors, his voracious appetite to read, the inability to be without chewing gum (at times even singing with it during concerts), smoking cigarettes, doing several drugs and seeking out new experiences.

Defense Mechanisms
The mechanisms that Lennon counted the most on in his life were a combination of repression, displacement and sublimation. After graduating high school, Lennon was admitted into the Liverpool College of Art where he met Stuart “Stu” Sutcliffe. Stu became the victim of John’s constant abuse and mockery despite being his closest friend. This relationship best demonstrated how John displaced his anguish, pain and frustration at the loss of his mother into Stu.

Years later the frustration of not having a meaningful relationship with either of his parents revealed itself in the song “Mother”. Despite losing his mother at seventeen and not having any substantial relationship with his father for many years, it took John until the age of thirty to come to term with these feelings of isolation and abandonment. In the song Lennon writes, “Mother, you had me but I never had you/I wanted you but you didn't want me…Father, you left me but I never left you/I needed you but you didn't need me” (Lennon, 1970). John used these repressed emotions to sublimate them into a song that millions could relate to.

Neo-Analytic Perspective
Erikson’s Stage Theory
Despite his turbulent childhood, John successfully navigated through the Trust versus Mistrust, Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt, and Industry versus Inferiority stages of Erikson’s theory. Out of all of these the Identity versus Role Confusion stage was the most difficult for John to master in his twenties. During Lennon’s first marriage, Cynthia Powell often cites being left alone too often with their son while Julian has hardly any memories of his father during his childhood years (Norman, 2008). Lennon’s identity crisis did not allow him to integrate all of these facets of himself successfully. John only saw himself as a young man trying to become a Beatle and move his music band into stardom. It was not until he met Yoko Ono, who he described as his “soul mate”, that the identities of musician, artist, writer, husband and, later on, father would all come into focus for him. Yoko allowed John to overcome the conflict of Isolation versus Intimacy. She encouraged John to follow his passions to become who he really was and thus solidified his identity.
John Lennon is viewed by society as someone who dedicated the latter part of his life to the promotion of peace. During the last years of his life, however, John dedicated himself entirely to raising Sean and becoming a better father to his older son, Julian, not to saving the world with his message of nonviolence. Sadly due to his short life most would believe that Lennon died in the midst of the Generativity versus Stagnation stage in Erikson’s theory. Yet I would venture to propose that Lennon reached Ego Integrity before his death. This is epitomized by the lyrics in “Borrowed Time: “When I was younger/Living confusion and deep despair/When I was younger ah hah/Living illusion of freedom and power… Good to be older/Would not exchange a single day or a year/Good to be older ah hah/Less complications everything clear (Lennon, 1980).

Adler’s Individual Psychology
According to Adler’s Individual Psychology, Lennon’s cause for an inferiority complex was largely related to the relationship with both of his parents but especially his mother. In Phillip Norman’s biography Lennon is quoted as saying in reference to his mother’s death “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me…I thought, ‘Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. I’ve got no responsibilities to anyone now’.” (p. 146). This event catapulted his superiority complex into overdrive as a young man. Tony Sheridan, fellow Briton rock-n-roller who met Lennon in 1960 while touring Germany’s Reeperbahn, described him as “scary” and he would “stare at you in that blank, vacant, way, as if he was willing trouble to happen” (Norman, 2008). This complex, however, often served his music ambitions well. It was this drive to success to somehow make sense of his mother’s death and perhaps even to make Julia proud of him that allowed Lennon to continue with the Quarrymen, Johnny and the Silver Beetles, the Beatels and ultimately The Beatles. Lennon’s aggression drive in reaction to the helpless situation of losing his only consistent parental figure, Julia, leads to the mastery of musicality.
John Lennon accomplished all of the three fundamental social tasks put forth by Adler. Lennon’s occupational task transcended music and in his marriage with Yoko Ono often participated in several other art forms such as performance art (i.e., the bed ins for peace). It was Lennon’s artistry that allowed him to fully communicate his emotions and essentially his psyche. Given that Lennon was one of The Beatles, he was one of the most well connected man in the music industry. Lennon, according to several sources (documentaries, biographies, interviews, musicians, etc.), was described him as being an intellectually stimulating man who was willing to have a conversation with anyone. This is most prominently illustrated by the fact that Lennon often ventured out into New York’s Central Park chatting with fans and signing autographs. The only reclusive years Lennon spent in his life were the years he spent raising his second son, Sean. Finally the love task was completed through his marriage with Ono. She enhanced and added richness to all of the other components of his life.

Horney’s Perspective on Neo-Analytic Psychology
According to Horney, in great disagreement with Freud, women’s inferiority came from being treated as a second class citizen. Despite having treated the lovers of his life quite poorly, Lennon seems to agree with this perspective in the song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” (Lennon, 1972). This highly controversial song exemplifies the manner in which Lennon adapted to the world. Lennon employs an aggressive style in adapting to the world as a result of the tremendous basic anxiety accumulated from his aforementioned childhood. There are several examples of this aggressiveness in Lennon’s life. One such example is the honeymoon bed in that John and Yoko orchestrated for peace. Lennon permitted journalists to encroach upon his honeymoon to start a conversation about peace because he believed it was a cause worth fighting for. It was during one of these bed ins that the lyrics for “Give Peace a Chance” in which Lennon exclaims “Why get it tomorrow when we can get it today?” (Lennon, 1969).

John Lennon himself often noted that he was not a perfect man. He has been quoted as being a lousy father to Julian and quite awful to many loved ones in his life. Lennon was marked by insecurities (i.e., he believed he was a poor musician and singer) and addictions of all kinds throughout his life. However given the analysis of both the psychoanalytic and neo-analytic perspectives it is quite clear that any hang ups that he might have had as an adult were a major consequence of the childhood he experienced. In this analysis there was no need to focus much on Lennon’s adulthood because the “healing” began there. The insight into who Lennon became and why is evident in the first five years of his life. Why was he such a poor father to his first child? Although inexcusable it is rational to conclude that Lennon did not know what it meant to be a good father. With Alf being non-existent and Julia being a sexual object, what chance did he have to mature by the age of twenty three when Julian was born? Given all of the facts of Lennon’s life it seems rather obvious that he was waiting for someone like Yoko to bring him to that level of maturity: “After all I'm forever in your debt…/For showing me the meaning of success…/Woman I know you understand/The little child inside the man, / Please remember my life is in your hands…” (Lennon, 1980). It was through this relationship and his relationship to music that Lennon became his real self and reached a substantial level of self-actualization.

Boeree, C. G. (2000). Freud and psychoanalysis. Retrieved from
Lennon, J (Lyricist). (1969). Give peace a chance [Recorded by Plastic Ono Band]. On Give Peace a Chance [Medium of recording: Record] London: Apple.
Lennon, J (Lyricist). (1970). Mother. On Plastic Ono Band [Medium of recording: Record] London and NYC: EMI/Apple.
Lennon, J (Lyricist). (1972). Woman is the nigger of the world [Recorded by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band]. On Some Time in New York City [Medium of recording: Record] London/L.A.: Apple/EMI. (1971)
Lennon, J (Lyricist). (1984). Borrowed time. On Milk and Honey [Medium of recording: Record] Polydor. (1980)
Lennon, J (Lyricist). (1980). Woman [Recorded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono]. On Double Fantasy [Medium of recording: Record] L.A./NYC: Geffen.

Norman, P. (2008). John Lennon: the life. NYC: Ecco Pr.