Phaeton complex

The Phaeton complex is a psychological condition described by Maryse Choisy 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]

The theory was devised by Lucille Iremonger, who in 1970 studied the 24 British prime ministers who held office from 1809 to 1940, and 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.[2] Hugh Berrington expanded on the theory in 1974, finding sufferers of the Phaeton complex to be less sociable, flexible or tolerant, instead being ambitious, vain, sensitive, lonely and shy.[3] Micha Popper, though, disputes that an unhappy childhood always leads to obsessive urges, citing Winston Churchill as an example where childhood unhappiness had positive results.[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, is said to have 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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ Micha Popper, Hypnotic Leadership: Leaders, Followers, and the Loss of Self, Praeger, 2001, p.25
  2. ^ Mostafa Rejai and Kay Phillips, Leaders and Leadership: an Appraisal of Theory and Research, Praeger, 1997, p. 46
  3. ^ Hugh Berrington, The Fiery Chariot, British Journal of Political Science, 4:345-369
  4. ^ Micha Popper, Hypnotic Leadership, Praeger 2001, p.26
  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