Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition.... The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Volume VI. Translated By James Strachey. London: The Hogarth Press, 1960.

vol. 6\1901\Psychopathology\slips\language\Condensation\Cathretic method\ displacement\distortion\dreams\forgetting\overdetermination\Repression\ Resistances\screen memories\Suggestion\symbols\

Editor's Introduction:

This is a text that Freud often updated with more examples and illustrations, while almost all of the theory was present in the original publication of the text. The editor, Strachey, notes that examples may detract the reader from the line of argumentation. Also there are a lot of plays on words in the original German which are untranslatable. In terms of dating this text, Strachey notes that Psychopathology was written after the completion of Traumdeutung and On Dreams. Thus the writing was completed by 1901 and in 1904 it was released as a separate volume. (X-XIII)

On page XII-XIII (footnote #1) of the "Editor's Introduction" we find Strachey commenting on Freud`s usage of the "parapraxis." According to Strachey, Freud special attention due to the fact that they, as with dreams, were what enabled him to extend to the norm of mental life the discoveries he had made first in connection to the neuroses. In fact, Strachey notes, Freud sometimes even preferred parapraxes over dreams. It was through this phenomena that Freud found it possible to demonstrate the existence of two distinct modes of mental functioning--i.e., the primary and the secondary processes. It was his belief in the universal application of determinism to people's mental lives that allowed this insight. This is characterized when Strachey writes: "it should be possible in theory to discover the psychical determinants of every smallest detail of the process of mind."

Chapter 1: The Forgetting of Proper Names

We are referred to "The Psychical Mechanism of Forgetfulness" (volume 3) as a starting point in the explication of Freud`s ideas on this subject.

Freud begins by pointing out the means by which proper names are either altered or forgotten. He notes that names may be 1] forgotten, 2] falsely remembered, and 3] substituted (by associations or displacement). (1) In forgetting, he writes, "a topic of interest that has been raised is disturbed by the preceding topic." (3) Or, alternately, one's memories are often diverted, especially if they are unpleasureable. (4)

Freud notes that the motive behind forgetting is similar to that of repression--it is the removal of objectionable material from consciousness. Thus it is often that case that an associated bit of information is also forgotten. Thus, Freud gives as an example the following statement: "I forgot the one thing against my will, while I wanted to forget the other thing intentionally." (4)

On page 6 Freud make the distinction that Paramnesia refers to false recollection. To Freud, paramnesia probably occurs when a suppressed element strives to assert itself in consciousness, but is only successful when suitable conditions meet it halfway. In other instances, the suppression succeeds with out any functional disturbance- -i.e., there is no sign of a symptom.

The conditions for paramnesia are as follows: 1] there must be a certain disposition to forget the name; 2] a process of suppression must be carried out shortly before the name is encountered; and 3] there must be the possibility for the establishment of an external association between the name in question and the element previously suppressed. Freud notes that the third condition is extremely difficult to fulfill. That is, when two elements are joined by an external association there must be some connection in the content of the two ideas which is demonstrable. (6)

Paramnesia is said to be always explicable as something motivated by repression. Thus Freud finds no theoretical justification to separate cases of the forgetting of names, accompanied by paramnesia, and the situations in which incorrect substitutes appear. He relies upon his belief that both show some relationship to the repressed element and to the forgotten or altered name.

Freud notes that there are two factors which help to being substitute names to consciousness. These are as follows: 1] an effort of attention and 2] an inner condition that attaches to the psychical material. In fact, Freud goes so far as to claim that all cases of name forgetting are to be classified in the same group and that "By the side of simple cases [as such] where proper names are forgotten there is a type of forgetting which is motivated by repression."

Chapter 2: The Forgetting of Foreign Words

Freud writes this chapter in a dialogical style. He begins by noting that it is easier to forget foreign vocabularies as there is a disposition to forget due to the amount of control we have over words according to the general conditions of health and the degree of tiredness. (8)

Using an example of a young man who could not remember "Aliqus" and several associations, Freud points out that the disturbances in the reproduction stems from the very nature of the topic. That is, the topic caused the upswelling of unconscious opposition to the wishful idea that it expressed or to which it was associated. In this case, Freud outlines the phenomenology of the act of forgetting: 1] an external association is arbitrarily constructed between one ideational content and a content of the repudiated wish; and, 2] a contradiction appears between the ideational contents which has its roots in repressed sources and functions to cause a diversion of attention away from the repressed material. Therefore, Freud claims that the second mechanism of forgetting is as follows: there is a disturbance of a thought which is the result of an internal contradiction which arises from repressed material. (13-14)


Freud questions whether the same mechanisms are active in terms of memory loss in one's own language. He notes that faulty reproduction of this sort (names and sets of words) includes isolated portions of things that one has learned.

Freud outlines several examples in the next five pages, including ones submitted by Jung, Ferenczi and one from Goethe`s writings.

The common denominator in all of these examples is the fact that the forgotten or distorted matter is brought by some associative path into connections with an unconscious thought-content, which is the source of the effect manifested by forgetting. (20-21) In forgetting names there are two factors to consider: 1] the fact that the forgotten name may have touched on a `personal complex`; and, 2] the relationship between the forgotten name and oneself is usually an unexpected one which is usually arrived at via superficial associations--i.e., verbal similarity or similarity in sounds. A pair of examples serve to illustrate this point: 1] Freud forgot the name of a place which a sanitarium is found--Nervi--for the reason, he speculates, that the name has a similar sound to `nerves`; and, 2] Freud forgot the name of the third inn in a village that he knew well because, he says, its name is "Hochwarter" which is very similar to the name of a colleague in Vienna with whom Freud had some unpleasant dealings. (23)

Freud comments upon what he calls `personal references.` This is some sort of personal material, as opposed to instinctual material, which can betray itself when one forgets names. That is, one's personal complexes are put on alert and may result with the forgetting of someone's name. (24) Thus forgetting could be due to antipathy felt towards another person--e.g., a rival in life (25)--or forgetting a name may be the result of something more subtle. For instance, one may forget another's name as a result of a grudge one carries against the person whose name is forgotten. (26) Furthermore, forgetting a name may occur because the name may remind the subject of a concept that is uncomfortable to remember. (27)

Freud concludes that in a large number of cases a name is forgotten because, owing to a similarity in sound and assonance, it touches upon another name against which the motives of repression operate. In sum, then, the mechanisms of forgetting names are as follows: 1] forgetting consists in an interference with the intended reproduction of the name by an alien train of thought which is not conscious at the time of attempted recall. 2] Between the name inferred and the interfering complex either a connection exists from the onset or one is established via external associations. 3] In terms of interfering complexes those of the personal sphere prove to have the greatest effect. 4] In cases in which a name has more than one meaning and consequently belongs to more than one group of complexes is frequently interfered with in its connection with one train of thought owing to its participation in another, stronger, complex. 5] the motive for forgetting names is the attempt to avoid unpleasure caused by remembering something undesirable.

Freud points out two main types of forgetting names: 1] cases in which the touches something unpleasant; 2] where the name is brought into connection with another name that causes unpleasure. Freud says that the forgetting of names is supposed to be "highly contagious" in such cases, however, where forgetting is induced the forgotten name returns more readily. (40)


The indifferent memories of childhood own their existence to the mechanism of displacement: that is, they operate as substitutes in mnemic reproductions of other, significant impressions. Such significant impressions can be brought out through analysis but a resistance prevents them from being directly reproduced in the everyday situation.

Types of displacement:

  1. regressive displacement: in this case the content of a screen memory belongs to earliest childhood (which has been repressed since its origination) and the mental experiences it replaces usually occurred in the subject's later life;
  2. opposite relation: this appears more frequently than regressive displacement. In this case an indifferent impression of recent occurrence establishes itself as a screen memory but owes its existence to associations from an earlier experience which is prevented from direct reproduction by one's resistances--i.e., they are said to be displaced forward;
  3. CONTAGIOUS SCREEN MEMORIES: Such screen memories are connected with the impression that it screens off not only by its content but also by contiguity in time.

This chapter attempts to emphasize the similarities between the forgetting of proper names accompanied by paramnesia and the formation of screen memories. Hence the differences between forgetting names and screen memories are as follows: in proper names it is names that are forgotten, in screen memories it is whole concepts; in proper names there is a manifest failure of memory altogether, in screen memories strange memories replace the original content; in the case of proper names there is a momentary disturbance of memory, in screen memories there is a permanent or constant memory disturbance. Points of agreement in screen memories and the forgetting of proper names include: in both there are mistakes in remembering resulting sometime in the production of replacements; in the case of proper names we know that the substitute is false, in screen memories we are surprised that we possess them at all; in both cases substitute formations occur through displacement via superficial associations. (44-45)

Freud makes some general comments of memories. First of all he states that he does not trust infantile memories previous to the third year as such memories are generally visual in nature as is the dream process and include the self in the image of a child. But adult visual memories no longer include pictures of themselves. This, it is said, contradicts all suppositions that in a child's experiences his attention is directed to him or herself instead of being exclusively directed from the external world. Thus Freud leaps to the conclusion that early childhood memories are in fact revisions of such experiences. They are revisions which may have been subject to the various influences of one's psychical processes. Hence, infantile memories become, in general, to acquire the significance of screen memories. Still, Freud notes, it is vary difficult to analytically determine which memories are screens and which are not. (46-48)


Freud begins this section by pointing to the work on slips done by Meringer and Mayer. In "Slips in Speaking and Reading" they attempt to put forth the conclusion that `a certain mental mechanism, in which the sounds of a word, or of a sentence and the words as well, are mutually linked and connected in a peculiar way.`(53) The authors then point out several classes of slips, which include the following:

  1. Transpositions: e.g., `milo of Venus` as opposed to the `Venus of milo.`
  2. Anticipations (Pre-sonances): making up words! (?)
  3. Post-sonances or Perservations: the replacement of a correct phrase with another.
  4. Contanimations: the combinations of two phrases.
  5. Substitutions: the substitution of specific words with another. (54)

Freud argues against Meringer in that he feels that the initial sound of a word could be with the highest valency but it is not true than it is the initial sound that comes back to one's memory. For example, forgotten words or names often appear with the conviction that the first letter is such and such, but most often this is not the case. Freud thus suggests that we include the mechanisms of the forgetting of names to slips and we will thus develop a more deeply based judgment of slips. (55)

Hence Freud indicated that the disturbances in speaking which manifest in a slip of the tongue are caused by the following criterion:

  1. as a result of the influence of another component in the same speech; or,
  2. by an anticipatory sound (preservation); or
  3. by another formulation of the ideas contained with in the sentence or context that it is one's intention to utter; or
  4. by a process which could emanate from influences outside the word, context or sentence and could rise out of elements, which are not intended to be uttered and of whose excitations we learn precisely only through the actual disturbance.

(The first three criterion are from Meringer and the final one is Freud`s own. Freud notes that there are similarities between the first three and the fourth in that there is a simultaneity in the interfering stimulation. The differences appear in the position of the excitation--whether it is inside or outside of the sentence or context. Therefore it is only through the first three criterion that deductions of slips can be made, via a mechanism which links sounds and words to one another, so that they mutually influence their articulation.) (56)

In terms of substitutions, when another similar word lies a short way below consciousness, Freud says, substitutions may occur. That is, when an individual has two or more responses in mind and they come together and form a non-word we see the mechanism of condensation occurring. Condensation implies that two elements of unconscious material, which contain some similarity in ideational content or verbal presentation, are taken as an opportunity to create third word, which is composite or a compromise idea. (57-58) "The formation of substitutes and contaminations," Freud writes, "which occur in slips of the tongue is accordingly a beginning of the work of condensations which we find taking a most vigorous share in the construction of dreams."

Freud notes Meringer`s thoughts on contrary words replacing those that were meant to be uttered. Freud interprets this activity to be wishfulfillment. But, he notes, the opposites does not always appear-- that is, the intended word is often merely forgotten. (59)

Freud then points out that there are two mechanism to slips of the tongue which work in combination with one another. These are as follows: 1) there is an uninhibited stream of associations to the searched for term; and 2) there is a corresponding relaxation of inhibiting attention--i.e., with the relaxation of inhibitions the uninhibited stream of associations comes into play. [see: p. 80] Freud often finds that the following aspects must also be considered: 1) a disturbing influence which comes from something outside the intended utterance; and 2) the notion of anticipation is an utterance that anticipates the correct words full sound. (61)

Freud goes on to point out that slips of the tongue are to a high degree contagious. On pages 61ff Freud provides the reader with several examples, many of which take into consideration the sexual aspect of slips. Examples includes slips arising out of the following: condensation, substitutions, repressed memories, suppressed ideas, similarity of word sounds, and conflicting emotional impulses.

The import of slips of the tongue appear in Freud`s statement that slips are very useful in the analytic process in that it permits the analyst to get at repressed ideas and to get through resistances. In fact Freud claims to find both repressed ideas and resistances in both gross and subtle slips. From this he concludes that Meringer may have been barking up the wrong tree. He writes: " is not the influence of the contact effect of the sounds but the influences of thoughts that lie outside the intended speech which determines the occurrence of the slip and provides an adequate explanation of the mistake." (80) Hence we find that Freud thinks that the laws that govern the way which sounds modify one another are not enough alone to be sufficiently effective to disturb the correct process of speaking.

Thus Freud concludes that such laws are employed by a psychical motive which is more remote. "In a large number of substitutions resulting from slips of the tongue," he writes, "such phonetic laws are completely disregarded." Still, when one's speech is hurried and/or when attention is distracted Meringer and Mayer`s conditions may be sufficient explanation for slips. Again, other slips may be due to the sought for word's similarity to the sounds of obscene words and meanings. Freud has this to say of vulgarity: "Deliberate distortion and deformation of words and expressions, which are so dear to vulgar minds, has the sole purpose of exploiting innocent occasions of hinting at forbidden topics...." (81) This activity is so frequent, he points out, that nothing appears when it happens unconsciously. Reiterating his axiom, Freud states: "even simple slips of the tongue could be traced to interference by a half-suppressed idea that lies outside the intended context." Hence it could be the shame that one feels on the occasion of such a slip that invariably indicates that some motive has contributed to the occurrence of the interference. (83) In a sense, we may conclude, disturbances like stammering and stuttering caused by embarrassment. This, Freud concludes, is a result of an internal conflict displayed by the disturbance in speech--this appears in numerous literary instances as well. (101)


Freud begins by noting that the general comments dealing with slips in speech apply to slips of the pen and misreadings as well. In other words, the roots of such parapraxes are repressed wishes. (106)

A) MISREADINGS: (Examples to 116)

B) SLIPS OF THE PEN & MISPRINTS: (Examples to 132)

125--slips of the pen often deal with impatience as well as more complex or serious desires.


Freud lists two general assumptions before preceding with this chapter. These assumptions are as follows:

  1. Forgetting is a spontaneous process which may be regarded as requiring a certain length of time; and
  2. A certain selection of impressions takes place. (134)

Freud then goes on to list some striking examples of forgetting that he has had himself. (136ff) He then distinguishes between forgetting of a) impressions and experiences [knowledge] from b) intentions. A statement characteristic of Freud`s thoughts about slips of any kind is as follows: "in every case the forgetting turned out to be based on a motive of unpleasure."


In such cases there is a disturbance of judgment subject to those nearest to oneself and a specific territory of memories is avoided. (137)

Thus Freud notes that the is a tendency to avoid what is disagreeable seems to be universal and he believes that the capacity to do so is undoubtedly developed with different degrees in different people.(144) In non-neurotics, for example, the recollection of distressing impressions and the occurrence of distressing thoughts is opposed by resistance "But the full significance of this fact can he estimated only when the psychology of neurotic people is investigated." To indicate what he means, Freud indicates that the mechanism of hysteria is the attempt to fend off unpleasureable memories or ideas. (146) Nonetheless, such it is not always possible to employ such defensive measures in every instance. In fact such defenses may come up against factors which aim at the opposite effect and bring it about in spite of the defensive trend. Thus, he concludes, it may be possible that defenses belong to the lower psychical agencies (to the unconscious) and are inhibited by the higher ones (conscious). (147)

Freud points out that such forms of forgetting may appear on a mass scale. This is an important point for any students interested in hermeneutics and the evolution of written texts. Freud writes, in terms of this notion, "where the origin of a people traditions and legendary history are concerned, a motive of this kind, whose aim is to wipe from memory whatever is distressing to natural feeling, must be taken into consideration." [my emphasis] Thus, as with the forgetting of names, the forgetting of impression may be due to faulty recollections as a result of paramnesia which is motivated by unconscious, repressed material. (148)


Freud first comments that a lack of attention does not provide sufficient explanation. He then defines intention as an impulse to perform a certain action. It is an impulse that has already formed approval but whose expectation is postponed to a suitable occasion. Still it could be the case that motives change and that the intentions then are not carried out and is reexamined and canceled. (151) Humans, Freud rightly notes, are not in the habit of explaining the forgetting of intentions as we generally leave such things unexplained. To Freud, normal behaviour resulting after the formation of an intention coincides with the behaviour exhibited by those under hypnotic suggestion. To this end Freud writes: "The suggested intention slumbers on in the person concerned until the time for its execution approaches. Then it awakes and impels him to perform the action." (152)

Freud notes that there are two cases that argue for unconscious motives: 1) love relationships--e.g., when a lover forgets to come to a meeting; and 2) military discipline--the forgetting of a direct order suggests that a counter motive may have inhibited obedience. (153) On pages 154 following Freud provides examples based upon his own experience in an attempt to show that the forgetting of intentions can be traced to interference caused by unknown and unavowed motives-- something he calls a counter will. Such things usually happen when one is under obligations or services and they represent a demonstration to such obligations.

In terms of important intentions forgetfulness occurs because of some obscure motives rise up against them. In cases of less important intentions we may recognize a second mechanism--the counter will. In this case the counter will is transferred to the intention from some other topic, but this only occurs after an external association has been formed between the other topic and the content of the intention. (159) This notion of a counter will interfering with one's intents causes Freud to remind us of an old proverb: "`If one forgets to do a thing once, one will forget to do it many times over.`" (161)


Since slips are motor actions, we can extend the mechanisms of slips, etc. to other types of actions. Such actions are called either symptomatic or chance actions in that the whole aim of such actions seems to be completely inappropriate. (162) On 163ff Freud provides several examples of his own. He concludes that parapraxes are a symbolic representation of a thought which was not really intended to be accepted seriously and consciously. (163) In other instances bungled actions are said to be symbolic of thought. (164) Another possibility is that a voice of self-criticism causes bungled actions. (165)

Later in the text Freud reiterates the notion that guilt is a originating cause of bungled actions. (171) Individual clumsy actions do not always have the same meaning but serve as a method of representing one purpose or another according to the circumstances. (173) Freud, in fact, points out that the double meaning of such terms as `falling,` stumbling,` and `slipping` demonstrate that they need not always be interpreted as accidental miscarriages of motor actions. (174) Rather, he suggests, there may be fantasies involved which can be represented by such losses of bodily equilibrium. Or, on the other hand, seemingly unintentional sexual activity and accidental actions may really be intentional--i.e., the clumsy actions may really be performed for sexual purposes. (175)

Many apparently accidental injuries that happen to people with severe psychoneuroses are in reality instances of self-injury. That is, an impulse to self punishment, which is constantly on the watch and usually finds expression through self-reproached or contributes to the formation of a symptom, takes advantage of an external situation or lends assistance to the situations until the desired injurious effect takes place. The impulse to self-punishment, furthermore, betrays its unconscious motivations by the striking composure the patients retain in what is supposed to be an accident. [See: "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" 1915 for a discussion of the death instinct] (179)

Thus Freud suggests, long before his postulate of the death instinct, that there are self-destructive elements in the unconscious which are skillfully disguised as mishaps. In fact Freud writes of the notion of unconscious intentions to self-punishment: "There is no need to think such self-destruction rare. For the trend to self-destruction is present to a certain degree in very many more human beings than those in whom it is carried out; self-injuries are as a rule a compromise between the instinct and the forces that are still working against it...." Thus, he concludes, even as an intention of suicide waits for its time, so does a unconscious intention wait for a originating occasion which can take over and liberate the intention from their suppressed state. (181)

To bring this chapter to a close, we may say that if a furious rage against oneself, one's life and integrity can be hidden behind apparently accidental clumsiness, so too, is it possible to transfer the same view to mistakes that seriously endanger the lives and health of others. (187)


The difference between bungled and chance actions is that the former "scorn the support of a conscious intention and are therefore not in need of a pretext." (191) They are said to appear on their own and are permitted to enter into consciousness because they are not suspected of having any aim or ambition. Thus they enter into motor activity by the virtue that the censor mechanism perceives nothing in them. They must be unobtrusive. Freud calls such actions symptomatic in that they give expression to something which the agent him or herself does not suspect in them and which he or she does not as a rule intend to impart to other actions. (191)

On page 192f Freud provides the reader with several examples from neurotic patients. He seems to suggests that symptomatic actions occur as symptoms in very obscure and round-about ways. (193) Freud goes on to list three groups of symptomatic actions, which are as follows:

  1. habitual;
  2. regularly occurring under certain circumstances; and
  3. sporadically occurring.

Habitual occurrences are described as tics, et al, and should be dealt with as such. The regularly occurring symptomatic actions includes activities as doodling, jingling change in one's pocket, etc. Freud points out that during treatment idle play like this regularly conceals a sense of meaning which is denied any other form of expression and the person is usually completely unaware of these actions. (194)

On pages 195-210 Freud offers several examples of such behaviour. On page 202 Freud points out that in non-neurotics resistances may make up part of the disorder and this, Freud says, helps to make the symbolic meaning of the symptomatic act much clearer. That is, the disguised symbolic symptomatic action is hidden so as to afford relief from unconscious sources.

On 207 Freud takes up instances of misplacing or loosing objects. He claims that such instances of behaviour is due to the following:

  1. a secrete intention of the loser;
  2. a low estimation of the object's worth; and
  3. a secrete antipathy felt towards the giver of the object is associated to the object itself.

To Freud the purposes of losing objects expresses a variety of impulses such as 1) the object is lost because it acts as a symbolic representation of a repressed thought; and, 2) more commonly, one loses the object as a kind of sacrificial `offering` to the obscure powers of destiny. (207)

On the next page Freud indicates that finding objects is also psychologically determined. For instance, in the case of finding money, Freud points out that it is often the case that several persons have passed by the money as it lie on the street until someone eventually picks it up. He speculates that this is so because the last person is unconscious, unlike all the others, had a predisposition towards finding the money. That is, the unconscious is in a state of "readiness to look for something." When this is the case it is more likely to lead to success than cases in which the individual has consciously directed his or her conscious intentions. (208-209) Indicating the import of such activities, Freud writes: "it is precisely such symptomatic acts that often offer the best approach to an understanding of people's intimate mental life." (210)

Sporadic actions: for instance two persons invite a third to breakfast, yet one of them places his or her coat over the remaining chairs thus giving a signal that they wish to be alone. (210) Freud believes that such sporadic actions result from a source of misunderstandings--misunderstandings in human relations. These are usually performed unconsciously by the first person and it may be considered to be tactless to point them out to the individual. (211) Freud indicates that this particular form of activity is often found in fictive writing. (212)


Errors in memory are distinguished from forgetting by paramnesia by the feature that in the former, the error (paramnesia) is not recognized as such but finds credence. In such cases `error` is used instead of `remembered wrongly.` This is so in cases where the emphasis is placed on a characteristic of objective reality in the psychical material we are trying to reproduce. That is, where what we are trying to remember is something different from a fact of our own psychical life. In this sense the antithesis to an error of memory is ignorance. Freud points out that he had provided several examples of such errors in The Interpretation of Dreams. At this point, Freud describes the mechanisms involved in errors. Keeping in line with drive theory, Freud notes that "Where an error makes its appearance a repression lies behind it--or more correctly, an insincerity, a distortion, which is ultimately rooted in repressed material." (217) Hence what one wants to suppress often succeeds against one's will in gaining access to what one wants to relate and appears in it in the form of an error which one fails to notice. (219) Hence we find "an unobserved error taking the place of an intentional concealment or repression." (220)

Freud points out that when one lies there is often the occurrence of parapraxis and this betrays the individual's lack of sincerity in such situations. Freud then indicates that of all parapraxes, errors seem to have the least rigid mechanism. That is, the occurrence of an error is a general indication that the mental activity in question has had to struggle with a disturbing influence but the particular form that the error takes is not determined by the quality of the concealed, disturbing idea. Thus slips are due to a disturbance caused by a mental process lying outside of our intention. From this perspective, Freud states that "all these forms of parapraxis are equivalent to one another." (E.g., slips, errors and bungled actions). (221-222)


In this chapter Freud provides several examples of the combination of cases of forgetting and errors in remembering.


What may possibly be the best way to characterize this chapter is found in the following: "certain shortcomings in our psychical functioning...and certain seemingly unintentional performances prove, if psycho-analytical methods of investigations are applied to them, to have valid motives and to be determined by motives unknown to consciousness." However, if such material is to be included in a class of phenomena explicable in this way, a psychical praxis must include the following:

  1. not exceed certain dimensions fixed by our own judgment--that is, not exceed the limits of what is considered to be normal.
  2. By nature it must be momentary and temporary--i.e., the same function must have been performed correctly previously or we must at all times believe ourselves capable of carrying out the activity. If corrected by others we must be capable of recognizing the rightness of the correction and the wrongness of the psychical process.
  3. If we perceive a parapraxis at all, we must not be aware of any motives for it ourselves--rather we are tempted to explain it away as inattentiveness, etc. (239) Thus in this group of phenomena we find slips, forgetting, errors, misreadings, bungled actions and change actions. (240)



Freud notes that if we believe that our psychical functioning cannot be explained by purposive ideas, we fail to appreciate the extent of determination in mental life. Freud follows with several examples which are reminiscent of numerology. In these examples h intends to show that it is impossible to come up with a number that has not been previously determined. (250) Freud also indicates that verbal associations are also determined and then follows with several examples using obsessive words. (251)


Freud begins this section by bringing up the free will-determinism debate. He claims that belief in a free will is not manifest in the great and important decisions of the will. Rather it is on the occasions that give rise to feelings of psychical compulsion that we invoke the notion of free will. (253) On the other hand, it is precisely in terms of the unimportant and indifferent decisions that we would like to claim that we might just as well acted otherwise--in other words, that we feel we have free will. Thus Freud concludes that it is not necessary to dispute the right to the feeling of conviction that we have a free will. The question of free will has to do with motivation, Freud says:

"If the distinction between conscious and unconscious motivation is taken into account, our feeling of conviction informs us that conscious motivation does not extend to all our motor decisions.... But what is thus left free by the one side receives its motivation from the other side, from the unconscious; and in this way determination in the psychical sphere is still carried out with out any gap." (254)


Here Freud looks for psychical proof of the existence of unconscious motivations. He indicates that there are two spheres in which it is possible to demonstrate phenomena that appear to correspond to unconscious knowledge for such motivations. These two spheres are as follows:

  1. The studies of paranoids in terms of other individuals` behaviors. It is from interpretations of these researches that far reaching conclusions can be made. That is, paranoids reject any possibility of accidents or coincidence in terms of the psychical manifestations of others. Freud writes: "In paranoia many sorts of things force their way through to consciousness whose presence in the unconscious of normal and neurotic people we can demonstrate only through psycho-analysis." (254-255)
  2. Chance actions and parapraxes which are thought to be determined or predestined are found in the notion of superstition. (256)

Freud concludes, after some examples, that the differences between the neurotic or normal person and the superstitious is as follows: the `normal` person does not believe that an event, in which his or her mental life plays no part, can teach one anything hidden about the future. Still, an unintentional manifestation of one's own mental activities does disclose something that is hidden but it is only something that belongs to one's mental life alone--i.e., it does not belong to external reality at all.

Thus the superstitious person can be characterized as follows: [1] he or she projects outwards a motivation which originated from with in the psychical apparatus; [2] he or she interprets chance as a result of an event which more properly should be traced back to an internal thought; (257) and [3] what is hidden to the superstitious is unconscious to the analyst. From this Freud suggests that we may characterize both the superstitious and the analyst as persons who have a compulsion not to let chance count as chance--it is only the meaning that is given to the specific event that distinguishes the two. That is, the superstitious person knows nothing about his unconscious motivations and therefore interprets it as belonging to the external world--as a result of the mechanism of displacement.

This conversation is directed to mythology. It is this mechanism of projection, Freud states, that is characteristic of the world's mythology. Although this is a narrow understanding, or more aptly explanation, of mythology it is characteristic of Freud`s approach to the mythological. He writes:

"I believe that a large part of the mythological world view, which extends a long way into most modern religions, is nothing but psychology projected into the external world." (258)

That is, psychology is projected into the external world and forms a construction of a supernatural reality. Thus Freud concludes "The gap between the paranoiac's displacement and the of a superstitious person is less wide than it appears at first sight." Freud takes the time to extend the discussion in order to take into account anthropomorphism. He suggests that when humans began to think we were forced to explain the world anthropomorphically through numerous personalities in human form and chance events. These anthropomorphized forms and events were interpreted superstitiously and therefore understood to be the manifestations and actions of these persons. Humans "behaved, therefore, just like paranoiacs who draw conclusions from insignificant signs given [to] them by other people, and just like all normal people, who quite rightly base their estimate of their neighbor's characters on their chance and unintentional actions." (259)


The quality of unconscious motivations that find expression in superstition i.e. said to be revealed by psychoanalysis. This is most obviously so in obsessional neurotics. That is, in these cases it is clearly recognizable that obsessive superstitious derive from suppressed hostile and cruel impulses. Freud comments, in relation to obsessive neurotics specifically and the superstitious generally, "superstition id in large part the expectation of trouble...." That is, one who often feels hostile impulses that are repressed to the unconscious will be especially ready to expect punishment for his or her unconscious wickedness in the from of trouble threatening from with out. (259)

Thus the question become, as Freud would have it, whether there is really no such thing as presentiments, prophetic dreams, or telepathic experiences. (260) Freud states that he has no intention of passing any sweeping condemnation of such phenomena and even willing to alter his views if the possibility of such phenomena can be proven. Explaining his view Freud writes "I have never been in a position to experience anything myself that might arouse a belief in the miraculous." (261)

On page 265 Freud takes up the question of the experience of déjà vu. After offering several examples, Freud makes the claim that this experience is a result of unconscious phantasies. In other cases it may be that something is touched on that has been experienced before, only we cannot remember it because it never made it into consciousness. Thus it may be the case that déjà vu experiences emerge from forgotten or repressed aspects of one's dreams of the previous evening. (266- 268)


Freud takes up the question whether the elucidation of parapraxes in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life applies to general or specific cases. (269) Freud believes, from his own tests, that it is the case at least from the perspective "of psychoanalysis [as] we must maintain that some disturbance of intention has revealed itself in these cases, but we cannot say from what the disturbance derived and what its aim is....In fact it has achieved nothing apart from demonstrating its existence." (271)


The question raised in this section deals with the need to define more closely and to test scientifically whether parapraxes follow any specific laws. (271) Hence the questions that are asked include the following: (1) What is the content and origin of thoughts and impulses which are indicated in erroneous and chance actions? (2) What are the determinants which compel a thought or impulse to make use of such actions as a means of expression and which puts it in a position to do so? (3) Is it possible to establish constant and unambiguous relations between the kind of parapraxes and qualities of what is expressed by means of it?

The means of answering these questions begins with an investigation into the external world in an attempt to find the disturbing influences in slips. (272) This takes up the question of motivation for various parapraxes. the statement of motivation that Freud makes is that forgetting is invariably an unwillingness to remember something that causes distressing feelings. (275) A second factor in the foreground to parapraxes is the intent. Thus there is a conflict between the disturbing repressed influences attempts to enter consciousness and the "counter will" or censorship feature which constantly attempts to keep distressing material at bay. In terms of the counter will there are two ways in which it may function: 1] it is turned directly against the intention; and 2] it is unrelated in its nature to the intention itself and establishes its connections with the intention via external associations only. (275-276)

Thus the answer to the first question (What are the origins and impulses which are expressed by parapraxes?) is as follows: it is the disturbing thoughts derived from suppressed impulses in mental life. The answer to the second question (Which psychological determinants are responsible for a thought being compelled to seek expression in an uncompleted and parasitic form, as a modification and disturbance of another thought?) is due to the degree of repressive energy used to keep the idea from entering into consciousness. (276-277)


Freud points out that the mechanisms of parapraxes and chance actions can be seen as corresponding in most of its essential aspects with the mechanisms of dream-formation. In both cases we find the following:

  1. Condensations and compromise-formations;
  2. Through unfamiliar paths and through external associations unconscious thoughts find expression as modifications of other thoughts; and,
  3. "The appearance of an incorrect function is explained by the peculiar mutual interference between two or several concrete functions."

From this Freud concludes with two considerations. The preconscious mode of working, he suggests, cannot be contributed to the sleeping state of mental life but rather operates during our waking life as well. He justifies this position by noting that if we posses such abundant evidence in the form of parapraxes, then the preconscious must be deemed to be active during our waking life as well. Again Freud notes that we cannot assume that such psychical sources are determined by any deep-seated decay in mental activity or by pathological states of functioning. This suggests, Freud notes, that the border between `normal` and `abnormal` is fluid. Thus, Freud writes: "we are all a little neurotic." Still, in terms of the mildest and most severe cases of mental functioning (slips and neurosis proper) "The phenomena can be traced back to incompletely suppressed psychical material, which, although pushed away by consciousness, has nevertheless not been robbed of all capacity for expressing itself."

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Last updated: April 22, 1996.