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Volume 6

Volume VI:
The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901)

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Editor’s introduction (1960)
Only one other of Freud’s works, the Introductory Lectures (1916 to 1917) rivals The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in the number of German editions it has passed through and the number of foreign languages into which it has been translated. In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life almost the whole of the basic explanations and theories were already present in the earliest editions; the great mass of what was added later consisted merely in extra examples and illustrations to amplify what he had already discussed. Freud first mentioned parapraxis in a letter to Fliess of August 26, 1898. The special affection with which Freud regarded parapraxes was no doubt due to the fact that they, along with dreams, were what enabled him to extend to normal mental life the discoveries he had first made in connection with neuroses.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter I: The forgetting of proper names.
There are certain characteristics of the forgetting of proper names which can be recognized clearly in individual cases. These are cases in which a name is in fact not only forgotten, but wrongly remembered. In the course of our efforts to recover the name that has dropped out, substitute names enter our consciousness; we recognize them at once as incorrect, but they keep on returning and force themselves upon us with great persistence. The process that should lead to the reproduction of the missing name has been displaced and therefore has led to an incorrect substitute. Freud’s hypothesis is that this displacement is not left to arbitrary psychical choice but follows paths which can be predicted and which conform to laws. The name or names which are substituted are connected in a discoverable way with the missing name. The conditions necessary for forgetting a name, when forgetting it is accompanied by paramnesia, may be summarized as follows: 1) a certain disposition for forgetting the name, 2) a process of suppression carried out shortly before, and 3) the possibility of establishing an external association between the name in question and the element previously suppressed.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter II: The forgetting of foreign words.
The current vocabulary of our own language, when it is confined to the range of normal usage, seems to be protected against being forgotten. With the vocabulary of a foreign language it is notoriously otherwise and the disposition to forget it extends to all parts of speech. An early stage in functional disturbance is revealed by the fluctuations in the control we have over our stock of foreign words, according to the general condition of our health and to the degree of our tiredness. The forgetting of a nonsubstantial word in a Latin quotation is presented. The appearance or nonappearance in the memory of incorrect substitutes cannot be made the basis for any radical distinction. The disturbance in reproduction in the example presented occurred from the very nature of the topic in the quotation, since opposition unconsciously arose to the wishful idea expressed in it.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter III: The forgetting of names and sets of words.
The forgetting of names and sets of words is discussed. The forgotten or distorted matter is brought by some associative path into connection with an unconscious thought content, a thought content which is the source of the effect manifested in the form of forgetting. There are various reasons why names and sets of words are forgotten. Some of them are: professional complex, family complex, personal reference, sublimated grudge against the bearer of it, guilty conscience, and personal complex. In a large number of cases, a name is forgotten not because the name itself arouses such motives, but because, owing to similarity in sound and to assonance, it touches upon another name against which these motives do operate. The mechanism of names being forgotten consists in the interference with the intended reproduction of the name by an alien train of thought which is not at the time conscious. Between the name interfered with and the interfering complex either a connection exists from the outset, or else such a connection has established itself, often in ways that appear artificial. Among the interfering complexes, those of personal reference prove to have the greatest effect. In general, 2 main types of name forgetting may be distinguished: those cases where the name itself touches on something unpleasant, and those where it is brought into connection with another name which has that effect.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter IV: Childhood memories and screen memories.
A person’s earliest childhood memories seem frequently to have preserved what is indifferent and unimportant, whereas no trace is found in an adult’s memory of impressions dating from that time which are important, impressive and rich in affect. There is a similarity between the forgetting of proper names accompanied by paramnesia, and the formation of screen memories. Of the childhood memories that have been retained a few strike us as perfectly understandable, while others seem odd or unintelligible. It is not difficult to correct certain errors regarding both sorts. If the memories that a person has retained are subjected to an analytic enquiry, it is easy to establish that there is no guarantee of their accuracy. Some of the mnemic images are falsified, incomplete, or displaced in time and place. Remembering in adults makes use of a variety of psychical material but all dreams are predominantly of visual images only. This development is reversed in childhood memories; they are plastically visual even in people whose later function of memory has to do without any visual element. Thus visual memory preserves the type of infantile memory. It is suspected that in the so called earliest childhood memories we possess not the genuine memory trace but a later revision of it, a revision which may have been subjected to the influences of a variety of later psychical forces. Thus the childhood memories of individuals acquire the significance of screen memories.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter V: Slips of the tongue.
The slips of the tongue that are observed in normal people give an impression of being the preliminary stages of the so-called paraphasias that appear under pathological conditions. Among the slips of the tongue that Freud collected only a very few can be solely attributed to the contact effects of sounds. He almost invariably discovers a disturbing influence which comes from something outside the intended utterance; and the disturbing element is either a single thought that has remained unconscious, which manifests itself in the slip of the tongue and which often can be brought to consciousness only by means of searching analysis, or it is a more general psychical motive force which is directed against the entire utterance. Slips of the tongue are contagious. A slip of the tongue has a cheering effect during psychoanalytic work, when it serves as a means of providing the therapist with a confirmation that may be very welcome to him if he is engaged in a dispute with the patient. People give slips of the tongue and other parapraxes the same interpretation that Freud advocates even if they do not theoretically endorse his view and even if they are disinclined, so far as it applies to themselves, to renounce the convenience that goes along with tolerating parapraxes.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter VI: Misreadings and slips of the pen.
(A). Misreadings.
Misreadings and slips of the pen are discussed. When we come to mistakes in reading and writing, we find that our general approach and our observations in regard to mistakes in speaking hold here also. Some examples of misreadings are presented, carefully analyzed and the misreadings found to be due to some of the following causes: questions of priority; long standing habits; the reader’s preparedness; the reader’s profession or present situation; something which rouses the reader’s defenses; and personal motives.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter VI: Misreadings and slips of the pen
(B). Slips of the pen.
Slips of the pen are made more readily than slips of the tongue for the following reason: In the course of normal speaking the inhibitory function of the will is continuously directed to bringing the course of ideas and the articulatory movements into harmony with each other. If the expressive movement which follows the ideas is retarded (as in writing) such anticipations make their appearance easily. Twenty-one examples of slips of the pen are presented, analyzed and thought due to some of the following causes: the expression of a wish; unconscious hostility; similar subject matter; making a joke; and secondary revision. These examples have not justified assumption that there is a quantitative lessening of attention, but rather, a disturbance of attention by an alien thought which claims consideration. Between slips of the pen and forgetting may be inserted the situation where someone forgets to append a signature. An unsigned check has the same significance as a forgotten check.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter VII: The forgetting of impressions and intentions.
(A). The forgetting of impressions and knowledge.
The forgetting of impressions is discussed. No psychological theory can give a connected account of the fundamental phenomenon of remembering and forgetting. We assume that forgetting is a spontaneous process which may be regarded as requiring a certain length of time. Some examples of forgetting, most of which Freud observed in himself, are presented. Freud distinguishes the forgetting of impressions and experiences from the forgetting of intentions. He states the invariable result of the entire series of observations: in every case the forgetting turned out to be based on a motive of unpleasure. Mislaying something is really the same as forgetting where it has been put. There are abundant signs to be found in healthy nonneurotic people that the recollection of distressing impressions and the occurrence of distressing thoughts are opposed by a resistance. The architectonic principle of the mental apparatus lies in a stratification, a building up of superimposed agencies. It is quite possible that this defensive endeavor belongs to a lower psychical agency and is inhibited by higher agencies. In a very similar way to the forgetting of names, the forgetting of impressions can be accompanied by faulty recollection; and this, where it finds credence, is described as paramnesia.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter VII: The forgetting of impressions and intentions.
(B). The forgetting of intentions.
No group of phenomena is better qualified than the forgetting of intentions for demonstrating the thesis that, in itself, lack of attention does not suffice to explain parapraxes. An intention is an impulse to perform an action: an impulse which has already found approval but whose execution is postponed to a suitable occasion. There are 2 situations in life in which even the layman is aware that forgetting cannot in any way claim to be considered as an elementary phenomenon not further reducible, but entitles him to conclude that there are such things as unavowed motives: love relationships are military disciplines. But the service of women and military service demand that everything connected with them should be immune to forgetting. Freud made a collection of the cases of omitting to do something as a result of forgetting which he observed in himself. He found that they could be traced to interference by unknown and unavowed motives; or, to a counter-will. Where intentions of some importance are concerned we have found in general that they are forgotten when obscure motives rise against them. In the case of rather less important intentions we can recognize a second mechanism of forgetting: a counter-will is transferred to the intention from some other topic, after an external association has been formed between the other topic and the content of the intention.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter VIII: Bungled actions.
The term ‘bungled actions’ is used to describe all the cases in which a wrong result, i.e., a deviation from what was intended, seems to be the essential element. The others, in which it is rather the whole action that seems to be inappropriate, Freud calls symptomatic and chance actions. No sharp line can be drawn between them, and we are forced to conclude that all the divisions made in this study have no significance other than a descriptive one and run counter to the inner unity in this field of phenomena. Included in the category of bungled actions are also those actions which result in breakage or self-injury.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter IX: Symptomatic and chance actions.
Chance actions differ from ‘bungled’ actions because they do not have the support of a conscious intention, are in no need of a pretext and appear on their own account. We perform them without thinking there is anything in them, quite accidentally, just to have something to do; and such information will put an end to any enquiry into the significance of the action. These actions, which cannot be excused on grounds of clumsiness have to fulfill certain conditions: they must be unobtrusive and their effects must be slight. Symptomatic acts is a better name for these actions than chance actions. They give expression to something which the agent himself does not suspect in them, and which he does not as a rule intend to impart to other people but to keep to himself. The richest supply of such chance or symptomatic acts is obtained during psychoanalytic treatment of neurotics. An example is given of how there can be a close connection between a symbolic action performed through force of habit and the most intimate and important aspects of a healthy person’s life. Chance actions and symptomatic acts occurring in matrimonial matters (often of serious significance) are discussed along with the human habit of ‘losing things,’ with examples given of each. Following these is a brief and varied collection of symptomatic acts found in healthy and neurotic people. The images and turns of phrase to which a person is particularly given are rarely without significance when one is forming a judgment of him; and others often turn out to be allusions to a theme which is being kept in the background at the time, but which has powerfully affected the speaker.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter X: Errors.
Errors of memory are distinguished from forgetting accompanied by paramnesia by the single feature that in the former the error (the paramnesia) is not recognized as such but finds credence. Of all parapraxes errors seem to have the least rigid mechanism. The occurrence of an error is a quite 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. Every time we make a skip in talking or writing we may infer that there has been a disturbance due to mental processes lying outside our intention; but it must be admitted that slips of the tongue and of the pen often obey the laws of resemblance, of indolence or of the tendency to haste, without the disturbing element succeeding in imposing any part of its own character on the resulting mistake in speech or writing. Seventeen examples of errors are reported.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter XI: Combined parapraxes.
Combined parapraxes are discussed and examples given. Mislaying, breaking, and forgetting were interpreted as an expression of a counterwill that has been pushed back. Repeated forgetfulness resulted in an eventually bungled performance. A change in the form taken by the parapraxis while outcome remains the same gives a vivid impression of a will striving for a definite aim, and contradicts the notion that a parapraxis is a matter of chance and needs no interpretation. It was found that a conscious intention completely failed to prevent the success of the parapraxis.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter XII: Determinism, belief in chance and superstition -Some points of view.
(A) and (B)
Certain shortcomings in our psychical functioning and certain seemingly unintentional performances are proven by analysis to have valid motives and to be deter-mined by motives unknown to consciousness. In order to be included in a class of phenomena explicable in this way, a psychical parapraxis must fulfill the following conditions: 1) it must not exceed certain dimensions fixed by our judgment, 2) it must be in the nature of a momentary and temporary disturbance; and 3) if we perceive the parapraxis at all, we must not be aware in ourselves of any motive for it. If we agree that a part of our psychical functioning cannot be explained by purposive ideas, we are failing to appreciate the extent of determination in mental life. A number of examples indicate that one cannot make a number occur to one at one’s own free arbitrary choice any more than a name, rather, that it is strictly determined by certain circumstances, memories, etc. Many people contest the assumption of complete psychical determinism by appealing to a special feeling of conviction that there is a free will. It is not necessary to dispute the right to the feeling of conviction of having a free will. 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.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter XII: Determinism, belief in chance and superstition -Some points of view.
(C) and (D).
There are 2 spheres in which it is possible to demonstrate phenomena that appear to correspond to an unconscious, and therefore displaced, knowledge of that motivation. A striking and generally observed feature of the behavior of paranoiacs is that they attach the greatest significance to the minor details of other people’s behavior which we ordinarily neglect, interpret them and make them the basis of far reaching conclusions. Another indication that we possess unconscious and displaced knowledge of the motivation in chance actions and parapraxes is to be found in the phenomenon of superstition. Superstition is in large part the expectation of trouble. We must also include in the category of the miraculous and the uncanny the peculiar feelings we have, in certain moments and situations, of having once before been in the same place, though our efforts never succeed in clearly remembering the previous occasion.

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Chapter XII: Determinism, belief in chance and superstition -Some points of view.
(E), (F) and (G).
Every time Freud analyzed forgetting, a connection was clearly shown to exist between the forgetting of a name and a reason for the forgetting. It is not possible to interpret every dream but a dream which proves refractory during an attempt to solve it the next day will be more vulnerable to analysis a week or a month later, after a change has come about and has reduced the contending psychical values. The same applies to the solving of parapraxes and symptomatic acts. Parapraxes have a hidden motivation. The basic determinants of the normal process of forgetting are unknown while the motive for forgetting (in cases that require a special explanation) is invariably an unwillingness to remember something which can evoke distressing feelings. In the forgetting of intentions another factor emerges. The conflict, which could only be surmised in the repression of what was distressing to remember, here becomes tangible, and in the analysis of the examples a counter will can regularly be recognized which opposes the intention without putting an end to it. Consequently, 2 types of psychical process are recognized: either the counter-will is turned directly against the intention or it is unrelated in its nature to the intention itself and establishes its connection with it by means of an external association. The same conflict governs ‘bungled’ actions while in chance or symptomatic actions and internal conflict becomes less and less important. The mechanism of parapraxes and chance actions correspond in its most essential points with the mechanism of dream formation. In both cases we find condensations and compromise formations. It is concluded that both severe and mild psychopathology (and also in parapraxes and chance actions) have 1 factor in common: 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.

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).
Index of parapraxes.
An index of parapraxes is presented. The parapraxes are grouped as follows: bungled actions; errors; forgetting impressions and intentions; forgetting names and words; lost and mislaid objects; misreadings; slips of the pen and misprints; slips of the tongue; and symptomatic and chance actions. The list does not entirely follow Freud’s grouping of parapraxes according to the titles of the various chapters. Items have been classified under the most appropriate headings, regardless of where they appear in the book. The source of each parapraxis is given where it is other than Freud himself.

Abstracts of the Standard Edition of 
the Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud

Carrie Lee Rothgeb, Editor


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