Freudian slip: A case of mind over mutter?

By | April 24, 2004

In one of my earlier articles (Straightening the Straits Times [6]), I wrote: “when Ho [Ching] mentioned family jewels, I believe it was a genuine Freudian slip”. But what exactly is a “Freudian slip”?

Well, it certainly isn’t some kind of undergarment that women hide in their closets. But it’s close enough. In fact, one could argue that a Freudian slip is much like skeletons in a closet.

The term “Freudian slip” originates with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), an Austrian physician who was generally regarded as the father of psychoanalysis. Freud was noted for his controversial psychological theories that neuroses stem from childhood experiences and (often sexual) desires which have been long-repressed and that the symptoms of hysterical patients represent forgotten and unresolved infantile psychosexual conflicts. These theories were outlined in his works such as Studies in Hysteria (1895), The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).

Freud’s greatest discovery is that human beings can keep no secrets. According to him, human beings are constantly expressing their unconscious thoughts, and they’re totally unaware that they are doing so. Freud’s term for such behaviour was “faulty action”, for which his editor/translator adopted the pseudo-Greek scientism parapraxis. The colloquial label is “Freudian slip”, which essentially refers to a slip-up that results from the operation of unconscious wishes or conflicts and can reveal unconscious thought processes in normal healthy individuals.

For example, while visiting the United States one year, Freud told Carl Jung (a Swiss psychologist and a student of Freud) that he was disturbed by American women, who seemed to be the cause of erotic dreams. “I dream of prostitutes,” he complained.

Jung, convinced that such a problem could be solved by psychotherapy, asked: “Why don’t you do something about it?”

Freud’s reply? “But I’m a married man!”

Although Freud was not the first to chance upon this class of tricks our psyches play on us, his findings led to the use of psychoanalysis as a popular, but expensive, way for people to treat their psychological problems. Freud himself believed that the deepest and often darkest truths of the unconscious could be glimpsed by using psychoanalysis.

However, not everybody will agree with Freud that the human psyche is a cesspool of psychological and sexual perversity. These days, psychologists are discovering that there are also great creative possibilities that await us just beneath the surface of our consciousness.

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Stephen Yeo
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Lee Kuan Yew was also quoted saying: “What I miss most is the high levels of physical energy I had up to 10 years ago. I used to dash around, meet people, talk, dictate, get things done.”

There, he said it – “dictate”.

No I don’t think it meant talking to a tape-recorder, it was a genuine Freudian slip.

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