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Psychopathology of Everyday Life, The

PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF EVERYDAY LIFE, THE

Sigmund Freud's lively book, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, has some unique characteristics. Freud discusses psychoanalytic matter in the context of everyday life, sidestepping the experience of neurosis. He abandons his customary process, that of discussing the normal in terms of the pathological. Everyday psychopathology is discussed with few allusions to infantile sexuality and its impact on adult pathology. The theoretical aspect is practically nonexistent, although Freud does compare the interpretation of everyday life to dream theory, another banal psychopathological phenomenon familiar to everyone. He emphasizes the importance in life of displacement, condensation, over-determination, and the creation of compromise formations. He makes use of his knowledge and interest in literature to provide many examples by writers, poets, and dramatists, reinforcing his position by emphasizing their intuitive understanding of the meaning of parapraxis.

The book contains twelve chapters on forgetting (proper names, words belonging to foreign languages, series of words, impressions, and projects); childhood memories and screen memories; slips of the tongue (spoken and written); mistakes, clumsiness, symptomatic acts, errors, associations of several "parapraxes"; and the determinism of the unconscious, the belief in chance and superstition.

All these forms of behavior are grouped under the heading of "slips of the tongue": "I almost invariably discover a disturbing influence [in slips of the tongue] . . . which comes from something outside the intended utterance; and the disturbing elelment is either a single thought that has remained unconscious. . . . or it is a more general psychical motive force which is directed against the entire utterance" (p. 61). To belong to this category they must not exceed "the limits of the normal state" and they must "have been previously accomplished correctly."

Freud's description emphasizes various aspects of these phenomena: These are mental functions that "cannot be justified by an explanation of the representation of the goal toward which they are directed." This demonstrates the importance of the psychic determinism associated with unconscious desire and rejection. He notes, for example, the forgetting of a proper name, which is linked with a disturbance of a thought, due to an internal contradiction, arising from a repressed source (the name of the painter Signorelli replaced by the names Botticelli and Boltraffio). The use of free will assumes a distinction between conscious and unconscious motivation; accordingly, some motor acts are disturbed on account of the unconsciousfor example, the loss or destruction of an object that has meaning either in terms of the person who has given it to us or because a symbolic association with something else has been shifted toward this object. Our errors of judgment acquire a sense of certainty and remain convincing for us, precisely to the extent that they express a repressed content. This is, at the very least, the same reasoning used by the paranoiac who rejects any accidental element in the psychic manifestations of other people, such as incorrect statements.

The meaning of symptomatic actions is sometimes difficult to determine; repressed ideas and tendencies remain hidden from the individual, as internal resistance presents an opposing force. Technically, slips of the tongue and bungled actions are made possible by the shifting of nervous excitation. In the example of the lapsus linguae, there can exist, between the intended word and the spoken word, a phonetic resemblance (a "contamination") or psychological associations connected with the person's history. As in dreams there is a disturbing element (which is repressed) that makes itself felt through "deformations, mixed formations, or compromise formations," or, again as in dreams, a word may be replaced by its opposite. These phenomena reveal two factors simultaneously: a positive one (free association) and a negative one (relaxation of the inhibitory action of attention).

What mental factors are thus expressed? The disruptive idea arises from innate tendencies and should not be confused with the intentional idea, or an association exists between the two, or the disruptive idea is unconscious and comes into play when activity is undertaken, thus revealing itself by indirectly disturbing the intentional idea. This is the case with slips of the pen, where there can exist, in a waking state, a phenomenon of condensation, in which conscious and unconscious ideas overlap as in dreams. This is also the case when we forget past events that are associated with a memory likely to awaken a painful sensation from a different time (in keeping with the idea that the "unconscious is outside time"); or when we forget certain things because of a conflict associated with an opposing wish; or likewise when we make a mistake, or a strange impulse is manifested that contradicts an intended action. This is equally true of other kinds of acts, which are often symbolic representations of dreams or desires.

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, one of Freud's best known works, is an excellent introduction to psychoanalysis. His observation of the psycho-pathology of normal life has not, however, had the subsequent theoretical development it deserves. Work on orality, anality, feminism, or sibling relations in everyday life would benefit from new investigations of metapsychology.

GisÈle Harrus-Revidi

See also: Cryptomnesia; Déjà-vu; Delusion; Forgetting; Masochism; Negative hallucination; Parapraxis; Psychic causality; Slips of the tongue; Suicidal behavior; Time.

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1901b). Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens (über Vergessen, Versprechen, Vergreifen, Aberglaube und Irrtum. Monatsschrift für Psychiatrie und Neurologie, 10, 1-2, 1-32, 95-143; Zur Psycopathologie des Alltagslebens, Berlin: Karger, 1904; GW, 4 ; The psycho-pathology of everyday life. SE,6.

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