Repressed, Derivative of the; Derivatives of the Unconscious

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The term repressed was used by Sigmund Freud in the context of his dynamic conception of the unconscious. Repressed elements, which remain active in the unconscious, constantly tend to reappear to consciousness in derived formations that are unrecognizable to varying degrees: These are the "derivatives" of the unconscious that also appear in the forms of symptoms, fantasies, or free associations in the course of analysis.

It would be impossible to conceive of repression without the return of the repressed, and vice versa. The point of articulation of this process is provided by the "derivative of the unconscious" or "derivative of the repressed." That which has been repressed in the unconscious tends to resurface in the conscious mind in the form of derivatives that, in turn, become the object of new defensive measures.

Freud used this expression, especially in the metapsychological texts of 1915, to refer to the symptoms, fantasies, and associations during the session that are connected to repressed ideas. In "The Unconscious" (1915), Freud compared these unconscious formations, these derivatives, to "individuals of mixed race": "Thus qualitatively they belong to the system Pcs., but factually to the Ucs. Their origin is what decides their fate. We may compare them with individuals of mixed race who, taken all round, resemble white men, but who betray their coloured descent by some striking feature or other, and on that account are excluded from society and enjoy none of the privileges of white people. . . . To this species belong the fantasmatic formations of normal men as well as neurotics, in whom we have recognized the preliminary degrees of the formation of the dream and the symptom" (p. 191).

This dual, Preconscious-Unconscious affiliation, together with their situation anterior to censorship, makes these derivatives into "necessary places of transition" through which the repressed can effect a return and through which repression can act, according to Claude Le Guen in Le Refoulement (Repression; 1992).

According to Freud in "The Unconscious," the most highly organized unconscious derivatives include the "substitutive formations" (Ersatzbildungen ), which "succeed in breaking through into consciousness when circumstances are favorablefor example, if they happen to join forces with an anticathexis from the Pcs." (p. 191). The substitutive formations ("parapraxes," "jokes") are nothing other than evolved derivatives that replace unconscious contents. In Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926 [1925]), Freud likened neurotic symptoms to substitutive formations put into the place of the instinctual process that has undergone the action of the defense.

The economic factor is what determines the various possible fates of the derivative. A reinforcing energy must retroactively intervene (for example, at puberty) for a mnemic trace from childhood, reinforced by an unconscious cathexis and having become a "tolerable" derivative, to thereafter be perceived as bearable. Its relationship to action is what seals the fate of the derivative of the repressed. The derivative is condemned in its capacity as a precursor or representative of a possible putting into action.

The function of repression, which Freud in "Repression" (1915) described as "something between flight and condemnation" (p. 146), is to enlist the derivative in situations that render impossible the direct realization of unconscious desireputting it into action.

Jean-FranÇois Rabain

See also: Repression; Return of the repressed.


Freud, Sigmund. (1915d). Repression. SE, 14: 141-158.

. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.

. (1926d [1925]). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172.

Le Guen, Claude. (1992). Le Refoulement. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Le Guen, Claude, et al. (1986). Le refoulement (les défenses). Revue française de psychoanalyse, 50,1.