Substitutive Formation

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The name "substitute formation" has been applied to the defensive process by which a symptombut also, more generally, a failed act, slip of the tongue, or dreais produced. The result of this processfor example, the act or manifest text of a dreamis that desire can find a way out, and its economic charge find an outlet.

The notion of substitute formation appeared in Freud in 1895, in his article on anxiety neurosis (1895b), but it was anticipated in the previous year in his work on "The Neuro-Psychoses of Defense" (1894a). In this, her described a "transposition," a "displacement" connected with an economic charge (for example, anxiety or sexual excitement) and with a "complex of representations" (in a process of symbolic transposition), these two processes being able to function separately.

Freud resorted frequently to this idea in the following years: this was, in fact, a key notion in the metapsychology he was drafting, since he was describing the mechanism by which the repressed element could succeed in returning to conscious life and to behavior. At first, he limited the application of this mechanism to obsessional neurosis. But the dual function attributed to it (economic discharge and symbolic transposition), the unification of the field of the return of the repressed (including neurotic symptoms, dreams, slips of the tongue, failed actions, and some "normal" behavior), its contiguity with related notions (like those of compromise formation or reactive formation), and the deepening of Freud's thoughts on mechanisms of defense, all led him to the expression of much wider views on the subject in 1915 (notably in "Repression" [1915d] and "The Unconscious" [1915e]). He revised it even further in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926d), as part of his overall views on symptom formation and his second theory of anxiety.

Roger Perron

See also: Compromise formation; Formations of the unconscious; Psychogenic blindness; Reaction-formation; Repressed, derivative of the, derivative of the unconscious; "Repression," Substitute/substitutive formation.


Freud, Sigmund. (1894a). The neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 41-61.

. (1895b [1894]). On the grounds for detaching a particular syndrome from neurasthenia under the description "anxiety neurosis." SE, 3: 85-115.

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

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

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