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A wish may be described as an intrapsychic impulse accompanied by the intention to obtain some denied, forbidden, or withheld satisfaction, or to rediscover a primal satisfaction, mnemonic traces of which are unconsciously inscribed.

In Studies on Hysteria (1895d), and in correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess in May 1897, Freud employed the term wish to designate a forbidden desire, speaking, for example, of the "wish to be ill" and especially of the "death wish." This meaning was paramount in chapter 5 of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), in the section on "Dreams of the Death of Persons of Whom the Dreamer is Fond" (p. 248ff), and again in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901b) at the conclusion of chapter 8, where it is considered in light of a neurotic conflict.

Beginning with the seventh chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud placed increasing emphasis on a more precise definition of the wish, which became highly influential in the development of psychoanalytic theory. Dream analysis determined, in effect, that the wish was produced by unconscious mnemonic traces that were fixed indelibly by the earliest experiences of infantile satisfaction. The aim of the wish is to recreate that experience, following paths laid down by primary process thought, taking into account the "logic" of unconscious drives to bypass censorship. The wish accomplishes this by being articulated in the language of the most profoundly cathected ideas. This is what led Freud to define the dream as hallucinatory wish-fulfillment.

GÉrard Bonnet

See also: Aphanisis; Conflict; Demand; Experience of satisfaction; Kantianism and psychoanalysis; Prohibition; Transgression; Wish-fulfillment.


Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies in hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.

. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. Part I, SE,4: 1-338; Part II, SE, 5: 339-625.

. (1901b). The psychopathology of everyday life. SE,6.

Further Reading

Holt, Robert R. (1976). Drive or wish? A Reconsideration of the psychoanalytic theory of motivation. Psychological Issues, 36, 158-197.

Rubinstein, B.B. (1996). On the concept of an unconscious wish. Psychological Issues, 62, 541-550.

Simon, B. (1986). Power of the wish and the wish for power. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 6, 119-132.