Freudian slip or failed act: what is it and what does it mean?

A Freudian slip or failed act occurs when people block strategic memories from their minds to protect themselves from unpleasant realities or trauma. It is an unconscious psychological phenomenon.

Last update: 06 October, 2021

The Freudian slip or failed act is an error in human cognition. By this we mean that it is a fault in mental processes. However, it is nothing to be alarmed about; in fact, it is a fairly common situation.

These cognition failures are also known as parapraxias or mental lapses. The theory says that failed acts show up when people don’t want to face an unpleasant reality and unconsciously they change the data.

Origin of the term

This concept comes from psychoanalytic theory. It is Sigmund Freud who first records a case of these characteristics. The word parapraxis results from the Greek translation of fehlleistung, which in German means ‘wrong action’.

The first record of a Freudian slip or failed act is from a young patient. The aforementioned boy omitted a word when quoting a part of the work The Aeneid. This observation caught the attention of Freud, who inquired into the case, discovering that the patient related the forgotten word to blood.

In short, the man could not remember the word because he was unconsciously protecting himself from a traumatic memory. Cases like this occur frequently in the lives of all of us.



Some types and examples of failed acts

There are 4 types of failed acts described by Freud. In this sense, they are categorized depending on how they happen.

There are Freudian verbal, graphic, listening and reading lapses. Finally, there are those of symbolic forgetfulness.

1. Verbal Freudian slip (linguae slip)

This type of failed act is known as linguae slip and it is one of the most frequent. It happens when a person says something that is true, but would not have wanted to admit at the time. An example of this would be a girlfriend who asks her partner who she is in love with and he accidentally says the name of another girl.

Saying something that we did not want at that precise moment can be a Freudian slip of the verbal type.

2. Graphic Freudian slip (manus slip)

As in the previous cases, the slip manuscripts represent an unwelcome confession for people. In these cases, the failed act is reflected in the writing. This type usually occurs in work situations.

For example, an employee tells his boss that he cannot go to work on Monday because he is ill and needs to have medical examinations. But in another message tells the same person who bought tickets to a soccer game on the same Monday.

3. From comlistening and reading grasp

In these cases, failures do not occur when we express an idea wrongly. Rather it is about errors in understanding what we hear or read. These slip-ups typically happen when people find themselves in unexpected situations or under stress.

If we appeal to an example, it would be when a father feels guilty for having scolded his son and hears him say You do not love me instead of you do not understand me. East slip mental responds to the fear that the person has regarding a particular situation.

4. Symbolic forgetfulness (memory lapse)

This cognition error is one of the most interesting for psychology. Is about forgetting specific information that is not pleasant or interesting for the people. For example, not being able to remember the name of a movie that we found boring or of a person that we don’t like.

What can failed acts mean?

Psychoanalytic theory is the one that supports this type of phenomenon. It is logical that this is the case, since it was Freud himself who recorded the first case of a failed act. In short, what arises from Freudian psychoanalysis is that parapraxias are a consequence of unconscious mental processes.

Failed acts can occur at any time and in people without any psychopathology. For Freud, these lapses are proof that the mind’s unconscious processes are in constant operation.

It is important to note that although psychoanalytic theory is convincing, sometimes these types of errors can happen for other less complex reasons. Let’s look at a list with some alternative meanings.

1. Tiredness

When we don’t get a good night’s sleep, it is natural that we experience fatigue during the day. This exhaustion is not only physical, but it also affects the mind. When the brain does not rest properly, it is normal for us to forget certain information.



2. Stress

Being under stress creates difficulties in processing information. Feeling that responsibilities are getting out of hand produces anxiety; it is that feeling that clouds the judgment and causes the failed acts.

Stress can lead to inadvertent mistakes in everyday activities.

3. Chance

Sometimes a slip mental is solely a product of chance. There will not always be a specific cause for these errors.

When we forget where we have left the car keys, for example. Forgetting where we left something does not imply that we dislike what we have lost; it is just a random event.

Are there theories beyond psychoanalysis?

A Freudian slip or failed act is difficult to study because are phenomena that can occur randomly, as we have already mentioned. In this way, it is understood that although psychoanalytic theories explain it quite well, in-depth studies that allow exact measurements cannot be carried out.

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