Freudian slips, and other Freudisms


You’ve seen it and said it many times: that wasn’t just a mistake, it was a “Freudian slip”. They intended to write or say something else, but their fingers or voices revealed what they were really thinking. And haven’t you observed on occasion that someone’s speech, behavior or work of art — with all its sexual overtones  —  is very “Freudian”? In fact, isn’t Freudian just another way of saying “sexually suggestive”?

Freud died 75 years ago yesterday, and it’s not just his name that lives on in the form of a meaningful slip of the tongue. No, the father of psychoanalysis might go in and out of fashion in the lecture halls of psychological academia, but whether or not we agree with his teachings and writings, his concepts are here to stay — in the words and language of our daily lives. And it’s not all about sex, even if Freud would have wanted us to believe otherwise. We complain about our friend being anal — and we’re not talking about his toilet habits; we’re happy to blame our own or someone else’s flaws on the unconscious. We wonder if she’s projecting her own fantasies onto him, or whether he’s in denial. Our ids get us into trouble (and I don’t mean fake IDs), and we hope our superegos will keep those naughty urges in check. “I hope you’re not psychoanalyzing me”, we say fearfully when we meet a psychology student for the first time, however ridiculous that reaction might be. And who hasn’t hypothesized about someone repressing their true feelings, or regressing emotionally? Freud gave us all these words, whether he invented them or just gave them a popular psychological sense or meaning.

Here’s a list of some favorite Freudisms, with some colorful examples of their continuing use and usefulness. Thanks Sigmund.

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Freudian slip: “It’s when you say one thing but you mean your mother.” — anon

The unconscious: “The unconscious mind has a habit of asserting itself in the afternoon.” — Anthony Burgess

Anal-retentive, or anal for short: “I’m anal-retentive. I’m a workaholic. I have insomnia. And I’m a control freak. That’s why I’m not married. Who could stand me?” — Madonna

Catharsis (in a psychological sense): “My view of actors is that basically they’re all harmless lunatics who’d be on the psychiatrist’s couch, except that we get this sort of catharsis every six months or so, and we go and be absolutely someone else.” — Michael Caine

Ego, superego and id: “Every autobiography is concerned with two characters: a Don Quixote, the Ego, and Sancho Panza, the Self.” — W. H. Auden

Defense mechanism: “People use irony as a defense mechanism.” — David Byrne

Identification (or to identify with): “I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.” — Tennessee Williams

In denial: “I re-invented my image so many times that I’m in denial that originally I was an overweight Korean woman.” — David Bowie

Freudian: “I don’t want to do anything Freudian.” — Mikhail Baryshnikov

Free association: “It is true that classical libertarian thought is opposed to state intervention in social life, as a consequence of deeper assumptions about the human need for liberty, diversity and free association.” — Noam Chomsky

Libido: “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.” — Mike Huckabee

Oedipus complex: “Sometimes it’s Britney Spears and sometimes it’s Carrie Fisher. I can’t tell if I’ve got a Lolita complex or an Oedipus complex.” — Ben Affleck

Penis envy: “I worked with Freud in Vienna. We broke over the concept of penis envy. Freud felt that it should be limited to women.”  — Zelig, in Woody Allen’s Zelig.  “What you’ve got, Lillian, is a bad case of penis envy.” — Virginia, in Masters of Sex on Showtime

Projection: “The youth, intoxicated with  his admiration of a hero, fails to see that it is only a projection of his own soul, which he admires.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Psychoanalyze: “Please don’t psychoanalyze me. You won’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed.” — Hannibal, in NBC’s Hannibal

Regress(ion): “I do feel more myself in America. I can regress there, and they have roller-coaster parks.” — Alan Rickman

Repression: “I have a lot of repression. So repression is what I make movies about.” — Ang Lee

Transference: “Charisma is the transference of enthusiasm.” — Ralph Archbold

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This one’s for you, Steve, my favorite Freudian.

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