Slips of the tongue — known as Freudian slips are mistakes in our communication that happen to most folks. Psychology proposes there are several possible reasons for them.
You may slip up sometimes and say or write things you don’t mean to say aloud. It can be embarrassing when this happens and can be caused by errors in memory or speech.
This is known as a Freudian slip when written or verbal mistakes like this occur. Freudian slips may arise from your unconscious thoughts.
If you’re wondering why this happens, there is a psychological explanation for the phenomenon. Freudian slips happen to many people, and understanding their psychology may help you recover when you slip up.
A research review explains it’s called a Freudian slip because Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, described these errors in speech or memory in his 1901 book called “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.”
While he didn’t name them Freudian slips after himself, he referred to them as Fehlleistungen, which in German means faulty actions.
Parapraxis, or the definition of a Freudian slip, refers to an error in communication or memory that Freud believed reveals desires and urges from your unconscious mind. A Freudian slip can occur in many types of communication, such as verbal or written communication.
What causes a Freudian slip?
A variety of situations can cause a Freudian slip. Although Freud believed these slips of the tongue were not mere accidents, there are other alternative explanations for slips of the tongue other than repressed and suppressed intentions.
According to research from 2017, Freud believed that parapraxis occurs as a result of individuals’ unconscious desires coming to light.
For example, if you say the name of an old partner when you’re speaking to your current partner or call them by your previous partner’s name, Freud believed that slip of the tongue might represent an unconscious desire for your previous partner.
You may be more prone to having a slip of the tongue if you’re sleep-deprived.
Parapraxis can be a memory error, and if memory is impacted by sleep deprivation, this can be a probable reason for a slip of the tongue.
If you’re distracted or unfocused, you may also be prone to having parapraxis. Distraction can divert your attention from the task at hand, causing you to make missteps in your communication.
Research from 2020 indicates that distractions and interruptions can have a negative effect on tasks that require working memory. Our brains require working memory for communication, so this may be one component that causes Freudian slips.
Suppression and repression
Early psychoanalysts such as Freud believed that the unconscious becomes conscious in the form of Freudian slips due to repression and suppression.
Repression means that you’ve buried wishes and desires deep, so they don’t come to the surface, and you may not even be aware of these desires. Suppression means that you have consciously made an effort to push these desires away.
These desires, he believed, come out in our mistakes with our communication. Communication errors in speech or memory are then termed “Freudian slips.”
Some common Freudian slip examples may be:
- calling your partner by your ex-partner’s name
- mispronouncing a word
- misreading a word
- saying a similar word to the one you are trying to read
- calling your child by their sibling’s name
- calling your dog your child’s name or vice versa
What a written Freudian slip looks like
A couple is having a hard time in their relationship, and one partner suspects the other is depressed. He thumbs a text to break the silence:
“I know you ‘woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.’ I’m sorry for your mourning” (instead of morning).
Some famous examples of Freudian slips:
- Research from 2017 notes parapraxis occurring in Shakespearean literature.
- In 2022, former President George W. Bush condemned the invasion of Russian military forces in Ukraine by saying, “The decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq … I mean of Ukraine.”
- In 2017 Savannah Guthrie, who returned to the Today Show after being on maternity leave, referenced her time away in an example of sleep deprivation of moms vs. dads. She meant to mention her husband, Michael Feldman but instead referred to “Matt,” confusing her husband with her co-host Matt Lauer.
Slips of the tongue happen to most of us from time to time. Freud first discussed this concept in 1901, giving the Freudian slip its meaning.
Freudian slips have many causes, though Freud believed they occurred to bring our unconscious desires and wishes to our conscious. Other theories have proposed that these missteps occur due to distractions or lack of sleep.
No one is immune to a Freudian slip. Many famous examples of this phenomenon occur in past presidents and celebrities. If you have a Freudian slip, it may be best to correct yourself and move forward.