In the Psychopathology of Everyday Life Sigmund Freud says parapraxes are unintentional acts resulting from an unconscious wish, desire, attitude or thought (London: Penguin, 2002 ).
This could entail forgetting names and sequences of words. But classic examples of parapraxes are slips of the pen or tongue.
Imagine someone at a cocktail party accidentally saying “I love your horse” instead of “I love your house.”
For Freud the hidden meaning always points to the person making the slip. In the above example she or he could be an avid equestrian or possibly an intensely sexual person, the horse being a well-known symbol of virility. Along these lines, Freud attributed tremendous significance to the libido.
An irruption of shadow contents into daytime activities could stem from an unresolved personal complex, the larger forces of the collective unconscious or some combination of the two.
Unlike Freud, Jung believed that unintended slips don’t always have to refer to the person making them. They can point to an entire situation among several or many people.
Charles Brenner, M.D. believes that parapraxes have profound implications. Although many dismiss accidents and mistakes as mere flukes brought on by stress, distraction, sleep deprivation or malnutrition, Brenner says
In the mind, as in physical nature around us, nothing happens by chance, or in a random way (Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis, New York: Anchor Books, 1957, p.2).
Perhaps one way of differentiating healthy from unhealthy attitudes toward parapraxes is to see if one learns something of value from their occurrence.
- Parapraxes, Accidents and Necessary Mistakes – Article that expands on this entry