The Freudian Slip is a well-known “slip of the tongue” that a person involuntarily commits. While many may believe it means very little, renowned neurologist Sigmund Freud thought very differently.

Freud suggested that any slip of the tongue is linked to the unconscious mind – a part of our mind that essentially remains hidden from us. By having a route into the unconscious mind, Freud believed that a lot can be achieved – therefore making a Freudian slip very valuable.

What are Freudian Slips?

The Freudian Slip forms a key part of Freud’s theory of Psychoanalysis [1]. Psychoanalysis is a set of theories and techniques which relate to the unconscious mind.

Psychoanalysis focuses on the notion that a person’s unconscious mind influences a person hugely – and that it can be the cause of mental health problems.

A Freudian Slip – also known as “parapraxis” – is what is known in the modern age as a “slip of the tongue”. It can be a seemingly minor error by a speaker, but something that Freud believed was crucial.

Freud believed that these slips revealed the true feelings, thoughts, or beliefs that a person holds. While most people believe slips of the tongue to be innocuous, Freud suggests otherwise.

Examples of Freudian Slips

Perhaps the most well-known example of a Freudian Slip is when a person calls their partner by the name of an ex-partner. Freud may interpret this as the person thinking of their ex-partner at the time.

Sometimes a person, when speaking to a teacher or other authority figure, may call them “Mum” or “Dad”. Freud may interpret this as a person seeing their teacher as a loving figure, or possibly their parents as authoritative figures.

A study in 1987 involved participants being told to specifically avoid thinking about a white bear [2]. Yet, analysis found that they actually thought about a white bear very frequently [2]. This was a study that showed Freudian Slips do have some evidential backing.

The First Freudian Slip

The idea of a Freudian Slip can be traced back to the first Freudian Slip – which happened when Freud was treating a young man.

During a therapy session, the young man misquoted a Latin phrase from the famous poem “The Aeneid”. This misquote led to Freud believing that the young man had offered a revealing look into his unconscious mind.

Freud used his theory of psychoanalysis to find out that the word misquoted reminded the young man of blood. Tracing this back further, Freud suggested that the blood was linked to an issue with his girlfriend that had involved a pregnancy scare.

Freud said that the young man had blocked this word out of his vocabulary as it reminded him of the negative experience [1]. This event would go on to inspire Freud.

The Freudian Slip and the Unconscious Mind

Freud said that in his experiences in treating patients, he discovered a “disturbing influence from something out of the intended speech” [1]. This is an example of an unconscious thought making its way to the conscious mind of an individual in an unexpected manner.

While forgetting someone or something is possible, Freud believed that what happened on most occasions was forgetting or mixing up words due to repression – with past traumatic events, thoughts or feelings pushed out into the unconscious mind.

These areas are usually withheld from the conscious mind due to the pain they would cause. But Freud believed that slips of the tongue can reveal true feelings – which should be identified and discussed during therapy.

Freud believed this was a crucial technique in trying to uncover areas of the unconscious. This is one of the techniques that a psychoanalyst may be able to use to identify the root cause of psychological problems.

In the context of mental health treatment, a therapist would be encouraged to keep an eye for any “slip” during therapy, as Freud believes that this can reveal true thoughts, desires and motivations.

Criticism of the Freudian Slip

The idea of the Freudian slip however has been criticised by some. Some studies have put the number of day-to-day slip ups in speech as between 5 and 20. Many of these can be attributed to simple mistakes.

Some could be a true representation of the unconscious mind. While such slips and mistakes are taken into account in psychoanalysis-based therapy, few place them in high regard in importance.


While some have criticised the Freudian Slip, it has formed a key part of psychoanalysis. It is a technique that many therapists that provide Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy or Psychodynamic Psychotherapy – and has formed a part of treatment that has helped many people.

Freudian Slips play an important role in psychoanalysis, with Freud believing they had the potential to be a critical part of mental health treatment. You can see more by seeing our list of articles about Freud here.

See Also


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[1] Freud, S. (1965). The psychopathology of everyday life. W W Norton & Co.

[2] Wegner, D. M., Schneider, D. J., Carter, S. R., & White, T. L. (1987). Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 53 (1): p5–13.