The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

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The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
File:The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, German edition.jpg
The German edition
Author Sigmund Freud
Original title Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens
Translator first version A. A. Brill
Country Germany
Language German
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Psychopathology of Everyday Life (German: Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens) is a 1901 work by Sigmund Freud, based on his researches into slips and parapraxes from 1897 onwards,[1]—one which became perhaps the best-known of all his writings.[2]

Editorial history

The Psychopathology was originally published in the Monograph for Psychiatry and Neurology in 1901,[3] before appearing in book form in 1904. It would receive twelve foreign translations during Freud's lifetime, as well as numerous new German editions,[4] with fresh material being added in almost every one. James Strachey objected that "Almost the whole of the basic explanations and theories were already present in the earliest edition...the wealth of new examples interrupts and even confuses the mainstream of the underlying argument".[5] However, in such a popular and theory-light text, the sheer wealth of examples helped make Freud's point for him in an accessible way.[6] A new English-language translation by Anthea Bell was published in 2003.

Among the most overtly autobiographical of Freud's works,[7] the Psychopathology was strongly linked by Freud to his relationship with Wilhelm Fliess.[8]


Jacques Lacan considered it one of the three key texts for an understanding of the unconscious, alongside The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), and Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).[9] Sometimes called the Mistake Book (to go with the Dream Book and the Joke Book),[10] the work became one of the scientific classics of the 20th century.[11] Through its stress on what Freud called "switch words" and "verbal bridges",[12] it is considered important for psychopathology.


Studying the various deviations from the stereotypes of everyday behavior, strange defects and malfunctions, as well as seemingly random errors, the author concludes that they indicate the underlying pathology of the psyche, the symptoms of psychoneurosis.

This is how Freud introduces his book:

During the year 1898 I published a short essay on the Psychic Mechanism of Forgetfulness. I shall now repeat its contents and take it as a starting-point for further discussion. I have there undertaken a psychologic analysis of a common case of temporary forgetfulness of proper names, and from a pregnant example of my own observation I have reached the conclusion that this frequent and practically unimportant occurrence of a failure of a psychic function – of memory – admits an explanation which goes beyond the customary utilization of this phenomenon.

If an average psychologist should be asked to explain how it happens that we often fail to recall a name which we are sure we know, he would probably content himself with the answer that proper names are more apt to be forgotten than any other content of memory. He might give plausible reasons for this "forgetting preference" for proper names, but he would not assume any deep determinant for the process.

Freud believed that various deviations from the stereotypes of everyday conduct - seemingly unintended reservation, forgetting words, random movements and actions - are a manifestation of unconscious thoughts and impulses. Explaining "wrong actions" with the help of psychoanalysis, just as the interpretation of dreams, can be effectively used for diagnosis and therapy.

Considering the numerous cases of such deviations, he concludes that the boundary between the normal and abnormal human psyche is unstable and that we are all a bit neurotic. Such symptoms are able to disrupt eating, sexual relations, regular work, and communication with others.

This is the conclusion Freud makes at the end of the book:

The unconscious, at all events, knows no time limit. The most important as well as the most peculiar character of psychic fixation consists in the fact that all impressions are on the one hand retained in the same form as they were received, and also in the forms that they have assumed in their further development. This state of affairs cannot be elucidated by any comparison from any other sphere. By virtue of this theory every former state of the memory content may thus be restored, even though all original relations have long been replaced by newer ones.


  • Freud realised he was becoming a celebrity when he found his cabin-steward reading the Mistake Book on his 1909 visit to the States.[13]
  • The Rat Man came to Freud for analysis as a result of reading the Psychopathology.[14]


According to Michel Onfray, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is not scientific.[15]

According to Jacques Bénesteau, Freud added lies in each edition.[16]

See also


  1. Peter Gay, Freud (1989) p. 125-6
  2. Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1964) p. 315
  3. Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 11
  4. Peter Gay, Freud (1989) p. 465
  5. Quoted in Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 10
  6. Peter Gay, Reading Freud (1990) p. 76
  7. Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 23
  8. Peter Gay, Freud (1989) p. 126
  9. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits (1996) p. 170
  10. Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 10
  11. A. Kukla/J. Walmsley, Mind (2006) p. 186
  12. Sigmund Freud, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1989) p. 70 and p. 349
  13. Peter Gay, Freud (1989) p. 209
  14. Sigmund Freud, Case Studies II (PFL 9) p. 40
  15. Michel Onfray, Apostille au crépuscule. Pour une psychanalyse non freudienne Grasset, Paris, 2010 p.140-141
  16. Mensonges freudiens: histoire d'une désinformation séculaire. by Jacques Bénesteau, Éditions Mardaga, 2002

Further reading

External links