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Failed Act: Meaning and Examples


Has it ever  happened to you to say something that you did not expect or perform actions that you did not consciously want to do?

These erroneous lapses are what in psychoanalysis are called failed acts or Freudian slip, and are errors of speech or actions that are believed to reveal what is in the unconscious mind of a person.

What is a failed act?

According to psychoanalytic theory, a failed act is an act in which the explicitly sought result is not obtained, but rather the initial act is replaced by a different result . In other words, we do not speak of failed acts to designate the set of errors of speech, memory and action, but rather those behaviors that the individual is usually capable of successfully performing and whose failure tends to lead to attribute to inattention or chance.

From the psychoanalytic point of view, failed acts are  compromise formations between the subject’s conscious intention and the repressed. These lapses can also be facilitated by fatigue, lack of concentration, among others.

Freudian slip theory

Freud proposed that the mind is made up of three layers: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious . According to the theory, the unconscious is responsible for storing painful or anxious  memories, thoughts and desires that do not allow the individual to think consciously. Freud suggested that this material, stored in the unconscious, often emerges into consciousness through various routes, mainly through  dreams  and slides of the tongue.

For Freud, the failed act has meaning and intention, and occurs when the subject enters into conflict or interference with some desire or chain of unconscious thoughts , therefore it could be said that these lapses are a kind of “betrayal” of the unconscious that causes that Let us express things that we do not consciously want to say.

Examples of failed act

Slip of the tongue

The slip of the tongue is the error of speech. It occurs when an individual tries to say a word but his unconscious mind betrays him by making him express another word. For psychoanalysts, this word that arose “unintentionally” is essential in a psychological consultation, because thanks to this error the psychoanalyst can turn the interview around and ask questions referring to that lapse made by the patient.

Read error

This occurs when the individual makes a mistake by reading something aloud and transforms one word into another. The converted word was sent into consciousness by the unconscious mind and transformed into this symbol that has a much deeper personal meaning than it appears. It also occurs with the anticipation of words that point to an unconscious desire to finish a sentence.

Action error

An error of the action is considered a failed act when the individual, trying to perform an action, loses knowledge of it and unconsciously ends up performing another. For example, if a person who was thinking of sweeping, was on his way to carry out this action but on the way he found his phone and ended up calling a person x. Clearly this failure in your action demonstrates at a glance your unconscious desire to speak with the person with whom you communicate.

You may also be interested:   Lacan and the question of desire

Hearing error

This type of failed act occurs when the individual hears something transformed or non-existent, due to a hearing loss. For example, the subject believes he has heard that someone said such a thing, but this is false. Sometimes the word received by the individual is a distorted word of reality and other times it is simply that a word was not sent and the subject believes they have heard something that is actually non-existent.

I forget

Forgetfulness serves several purposes in the human mind. Forgetfulness is usually considered a memory failure that is part of the defense mechanism of repression . Forgetfulness of names, for example, may mean that the person repressed the name of a being that affected his psyche in a disturbing way. Forgetting actions may mean that the subject had a contrary will towards them. Forgetting experiences usually occurs in the face of events that have been traumatic, disturbing or that have caused displeasure in the individual.

The loss

When the individual misplaces an object, it can be deduced that: the lost object was part of a disturbing memory or part of a person causing displeasure, why the subject wants to return to the place where he has lost an object, or because he unconsciously wishes that it object is found by someone else.

Examples of phenomena that approximate failed operations

  • Casual actions: private acts of intentionality, carried out by pure chance, without the control of the subject.
  • Symptomatic actions:  frequent and habitual acts or gestures, deprived of meaning and purpose, but related to unconscious tendencies.

In these phenomena there is no conflict between two forces , they have a cause but not the element against it, apparently they do not cause annoyances and are more insignificant, more spontaneous and accidental.

Like dreams, failed acts denote the uniqueness of the person . With some of them we feel ridiculous, it is almost as if we betray ourselves, some weaken the “I”, it is as if it were alien to us . Sometimes we are not aware of the failed act while other times we are immediately aware of it. In children they are less rejected than in adults.


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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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