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3.9: Personality Theory in Real Life

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  • The Things We Do Are Not Really Surprising!

    It isn’t difficult to apply Freud’s theories to everyday life. Only a few years after publishing his landmark book on dream analysis, Freud published Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904/1995). One year later, he published Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (1905/1995). So Freud clearly intended his theory to address all aspects of life, and he was well aware that jokes and laughter are as much a part of life as any of the darker aspects of psychoanalysis (with concepts such as demanding id impulses and the death instinct).

    As mentioned earlier in the chapter, the most famous example of a simple, everyday psychopathology is the famous Freudian slip. A very humorous example of a Freudian slip can be found on the Wikipedia website ( “Excuse me, but I’m having doubts about your theories, Dr. Fraud.” There are, of course, a variety of other mistakes we commonly make when we talk. We often forget names, words, the order of phrases and sayings, and these errors can carry over into reading and writing as well as speaking. Of course, Freud believed that these mistakes are neither random nor just the result of forgetfulness. Rather, they represent psychological processes leading to the expression of one’s real feelings and beliefs. An interesting example that often comes to mind is a quote by former Vice-President of the United States Dan Quayle. The Honorable Mr. Quayle intended to quote the slogan of the United Negro College Fund: A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Instead, he said “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind.” Since “losing one’s mind” is slang for becoming mentally ill, it might be argued by some that the vice-president had revealed a negative attitude toward minority groups. We should always be very careful, of course, to avoid analyzing situations with only the bare minimum of information. Without the implication of the slang meaning of “losing one’s mind” and some alleged unconscious intentions, Vice-President Quayle’s statement seems like nothing more than a simple mistake. Haven’t we all made mistakes like this that were very embarrassing at the time? I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but Vice-President Quayle made a variety of other infamous comments that can easily be found on the Internet, suggesting that his only issue was a penchant for making mistakes in ordinary speech. However, people seem to find such mistakes quite interesting. An Internet search for embarrassing quotes will locate a wide variety of examples like the one above, but they are not always attributed to the same person. Some of the same embarrassing quotes have been attributed to whoever happens to be the current political target of the person posting the webpage. So obviously a lot of people enjoy the embarrassment of others, but be careful about attributing any quote you locate on a random webpage.

    Of course, any time a famous person like Vice-President Quayle makes that big a mistake, the late-night comedians are all over it! And that brings us to Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (Freud, 1905/1995). In this early book, Freud discussed jokes and witticisms in great detail. He actually considered wit-work, the process of forming a joke or witty remark, as being essentially the same thing as dream-work. Thus, the examination of how an individual uses humor on a daily basis might reveal a great deal about their personality. The following is one of the jokes Freud included in his book for analysis. It takes a little thought, since it is in a category that Freud referred to as sophistic faulty thinking (Freud described over 20 types of joke):

    A gentleman entered a shop and ordered a fancy cake, which, however, he soon returned, asking for some liqueur in its stead. He drank the liqueur, and was about to leave without paying for it. The shopkeeper held him back. “What do you want of me?” he asked. “Please pay for the liqueur,” said the shopkeeper. “But I have given you the fancy cake for it.” “Yes, but you have not paid for that either.” “Well, neither have I eaten it.” (pg. 634)

    The next time you think of a really good joke or something really funny to say, or the next time you hear a joke that really makes you laugh, take a minute or two to consider what that laughter might be saying about who you really are.