The Freud Museum


What is the unconscious made of?

The unconscious is a very slippery thing and nobody really knows what it’s made of, but Freud observed that it had a lot to do with speech and language. Very early on, he observed that in the relationship between a baby and its caregiver, the caregiver not only attends to the baby's bodily needs, but also names the baby's cries, assigning meanings to its various bodily experiences, disturbances, satisfactions and drives. In this process, sensations in the body get tangled up with traces of speech, which leave an imprint on the psyche. Later on in his work, Freud returned to this theme, describing the unconscious as a system made of 'representatives' of powerful bodily drives pushing for satisfaction, because of which he gave them the status of 'wishful impulses'.

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