Freud didn’t arrive at the unconscious through intuition.
He pieced his theory together by paying careful attention to seemingly insignificant moments of everyday life that usually go unnoticed:
- Slips of the tongue
- Little mistakes
- Thoughts that occur to us ‘out of the blue’
One of the clearest examples of the unconscious at work is in dreams. Freud published hundreds of examples, demonstrating in each case a complex interplay of forbidden wishes and forces of repression.
Unconscious wishes, he wrote, underwent distortion through the processes of condensation and displacement, emerging in the form of what he called a compromise formation that could be unravelled through the technique of free association.
The unconscious isn’t trivial
Freud may have identified the workings of the unconscious in all sorts of trivial occurrences, but that doesn’t mean that he saw the unconscious itself as trivial.
In his clinical work he found the same dynamics at work in the symptoms that tormented his patients, in their obsessions, phobias, anxieties, and in what he saw as the universal tendency of human beings to repeat distressing situations.