In May 2022, former US president, George W. Bush, made an infamous “Freudian slip.” In a speech held at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Bush was delivering a prepared speech for him, “George W. Bush Foundation,” on the horrors of the Ukrainian war and the brutal invasion of the sovereign nation by the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.
Bush, now 76 years old, seems to let his waning mental capacity and functionality get the better of him during the speech, making one of the most interesting “Freudian slips” in media history. During the speech, Bush says the following while criticizing Russia’s leadership.
“The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.”
“I mean, of Ukraine,” he says, recovering quickly.
Followed by, “Iraq too,” with the crowd bursting into laughter.
So, what can we gather from this error, and what is a Freudian slip anyway? In part 2 of “How Can I Tell If Someone is Lying?” we’ll look at this psychological phenomenon and unpack what it means in the context of the error made by the 43rd President of the United States.
What Is a Freudian Slip?
Have you, like George W. Bush, ever said something you didn’t intend to express? The “Freudian slip,” otherwise known as a “parapraxis,” is a memory or verbal mistake, or combination of the two, causing a slip of the tongue considered linked to the subconscious mind.
According to Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – September 1939), Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, this behavior could reveal thoughts you’re trying to keep secretive. Freud gets the credit for coining the behavior and the term “Freudian slip.”
These errors may reveal feelings and thoughts you want to keep private but believe are true. For instance, you could call your partner by your ex’s name, misunderstand a written or spoken term, or say an incorrect word.
It’s more common for people to make a Freudian slip when speaking, but it also occurs in writing. We can trace the origin of these slips to subconscious urges, representing one of the three following behaviors.
- Unrealized emotions that have yet to register in your conscious mind.
- Something you want to say, but you’re unable to express.
- Something you’re trying to suppress and keep from others.
Freudian slips are incredibly common in everyday behavior. You can probably recall several examples in your life. However, do Freudian slips always represent unexpressed desires or secret impulses, or is there a straightforward explanation for the behavior?
Sigmund Freud described a combination of reasons why we make “Freudian slips” in his work, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life,” published in 1901. Freud noted these errors occur due to the “disturbing influence of something outside of the intended speech,” such as a subconscious thought or belief.
In Freud’s perspective, we withhold inappropriate beliefs or thoughts or beliefs from our conscious awareness, with the slips exposing what we hide deep in our subconscious mind.
So, what does this mean for our example with George W. Bush? Well, if we speculate on the incident, we can come to a conspiratorial conclusion. At the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led by George W. Bush, “Commander in Chief” of the US Armed Forces, the American public was told Saddam Hussein was in possession of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs).
This claim, unproven at the time, with no corroborating evidence, was the sole reason for the Bush administration justifying the invasion of the sovereign country and usurping its leader. In following years, it was brought to light by several sources that Iraq was never in possession of WMDs.
So, when delivering his speech in May 2022, close to two decades after making his speech justifying the invasion of Iraq, Bush perhaps let loose his true intentions and thoughts on the 2003 invasion. While this is all speculation, we’ll leave it up to you to decide on the merits of the Bush slip.
Still, it’s an apt example showing the meaning of the Freudian slip and how it can indicate dishonest behavior or deception. Let’s move on and unpack everything you need to know about the Freudian slip.
What are the Types of Freudian Slips?
As we’ve already covered, there are three common types of Freudian slips.
- Forgetfulness Linked to Desire
- Forgetfulness Linked to Repression
- Speech Blunders or Spoken Distortions
Let’s look at each of the three in detail.
Forgetfulness Linked to Desire
This slip occurs when we do or don’t want to do something. For example, you have a list of household choirs you keep losing. You don’t want to do the chores, so your subconscious mind keeps repressing the memory of where you left the list so you can keep avoiding them.
Another example would be “accidentally” leaving your jacket at a new love interest’s house because it gives you an excuse to see them again to recover the coat.
You could do this intentionally or unintentionally. In other words, you could consciously leave the jacket there, or your subconscious mind could cause you to forget the jacket to give you the excuse to return to the person’s home.
Forgetfulness Linked to Repression
Some slips involve a problem with recollection rather than speech. If you undergo an experience generating emotions of anxiety, pain, or shame, your mind will repress this memory. For instance, you’re scratched severely by a cat as a young child, requiring medical care.
Later in adult life, you don’t remember the incident or that the cat’s name was “Curtis.” However, your subconscious does; it reflects everything that happens to you. Later in life, as the manager of an Apple store, you have a new employee named Anabelle Curtis join the team.
You struggle to remember Annabelle’s surname for the first week and can’t understand why. Normally, you have a great memory.
Speech Blunders or Spoken Distortions
The speech blunder is the most common Freudian slip and the most well-renowned version. It’s the same issue that George W. Bush had during his speech.
Why Do We Make Freudian Slips?
While Freud produced three reasons for the slip, there’s still debate and uncertainty about why we make them. Here are a few possible reasons for this behavior.
Verbal errors associated with Freudian slips can occur due to problems with how our brains process and interpret language. We might unconsciously edit our language before speaking, carefully monitoring it for mistakes and inappropriate words. This unconscious process happens all the time, and we’re totally unaware of it. In fact, it might be the reason for the phrase “choose your words wisely.”
Freudian slips occur in moments where these precautions in our unconscious processes fail, letting a word slip out before we have the chance to catch it. Research shows people make these kinds of mistakes for around every two thousand words spoken.
This amounts to approximately seven to 22 verbal slip-ups per day, depending on how much we speak. While Freud suggests there is meaning in these errors, they could also be a part of errors in normal communication.
While the average Freudian slip is just a case of confusion in our word choices, there are times, such as in George W. Bush’s case, when they could refer to suppressed thoughts or deception. A 1979 study shows people who thought they would receive an electric shock were more susceptible to making “shock-related” errors with their word choices.
Those subjects undergoing questioning by an attractive examiner were more likely to mistake nonsensical phrases for words relating to good-looking people. A 1987 experiment showed participants explicitly asked not to imagine a white bear would repeatedly think of an image of the animal, up to an average of once a minute after receiving the instruction.
Psychologist Daniel Wegner concluded the experiment results formed his idea of the “theory of ironic process,” describing why it is tricky to repress specific thoughts. While specific areas of the brain suppress these concealed thoughts, another part of the mind periodically evaluates its status to ensure we’re not thinking about it.
As a result, this behavior could ironically bring the ideas we’re trying to repress to the forefront of our minds and tongues. In several of these cases, the more we try to avoid thinking about something, the more likely we are to think about it and say it verbally.
Alternative Reasons for Making Freudian Slips
While the above reasons are supposedly the primary drivers leading to Freudian slips, there are several other potential reasons for the behavior that don’t relate to manifesting our deepest desires. Here are some potentially less intriguing reasons for the behavior.
Have you ever had the experience of trying to write something down while you’re listening to a podcast in the background that’s unrelating to your topic? You might accidentally write down something from the podcast instead of your related work.
An example of this behavior would be hanging out with friends and chatting about last night’s episode of your favorite TV series. However, your mind wanders to the date you have planned with your partner later that evening. You wonder what you’ll wear to the restaurant when someone in the group asks you what you think about what they said.
You reply with, “Yes! I think that dress is amazing!” Your friends look at you with stunned disbelief and confusion, and you feel somewhat embarrassed.
Language is complex, particularly the English language. By the time we turn into adults, we know anywhere from 20,000 to 35,000 words and their meanings. So, it’s conceivable to mix up the definitions of these words from time to time.
The brain is not infallible, and it may confuse terms or events. A good example is the “Mandela Effect.” This phenomenon describes an experiment where people were asked if they knew who former South African President Nelson Mandela was and when he died.
Most Americans answering the question of that knew who he was mistakenly thought he died in prison. In reality, he died in 2013, many years after stepping down from his presidential term as the country’s first democratically elected leader.
Does a Freudian Slip Mean Anything?
As mentioned throughout this post, it’s challenging to say that Freudian slips have a hidden meaning. The nature of the phenomenon makes it difficult to research in a controlled environment because they happen too sporadically.
If, as Freud suggested, they relate to hidden or repressed desires or thoughts, researchers would need to explore the unconscious mind to find support for the existence of these hidden thoughts or desires. Psychoanalysis maintains that this behavior occurs due to a fleeting lapse in a person’s ability to suppress their thoughts when needed, resulting in the slip.
In 1992, researchers examined several plausible explanations for the Freudian slip. They looked at internal conflicts over managing undesired habits and emotions, activating these behaviors through hypnosis processes.
The results show some association between Freudian slips and the subject’s associated thoughts. So, we can only assume that future research is warranted from these experiments. However, the research team also pointed out several flaws in the study.
However, the research points to a link between Freudian slips and sexual issues caused by sex-related guilt. Subjects with increased levels of sexual-related shame made more of these errors. Researchers think this behavior might be because they feel emotional conflict over whether to avoid or seek out partners they feel strongly attracted to. However, it’s important to note these are not conclusive findings.
Still, in the context of George W. Bush and his May 2022 speech, it’s interesting to see the former President make this blunder in front of the world stage. While it was clear that the US Armed Force’s reasoning for invading Iraq in 2003 was clearly not to discover WMDs, we’ll never know the real reason for Bush’s decision.
Could it be proof the President had a hidden agenda? Or was it a simple mistake made by an aging man who had no business speaking in public due to his declining mental health? You be the judge.