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The term censorship in everyday language connotes ideas of blame and repression of faults.

This is how it appears in Freud in Studies on Hysteria:

"we are very often astonished to realize in what a mutilated state all the ideas and scenes emerged which we extracted from the patient by procedure of pressing. Precisely the essential elements of the picture were missing [...] I will give one or two examples of the way in which a censoring of this kind operates..."[1]

He then shows that what is censored is what appears to the patient to be blameworthy, shameful, and inadmissible.

In a letter to Wilhelm Fleiss[2] he compares this psychic work to the censorship that the czarist regime imposed on Russian newspapers at the time:

"Words, sentences and whole paragraphs are blacked out, with the result that the remainder is unintelligible."[3]

Although the term appears quite frequently in writings from this first period, its status remains uncertain.

Freud seems to be describing the deliberate suppression by patients, in their communication with the doctor, of what they do not wish to reveal to him, as well as the mechanism and effects of unconscious repression.[4]

A second meaning appears when he evokes the censorship which, in dream-work, results in a manifest text being presented as a riddle.[5]

The metapsychological texts of 1915 elaborate on the distinctions outlined in chapter seven of the Interpretation of Dreams.

Censorship is in fact defined as that which opposes the return of that which is repressed, at the two successive levels in the passage from the unconscious to the preconscious (the "antechamber") and on to the conscious (the "drawing-room").[6]

Censorship is thus clearly distinguished from repression: whereas repression rejects a representation and/or an affect into the unconscious, censorship is what prevents it from re-emerging.

Freud nevertheless confuses this distinction later when he writes, for example:

"We know the self-observing agency as the ego-censor, the conscience; it is this that exercises the dream-censorship during the night, from which the repressions of inadmissible wishful impulses proceed."[7]

With the introduction of the structural theory Freud made a new distinction, with the ego becoming the agent of the censorship under the superego—the merciless supervisor.[8]

Although the notion of censorship continues to be fairly widely used in psychoanalysis to describe resistance to the treatment, it has scarcely received any further elaboration and its global nature may cause it to appear to be somewhat outmoded.

See Also


  1. 1895b, p. 281-282
  2. December 22, 1897, in 1950a
  3. 1950a, p. 240
  4. 1896b
  5. Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a
  6. 1915e
  7. 1916-17a, p. 429
  8. 1923b
  • Freud, Sigmund. (1895b). On the grounds for detaching a particular syndrome from neurasthenia under the description "anxiety neurosis." SE, 3: 85-115.
  • ——. (1896b). Further remarks on the neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 157-185.
  • ——. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.
  • ——. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.
  • ——. (1916-1917a). Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. Parts I & II. SE, 15-16.
  • ——. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
  • ——. (1950a). Extracts from the Fliess papers. SE, 1: 173-280.