Compromise Formation (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
In dreams, just as in symptoms formation, "we find a struggle between two trends, of which one is unconscious and ordinarily repressed and strives towards satisfactionhat is, wish-fulfillmenthile the other, belonging probably to the conscious ego, is disapproving and repressive. The outcome of this conflict is a compromise-formation (the dream or the symptom) in which both trends have found an incomplete expression" (Freud, 1923a, p. 242).
This definition was given by Freud in an encyclopedia article called "Psycho-Analysis." In it he refers to both a dynamic process (the drive/defense conflict) and to its result. The term "compromise" emphasizes that it is a partial satisfaction that is achieved (as the mechanism of the daydream illustrates), which, within the general framework of the theory of symptom formation differentiates this concept from similar notions such as substitutive formations and reaction formations.
The term first appeared in 1896 in "Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defense" in relation to the mechanisms of obsessional neurosis: obsessive representations and compulsive acts are "what become conscious as obsessional ideas and affects, and take the place of the pathogenic memories as far as the conscious life is concerned. . . . [They] are structures in the nature of a compromise between the repressed idea and the repressing ones" (p. 170). It was later extended by Freud beyond obsessional neurosis to the entire dynamics of the psyche as a major component of the process of symptom formation (1916-17a, Lecture 23), and then reconceived within the structural theory. It was this new formulation that was taken up again in Moses and Monotheism (1939a).
Is every compromise formation a return of the repressed? Or could we say that compromise formation could result from other defensive mechanisms, such as negation and even disavowal? This question wasn't explicitly raised by Freud, but it could be posed in light of modern work.
See also: Contradiction; Fantasy, formula of; Flight into illness; Parapraxis; Psychopathology of Everyday Life, The; Reaction-formation; Substitutive-formation; Symbolism; Symptom-formation.
Freud, Sigmund. (1896b). Further remarks on the neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 157-185.
. (1916-17a). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis, parts I and II. SE, 15-16.
. (1939a). Moses and monotheism: Three essays. SE, 23: 1-137.
. (1923a). Two encyclopaedia articles: psycho-analysis and the libido theory. SE, 18: 233-259.