Freud's Psychoanalysis of the Interpretations of Dreams

Freud's Psychoanalysis of the Interpretations of Dreams

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Dreams have been objects of boundless fascination and mystery for humankind since the beginning of time. These nocturnal vivid images seem to arise from some source other than our ordinary conscious mind. They contain a mixture of elements from our own personal identity, which we recognize as familiar along with a quality of `others' in the dream images that carries a sense of the strange and eerie. The bizarre and nonsensical characters and plots in dreams point to deeper meanings and contain rational and insightful comments on our waking situations and emotional experiences. The ancients thought that dreams were messages from the gods.

The cornerstone of Sigmund Freud's infamous psychoanalysis is the interpretation of dreams. Freud called dream-interpretation the "via reggia," or the "royal road" to the unconscious, and it is his theory of dreams that has best stood the test of time over a period of more than seventy years (Many of Freud's other theories have been disputed in recent years).

Freud reportedly admired Aristotle's assertion that dreaming is the activity of the mind during sleep (Fine, 1973). It was perhaps the use of the term activity that Freud most appreciated in this brief definition for, as his understanding of the dynamics of dreaming increased, so did the impression of ceaseless mental activity differing in quality from that of ordinary waking life (Fine, 1973). In fact, the quality of mental activity during sleep differed so radically from what we take to be the essence of mental functioning that Freud coined the term "Kingdom of the Illogical" to describe that realm of the human psyche. This technique of dream-interpretation allowed him to penetrate (Fine, 1973).

We dream every single night whether it stays with us or not. It is a time when "our minds bring together material which is kept apart during out waking hours" (Anonymous, 1991). As Erik Craig said while we dream we entertain a wider range of human possibilities then when awake; the "open house" of dreaming is less guarded (Craig, 1992).

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It has been objected on more than one occasion that we in fact have no knowledge of the dreams that we set out to interpret, or, speaking more correctly, that we have no guarantee that we know them as they actually occurred. In the first place, what we remember of a dream and what we exercise our interpretative arts upon has been mutilated by the untrustworthiness of our memory, which seems incapable of retaining a dream and may have lost precisely the most important parts of its content. It quite frequently happens that when we seek to turn our attention to one of our dreams, we find ourselves regretting the fact that we can remember nothing but a single fragment, which itself has much uncertainty. Secondly, there is every reason to suspect that our memory of dreams is not only fragmentary but also inaccurate and falsified. On the one hand it may be doubted whether what we dreamt was really as hazy as our recollection of it, and on the other hand it may also be doubted whether in attempting to reproduce it we do not fill in what was never there, or what was forgotten (Freud, pg.512).

Dream accounts are public verbalization and as public performances, dream accounts resemble the anecdotes people use to give meaning to their experience, to entertain friends and to give or get a form of satisfaction ( Erdelyi, 35 ).

In order to verbalize the memory of a dream that there are at least three steps one must take. First putting a recollected dream into words requires labeling categories, and labeling categories involves interpretation. Next since the dream is multimodal, putting them into words requires the collapsing of visual and auditory imagery into words. Finally since dreams are dramatizations narrating a dream is what linguist call a performance or demonstration and the rule, " What you see is what you get ", cannot apply, since only one party can see. (Dentan, PH.D, 1988)

In the case of dream accounts, it is the context, which is vital. After all, since meaning is context, they are by definition meaningless. David Foulke, who wrote the book Dreaming: A Cognitive Psychoanalysis Analysis, correctly states " that dreams don't mean anything ". But people make meaning, " as bees make honey compulsively and continuously, until it satisfies their dreams and their lives ". ( Dentan PH.D, 1988 )In analyzing the dreams of Freud's patients he would sometimes use a certain test. If the first account of the patient's dream were too hard to follow he would ask them to repeat it. In by doing so the patient rarely uses the same words. But the parts of the dream, which he describes in different terms, are by fact, the weak spots in the dream. By Freud asking to repeat the dream the patient realizes that he will go to great lengths to interpret it. Under the pressure of the resistance he hastily covers the weak spots in the dream's disguise by replacing any expression that threaten to betray its meaning by other less revealing ones (Freud, pg.515 ).

It will no doubt surprise anyone to be told that dreams are nothing other than a fulfillment of wishes. According to Aristotle's accurate definition," a dream is thinking that persists in the state of sleep." Since than our daytime thinking produces psychical acts, such as, judgement, denials, expectations, intentions and so on. The theory of dreams being wish fulfillment has been divided into two groups. Some dreams appear openly as wish fulfillment, and others in which the wish fulfillment was unrecognizable and often disguised. Others disagree and feel that dreams are nothing more than random memories that the mind sifts through (Globus, 1991).

The next question is where the wishes that come true in dreams originate? It is the contrast between the consciously perceived life of daytime and a psychical activity, which has remained unconscious and only becomes aware at night. There is a distinguishing origin for such a wish. 1) It may have been aroused during the day and for external reasons may not have been satisfied. Therefore it is left over for the night. 2) It may have arisen during the day but been repudiated, in that case what is left over is a wish that has not been dealt with but has been suppressed. 3) It may have no connection with daytime life and be one of those wishes, which only emerges from the suppressed part of the mind and becomes active at night. 4) It may be a current wishful impulse that only arise during the night such as sexual needs or those stimulated by thirst. The place of origin of a dream-wish probably has no influence on its capacity for instigating dreams (Freud, pg. 550-551).

Freud states that a child's dreams prove beyond a doubt that a wish that has not been dealt with during the day can act as a dream-instigator. But it must not be forgotten that it is a child's wish. ( Stanely R. Palombo, M.D., 1986 )

Freud thinks it is highly doubtful that in the case of an adult a wish that has not been fulfilled during the day would be strong enough to produce a dream. There may be people who retain an infantile type of mental process longer than others may. But in general Freud feels a wish left over unfulfilled from the previous day is insufficient to produce a dream in the case of an adult. He admits that a wishful impulse originating in the conscious will contribute to the instigating of a dream, but it will probably not do more than that.

My supposition is that a conscious wish can only become a dream-instigator if it succeeds in awakening an unconscious wish with the same tenor and in obtaining reinforcement from it. (Freud, 552-553)

Freud explains his theory in an analogy: A daytime thought may very well play the part of the entrepreneur for a dream, but the entrepreneur, who, as people say, has the idea and the initiative to carry it out, can do nothing without capital. He needs a capitalist
who can afford the outlay for the dream, and the capitalist who provides the psychical outlay for the dream is invariably and indisputably, whatever may be the thoughts of he previous day, a wish from the unconscious. (Freud pg. 230.)

Sometimes the capitalist is himself the entrepreneur, and indeed in the case of the dreams, an unconscious wish is stirred up by daytime activity and proceeds to construct a dream. ( Palombo, M.D, 1986 ) The view that dreams carry on the occupations and interests of waking life has been confirmed by the discovery of the concealed dream-thoughts. These are only concerned with what seems important to us and interests us greatly. Dreams are never occupied with minor details. But the contrary view has also been accepted, that dreams pick up things left over from the previous day. Thus it was concluded that two fundamentally different kinds of psychical processes are concerned in the formation of dreams. One of these produces perfectly rational thoughts, of no less than normal thinking, while the other treats these thoughts in a manner, which is bewildering and irrational. Referring to Freud's quote stated in the beginning, by analyzing dreams one can take a step forward in our understanding of the composition of that most mysterious of all instruments. Only a small step forward will enable us to proceed further with its analysis. (Freud, pg. 589 & 608 )

The unconscious is the true psychical reality, in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is as incompletely presented, as is the communications of our sense organ. There is of course no question that dreams give us knowledge for the future. But it would be truer to say instead that they give us knowledge of the past. For dreams are derived from the past in every sense. Nevertheless the ancient belief that dreams foretell the future is not false. (Freud, pg. 662) By picturing our wishes as fulfilled, dreams are after all leading us into the future. But the future, which the dreamer pictures as the present, has been molded by his indestructible wish into a perfect likeness of the past. ( Palombo, M.D, 1986 )Although there has been some descriptive study of the incidence and character of feeling in REM dreaming, there has been no investigation of the appropriateness of dream feelings to accompany dream imagery. It has been suggested that, the generation of affect in dreaming may not be as reliable as the generation of other forms of dream imagery. Dream affect generally seems to be consistent with the larger narrative context of the dreams. (David Foulkes & Brenda Sullivan, 1988) Research by Cohen and Wolfe has shown that a simple distraction in the morning had a strong negative effect on dream recall. The study concerned a variable relatively neglected in dream research, the level of interest the subjects have about their dreams. One finding was that interest in dreams appeared to vary with sex: woman reported that they more frequently speculated their dreams and discussed them with other people than did men. These differences could reflect a greater tendency for woman to pay more attention to their emotional life and inner self. (Paul R. Robbins & Roland H. Tanck, 1988)) One assumes naturally that the past events incorporated in his patient's dream imagery may be defensive substitutions for other more objectionable events of the past. Through its relation to the dream, the screen memory, like the day residue, provides access to the associative structures of memory in, which are embedded the wishes and events, whose repression lies at the core of the neurotic process. ( Palombo M.D, 1986 )

But dreams do not consist solely of illusions, If for instance, one is afraid of robbers in a dream, the robbers, it is true, are imaginary- but fear is real. ( Freud, pg. 74 )

Affects in dreams cannot be judged in the same way as the remainder of their content, and we are faced by the problem of what part of the psychical processes occurring in dreams is to be regarded as real. That is to say, as a claim to be classed among the psychical processes of waking life. (Freud, pg. 74 ) The theory of the hidden meaning of dreams might have come to a conclusion merely by following linguistic usage. It is true that common language sometimes speaks of dreams with contempt. But, on the whole, ordinary usage treats dreams above all as the " blessed fulfillers of wishes ". If ever we find our expectations surpassed by the event, we exclaim, " I should never have imagined such a thing even in my wildest dreams "! ( Freud pg. 132-133 )

Psychologists tend to take one of three main views on dream analysis. The psychoanalytic view is one of the oldest and most scientifically controversial explanations to why we dream. It was mainly developed by Freud and suggests that dreams are disguised symbols of repressed desires. To some extent, I believe Freud's theory about some dreams being repressed desires, but I don't believe in the hidden meanings. The biological view suggests that certain cells in the brain are activated during REM sleep. I personally don't agree with that what so ever. The third view is the cognitive view, which suggests that dreams are used to process information. They help us sort our everyday experiences and thoughts. For example if you have a big test the next day, that night you might dream about going to school and being unable to find the classroom. I personally agree with this theory because it just makes the most sense to me and seems to hold true in my life.

I personally don't believe that dreams have hidden meanings. I believe that they are just random thoughts of things that happened during the day and running through our mind at night. Dreams may seem weird only because what you remember is thrown together. But I do think there is something about our minds that are potentially awesome. If one can dream of what the future may hold (ESP), than maybe someday in the future we can channel that power something greater. The mind is an incredible thing and I can't even begin to know what how much potential it has if we are only using a fraction of it.


Anonymous. Journal of the Association for the study of Dream. Vol.1 (1) 23 25, Mar. 1991

Craig, Eric (1992) Article presented to the Association for the Study of Dreams. Charlottesvile, Va.

Dentan, Robert Knox, "Butterflies and Bug Hunters : Reality and Dreams, Dreams and Reality," Psychiatric Journal at the University of Ottawah, Jun. 1988, Vol.13(2) pp. 51-59.

Foulkes, David and Sullivan, Brenda, "Appropriateness of Dream Feelings to Dreamed Situations," Cognition an Emotion, Mar. 1988, Vol.2(1) pp. 29-39.

Freud, Sigmund, "The Interpretation of Dreams, " Basic Books A Division of Harper Publishers, year unknown.

Globus, M.D., Gordon G. Journal of the Association for the study of Dream. Vol.1 (1) 27 . 40, Mar. 1991

Palombo, Stanley R. M.D, "Day Residue and Screen Memory in Freud's Dream of the Botanical Monograph," Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, May, 1996, pp. 881-903.

Robbins, Paul R. and Tanck, H. Roland, "Interest in Dreams and Dream Recall," Perceptual and Motor Skills, Feb. , 1988, Vol.66 (1) pp. 291-294.
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