After reading this article you will learn about Freud’s dream analysis.
According to Freud, dreams represent psychological attempts to provide an outlet or expression for certain wishes which have not been satisfied or cannot be satisfied in actual life. Secondly, these wishes are largely unconscious and the individual himself is not aware of these wishes. Dreams, therefore, provide expressions for unfulfilled, unconscious wishes.
According to Freud, dreams originate from repressed wishes which are active in the unconscious part of the mind. Since, such wishes are not permitted expression at the conscious level and at the level of reality, they seek expression at the unconscious level and in fantasy through the process of dreaming. But the major difference between fantasy and dreaming is that the dreams center around the individuals, their wishes, fears, desires, etc. In this, dreams resemble daydreams but they also differ from daydreams because they occur at the unconscious level while daydreams occur at the conscious level. We may, therefore, say that dreams are unconscious daydreams occurring during sleep.
Yet another difference between dreams and daydreams relates to the nature of the thought processes involved. While daydreams are related to normal logical (though not realistic) thought processes involving mostly verbal concepts and symbols, dreams on the other hand, involve sensory images and thought processes which are loosely structured and apparently not logical.
While daydreams include a large chunk of verbal concepts, abstracts and ideas, dreams on the other hand include apparently immediate sensory experiences, pictorial symbols, etc. Thus, dreams appear to involve sensory symbolic thinking, while daydreams involve abstract and conceptual thinking.
It may, therefore, be seen that the thought process in dreaming represents an earlier and more primitive form of thinking. Dream thinking belongs to a stage where verbal symbols and abstract concepts are largely absent. It is precisely these characteristics which led Freud to formulate his theory of dreams revolving around the basic concept that dreams represent attempts at satisfying the repressed unconscious instinctual wishes.
Dreams, according to Freud, represent a type of experience whose real content and meaning is unconscious, though at the level of experience the individual is conscious of the dream. The dream as experienced and reported by a person is the manifest dream or the manifest content, while the real, unconscious content or meaning is known as the latent content or the latent dream.
It must be remembered that the person who experiences the manifest dream is not at all aware of the latent content or the latent dream. The reader who is already familiar with Freud’s theory can appreciate the reason for this.
This is because the latent content springs from prohibited and repressed wishes and experiences in the unconscious which cannot be provided access to consciousness, lest the individual’s sleep be disturbed. This type of filtering mechanism is known as the censor. In fact, Freud observed that the dream is the guardian of the sleep which, in turn, is the nourished of life.
Dreams, therefore, involve a process of disguising the latent content and transforming the same into manifest content. The latent content which is essentially in the nature of repressed ideas, wishes, impulses and memories are transformed into perceptual and cognitive experiences at the conscious level. This process of transformation involves a series of steps. Freud terms all these collectively as ‘dream work’.
Dream work involves the following steps:
The latent content usually represents elaborate and long drawn experiences spread over a long period in the individual’s life. The manifest dream is, however, usually very brief, scarcely more than a few minutes in duration. Thus, extended, elaborate and complex latent content is condensed into a very brief dream story. This is again an essential safety mechanism.
If the dream is very long the chances are that the sleep will be disturbed. In the actual experience of dreams, it can be seen that the real dream experience does not occur continuously throughout the sleeping period but in cycles.
A small phase of dreaming is followed by deep sleep and again by dreaming and so on. This phenomenon has been shown by recordings of cortical activity and eye movements. The dreaming phase is characterised by Rapid Eye Movements or REM unlike the sleeping phase or Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).
The second step in dream work involves the process of symbolization. Here objects and things forming a part of the latent dream are transformed into symbolic forms. This obviously is a mechanism of disguise, again intended as a safety mechanism. It is this process of symbolization which necessitates the interpretation of dreams.
Freud and his followers contended that there are common and universal symbols symbolizing specific objects and things in the environment. Thus, a house is a common symbol for a woman, a lion can be a symbol for one’s own instinctual impulses and so on. Freud and his followers went one step further and contended that most of the symbolized contents have sexual significance. Perhaps this is one point where everyone may not agree with Freud.
This step is essentially a process of distortion meant to ensure a greater certainty of the process of disguise. The whole manifest story is made to appear dramatic, realistic and absorbing so that the whole thing appears to be real and yet removed from one’s own actual experience.
(d) Secondary Revision or Elaboration:
When the process of condensation, symbolization and dramatization are gone through, the dream becomes loose, unorganised and almost scattered. The process of secondary elaboration remedies this and makes the whole dream appear as a meaningful, organised experience by filling gaps, connecting disparate symbols, etc. The dream after the secondary revision process assumes the characteristic of a symbolic drama or a story at the manifest level.
The above outline of Freud’s concept of dream work shows how the latent content gets transformed into the manifest content. The latent content which is essentially in the form of thoughts and ideas is transformed into a sensory- cognitive experience. Images replace words, thus, showing a temporary regression to earlier forms of thinking.
The above views of Freud have subsequently been studied by a number of psychologists using experimental .and quantitative techniques. Studies by Calvin Hall, Vandecastle, Prasad and Bose have all presented findings in confirmation of the Freudian theory.
Such studies have further shown that dream characteristics differ according to culture, age, sex, education, etc. These findings go to show that dreams really arise out of the past experiences of the individual. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that there are psychologists who do not agree with Freud on his interpretation of dreams.