Dreams part 1: Sigmund Freud’s theory and dream interpretation.
April 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm
In an earlier post about sleep, I promised this post would not be far behind. From the moment we enter REM, we are launched into a world of the unimaginable. We can dream of practically anything, and nothing is impossible. You can go on that dream date with Mr./Mrs. Right, or climb the career ladder of your choice. Dreams are often much more obscure, and you find yourself mugging someone’s Grandma whilst your front teeth are falling out. We sometimes have dreams so vivid, we struggle to distinguish between reality and fantasy. A few unfortunate beings find themselves unable to control their own movements during sleep due to dreaming – these people are known as sleepwalkers. So what is the advantage of our fictional adventures during sleep? It would seem logical that they must occur as a result of something, otherwise they would be pointless. Of course, this is not the case. This post explores one theory of sleep, and provides examples of interpretations of common dreams.
To begin, let us consider some facts about dreams:
- Everybody dreams. That’s right, everybody dreams. The only exceptions are those with severe psychological disorders. So next time you ask someone about their dreams, and they say they never have them, they are lying. They just do not remember them much – which leads nicely on to fact 2.
- We forget 90% of our dreams. Within just five minutes of being awake, 50% of your dream is forgotten and often cannot be retrieved. After a further five minutes, 90% of your dream has faded to nothing. The 10% you do remember is often core information, or very vivid experiences within your dream. Of course, you do not remember 10% of every dream; some days you will remember a lot, some days you will forget your dream as soon as you wake.
- We only ever dream of things we’ve seen, heard of or experienced in reality. Some people find this concept very hard to get their head around. When telling a friend this once, they replied: “Total rubbish, last night I dreamt of a man who I can promise I’ve never met.” I have no doubt about this, but that does not mean they haven’t SEEN this man. Our brain is incredible and can remember faces we see for a split second. The face she saw in her dream could have been the guy who served her in HMV earlier that day, or someone who brushed past her in the street. Whoever it was, that person is real. This is similar with places and events. You may not have been to/experienced them, but you will have probably seen them on the TV or heard stories about them.
- We don’t dream when we snore. I guess a lot of my friends must not dream at all then judging by this… enough said.
- Surveys suggest 20-40% of people have experienced a precognitive dream. By this, it refers to dreams which actually occur in reality in the period shortly after dreaming. According to further surveys 70% of people experience déjà vu with dreams.
For more interesting facts, you can visit the following link: http://www.boredpanda.com/15-interesting-facts-about-dreams-dreaming/.
I originally called this post “The Psychology and interpretation of dreams”, but I found there is so much information on just one theory – Freud’s – that I have split the post into two sections. This one contains information solely on Freud’s theory, the other post will contain the other interesting theories I have studied before.
Sigmund Freud’s Theory
Freud was possibly the first Psychologist to suggest why we dream. He was mainly concerned with a research technique known as psychoanalysis, whereby he would listen to patients talk about experiences and then use them to diagnose and treat mental illness. Think of your stereotypical “film” Psychologist, with his patient lying on the couch. That is Freud’s art. He found that patients commonly reported dreams during sessions, and hence decided to use them as a scientific method to evaluate the mind. He began fully researching dreams towards the end of the 19th century, and concluded they were the key to understanding the subconscious – an important concept in his psychodynamic approach.
Freud believed that we sleep because we are tired of receiving and responding to external stimuli in the environment. This essentially means sleeping is a withdrawal from reality; we go to a dark room and cover ourselves with a duvet to minimise environmental stimuli. It would not be safe to completely withdraw from reality, however. We would risk going to sleep never to wake again, as we would never know when to. We need to have some level of alert during our sleep for emergencies; if a tiger was to start recklessly chewing your arm, you would definitely hope your body would wake (although knowing the nature of dreams, you’d probably wake to find your harmless puppy playfully nibbling your hand). We are very responsive to external stimuli – we just do not usually wake up because of them. That is why we dream of things that are actually happening (although usually exaggerated), as with the puppy/tiger example given above.
So what about dreams themselves? Freud believed the mind was categorised into three areas:
- Superego: This is concerned with good morals, and works to counter primal instincts and urges. It strives to be socially acceptable, appropriate and well mannered. Consider this your “shoulder angel”, which works directly against the id. It’s your good conscience.
- Ego: This is the conscious mind. It works according to the reality principle; it seeks to please the id without causing trouble or long term grief. It’s the balance between id and superego, and is responsible for other psychodynamic features like defence mechanisms.
- Id: The id acts according to the pleasure principle and simply wants everything now. It is concerned with basic drives and instincts. Food, water, sex and other basic impulses are controlled by the id. It seeks only pleasure without pain, and is essentially your “shoulder devil”.
A nice image conveying the above definitions.
So what does this have to do with dreams? Well Freud believes that during the day, your superego often manages to control the ego; you act in a socially appropriate manner and behave as you should (most of the time anyway…) Essentially, the superego manages to suppress the id. When you sleep, your id needs a way to release all the socially unacceptable desires and urges – et voilà – dreams. Or not. It doesn’t quite end there. Sometimes, our primal urges can be disturbing and may cause psychological harm. So, the brain “censors” these urges and transcribes them to symbolic forms, which are more acceptable. This is why dreams are often “interpreted”. However, that is not the end of all of Freud’s ideas; he also believed that dreams themselves were split into two parts:
- The manifest content: This is what, upon awakening, you would recall. If you were to describe a dream to a friend, it would be the manifest content you would tell them. It is basically the transcription (or censored version) of the true meaning of your dream. It has absolutely no meaning whatsoever, as it is only a way to disguise your underlying forbidden desires.
- The latent content: This is what your dream really means. The unconscious desires are included here, and may actually make appearances in the manifest content. However, if they were to do so, they would be unrecognisable and have no context – meaning you’ll forget them much more easily.
The process by which the brain censors dreams, or put more technically, converts manifest content to latent content, is also explained by Freud. He calls the process “dream work”. He believed the brain has three methods to convert the content:
- Condensation: As the name suggests, two or more latent thoughts are condensed into one manifest dream or image.
- Displacement: This is where desires or emotions are displaced from the intended person/object onto a meaningless object in a manifest dream. So if you have an unconscious love for a person, it may be displaced onto an object, like a new car, in the manifest dream.
- Symbolism: Where symbols are used to disguise similar sounding or looking concepts or objects. So for example, Freud believed anything resembling an erection symbolised it (tree trunks, sticks, rockets, lamps – practically anything long). Anything which had ‘space’ inside often represented a vagina (wardrobes, chests, ovens, vases, pots, pans, fireplaces… you get the idea). In fact, something as innocent as walking up the stairs could be interpreted in a sexual manner.
For those familiar with Freud, you will already know that Freud had a small… okay, massive obsession with sex. Most of his theories incorporate genitals and sex, with one theory managing to describe (in essence) incestial fantasies (follow this link for further information). So his idea of dream interpretation often included way too much sex. It is true that the human mind naturally thinks about sex a lot, but to presume most of our dreams are sex related is just unrealistic. I will now present some of the most common dreams, and modern interpretations of what they may indicate, rather than Freud’s idea that hugging a tree means you hold penises close to your heart (literally or metaphorically, we just won’t go there…)
Common dream interpretations
Being partially or completely naked in public
This is a VERY common dream, which I know I have had before. It’s interpretation depends on who you are, and your situation in waking life. It can indicate vulnerability, shamefulness and being exposed for who you are. You may be afraid that everyone can see right through you, or realise that you are trying to be someone who you aren’t. In situations where you need to impress new people, such as a new job, this dream is common. It may also occur in new relationships, as you are scared of your partner knowing everything about you – therefore exposing you. It can symbolise being caught off guard or being unprepared. However, if you are naked and have no shame or worry in the dream, it can signify self satisfaction and unrestricted freedom; you are proud of who you are.
One or more teeth falling out, crumbling, rotting or becoming loose.
These dreams are often vivid, and usually leave dreamers waking up thanking the sweet heavens their teeth are okay. One main interpretation of this dream is anxiety concerning how others perceive you. Teeth are a big feature on our faces, especially when smiling, so defects with teeth reflect thoughts that others may not like you or accept you. They also play a big part sexually, with kissing, nibbling and flirting, so losing them may indicate fears of rejection or sexual inadequacy. It has been found women in the menopause dream about this much more, suggesting it is related to getting older – and therefore feeling less attractive and feminine (in women, of course). Another theory is that of powerlessness; teeth are used to bite, tear and chew which convey power (apparently…). This is linked to the dream of screaming but having no voice.
A simple concept, but it can be interpreted many ways, again, depending on the dream. If you are enjoying the experience, it may indicate being on top of the world or overcoming a challenge in life. You feel like you are above everything and are ‘flying’ over problems with ease. It can suggest power or taking a different perspective on a situation as well. If you are having trouble flying, then it may indicate a lack of power or staying on track with something in reality. If you fly into objects – like power lines, houses or mountains, it suggests there is a particular obstacle preventing success. This could be a person or general challenge you must overcome to proceed. If you are scared when flying, it suggests you are afraid of success or the path ahead. As flying is not human, it may suggest you feel you are invincible or able to be/do anything you want.
Falling – usually down stairs, elevators or from the sky.
This can also include sinking or drowning in water. This dream usually signifies a lack of control, when we are overwhelmed with a situation and want to give up. You have nothing to hold onto, and if you do, you usually don’t in the dream; you cannot stop or control this downward fall. You are powerless to stop falling, and this may show that you are worried about work or a relationship. This dream can also indicate feelings of failure or inferiority. There is a common myth that if you hit the floor and die in the dream, you will die in reality. It is complete and utter rubbish. It is very common to die in the dream, so do not panic if you do!
Being chased by a person, monster, animal or “figure”- often intending to cause hurt or death.
Although last on my list, this is the most common nightmare people have. The word “chased” suggests quick movement, but can include being followed by something walking or ‘gliding’ (like a ghost). You are usually running away to avoid harm or death, and sometimes try to outwit the pursuer. This dream can indicate what you would do with a situation in reality – run and hide rather than confront the issue. If it is a person, maybe you are trying to avoid them, and should confront them. However, the figure can also represent you – your own feelings of envy, anger, hate or fear – which you feel are threatening. If YOU are chasing someone, it can show ambition to grab an opportunity or person. Consider the distance, whether you’re being chased or chasing. If you are close it means your problem is gaining and won’t leave/you’re close to gaining the opportunity. If you are far away, your problem may be “fading away”/you are far from catching your goal.
If you have a specific dream you want intepreting, visit here: http://www.dreammoods.com/dreamdictionary/
It has pretty much every key object or concept you can imagine in a dream. I used to have a dream where I was at my Nan’s house in Newcastle, and all my family were in her living room. I was in the kitchen, and a strange male figure entered through the kitchen door. Weirdly enough, he kind of floated slowly. I ran to escape from him, and screamed violently whilst punching the living room door, but nobody could hear me. They continued laughing but never noticed me, and I always woke up before this figure hovered over and grabbed me. The being chased part of the dream might indicate my own fears of jealousy or inadequacy, maybe because I felt unnoticed or ignored by family? As they did not notice I was missing, I may have felt left out or neglected. Maybe I was jealous of something, or wanted more attention. I have no idea, but it was a recurring dream as a child and has stopped now. I’ll quickly point out my childhood was fantastic; I was not neglected, given no attention or left out. You know what kids are like though…
Have you had any scary, funny or vivid dreams? Leave them in the comments section, along with an interpretation if you can!
Further reading for the keen:
Thanks for reading, happy dreaming!
Entry filed under: Psychodynamic. Tags: Dream Interpretation, Dreams, Freud, Sigmund Freud, Sleep.
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