Content (Freudian dream analysis)
Dreams embody the involuntary occurrences within the mind throughout various stages of sleep. Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, psychologist Sigmund Freud made incredible advances in the study and analysis of dreams. Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) used an evolutionary biological perspective to infer that these nightly visions are a product of one’s individual psyche. As the “royal road to the unconscious”, dreams allow for accessibility to parts of the mind that are inaccessible through conscious thought. According to his psychoanalytic theory, dreams—like most psychological experiences—can be understood through two distinct levels: manifest and latent. Modern research continuously proves that dreams contain fundamentally meaningful information. Therefore, appropriate interpretations of these two layers can facilitate assistance in understanding, “whether, when, and how unconscious processes are truly relevant to daily life” (Friedman & Schustack, 2012).
The manifest content can be interpreted as the information that the conscious individual remembers experiencing. It consists of all the elements of actual images, thoughts, and content within the dream that the individual is cognitively aware of upon awakening. Illustrated through iceberg imagery, the manifest content would be identified as the “tip”: it is barely exposed above the surface with an enormous portion still hidden underneath. As the hallmark of psychoanalytic theory suggests, what is observed on the surface is only a partial representation of the vastness that lies beneath (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Although images may initially appear bizarre and nonsensical, individual analysis of the dream can reveal its underlying meaning.
Related to yet distinctly separate from manifest content, the latent content of the dream illustrates the hidden meaning of one’s unconscious thoughts, drives, and desires. The unconscious mind actively suppresses what can be revealed from the latent content in order to protect the individual from primitive feelings that are particularly difficult to cope with. Freud (1900) believed that by uncovering the meaning of one’s hidden motivations and deeper ideas, an individual could successfully understand his or her internal struggles through eventually resolving issues that create tension in their lives. In contrast to the information easily recognizable, latent content makes up everything underneath the surface. Illustrated once again through iceberg imagery, the depth of meaning that can be derived from examining this layer can reveal deeper underlying thoughts within an individual's unconscious.
Parts of the mind and dreams
The main tenet of Freud’s work is the parts of the mind, known as the id, ego, and superego. The id is the unconscious and impulsive part of the psyche that seeks to satisfy our primitive drives and emotions. The ego is the reality conscious aspect of the mind that balances the id’s animalistic tendencies and the morality of the superego. The superego, therefore, is the internalized social norms that keeps us on a straight and narrow path.
While the ego and superego guide an individual’s behavior during the day, the id is the primarily active part of the mind at night. Therefore, dreams are a product of the id’s expression of internal conflict, when repressed emotions and memories are brought to awareness in rather distorted forms. The impulses and desires of the dreams are normally suppressed by the superego when the individuals awaken, causing people to forget a substantial amount of their nightly dreams.
The technique of free association, actively utilized by Freud in dream interpretation, often begins with a psychoanalyst’s analysis of a specific dream symbol followed by the proceeding thought that automatically comes to a client’s mind. To further this investigative practice, Freud classified five separate processes that facilitate dream analysis.
1) Displacement occurs when the desire for one thing or person is symbolized by something or someone else.
2) Projection happens when the dreamer places their own personal desires and wants onto another person.
3) Symbolization is illustrated through a dreamer’s unconscious allowing of repressed urges and desires to be metaphorically acted out.
4) Condensation illustrates the process by which the dreamer hides their feelings and/or urges through either contraction or minimizing its representation into a brief dream image or event
5) Rationalization (also referred to as secondary revision) can be identified as the final stage of dreamwork in which the dreaming mind intently organizes an incoherent dream into something much more comprehensible and logical for the dreamer
Furthermore, Freud believed in the universality of symbols in dreams that can be used in dream interpretation. These symbols highlight socially undesirable behavior in more accepting forms. Distasteful images in the form of symbols can be associated by shape, action, color, number, quality, status, sound, etc. Some of the more obvious and salient dream symbols are:
1) Vagina - circular objects; jewelry
2) Penis and testicles - oblong objects; the number three
3) Castration - an action that separates a part from the whole (losing a tooth)
4) Coitus - an action that resembles sexual behavior (riding a horse)
5) Urine - anything yellow in color
6) Feces - anything brown in color; chocolate
Practicing free association with a dream psychoanalyst can provide the individual with a deeper understanding of the meaning of dreams and the possible regressive thoughts are affiliated with the unconscious images.
Modern research on dreams
Until recently, most psychoanalytic dream researchers have followed Freud's theoretical approach by interpreting dreams as one's unconscious desires. Currently, most modern day psychologists are concerned with "tracing out the metaphoric meanings of dreams rather than investigating what they might be expressing more literally with social and personal experience" (Hollan, 2009, p. 313). Trauma researchers especially have focused their efforts on patients' experiences with nightmares, reoccurring memories, and flashbacks as unique manifestations of psychiatric disorders, particularly PTSD. A few previous research studies including Barrett (1996) have delineated a strong pattern of post-traumatic nightmares, in which the dreams follow an extremely close reenactment to a particular event. These updated analytic techniques expand on Freud’s theoretical framework and provide a more holistic approach of dream understanding.
- Psychoanalytic Theory
- Free Association
- Dream Interpretation
- The Interpretation of Dreams
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