Related Subject(s): Dream interpretation     Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939     Freud's Sexual Dilemma     Relating Freud and Jung

Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams

Author: Lauri Jean Crowe
Published on: September 11, 1998

In order to do an adequate study of the dreaming process, we must discuss those people who have been influential in dream science throughout the ages and into the modern day.

A predominant figure in the history of dreams is Sigmund Freud, the renowned psychologist who, although not originating the concept of dream interpretation, was integral in developing some methodologies of utilizing the dream as a means of deciphering the psyche of the dreamer - particularly in uncovering and analyzing the dreamer's psychological problems.

Freud's dream book deals with the intersection of fantasy and reality. In his view, the purpose of dreams was to allow the individual to experience those instinctual urges which society deems unacceptable. As Freud was a product of the Victorian age, much of his dreamwork focused on the symbolism of dreams as projections of feelings of sexual frustration and guilt, and he was often dubbed "the Vienesse Sexologist." Freud felt that the dreaming mind transforms and censors dream content so as to disguise its true meaning and therefore the fantasies created in dream will not evoke the strong emotional response in the dreamer that would typically cause the individual to wake. As such, Freudian dreamwork is about uncovering and discerning the meaning behind the dream, to penetrate the disguise and interpret the true dream behind the fantasy.

The important work Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams is still argued by modern day researchers as a viable tool for studying the dream process. In it, he describes five distinct processes which are brought into play during dreamwork:

Displacement: This is where the dreamer represses an urge, and then redirects that urge to another person or object. If the individual were to engage in the literal dream of killing their mother-in-law (a repressed urge), the strong emotions evoked in the dream would awaken the dreamer. Instead of killing the mother-in-law, in displacement the dreamer might instead have the fantasy within the dream of the mother-in-law being crushed in a car accident.

Condensation: This is the process whereby the dreamer disguises a particular urge, emotion or thought by condensing, or contracting, it into a brief dream image. This brief event symbolizes the deeper meaning behind it, which in most cases is not readily evident.

Symbolization: This is where the repressed urge is played out in a symbolic act. For instance, in Freud's methodology the act of inserting a key into a keyhole would have sexual meaning.

Projection: This is the projection of the dreamer's repressed desire onto other people, but should not be confused with displacement as it does not involve objects. In projection, instead of dreaming about sleeping with their co-worker, the individual would dream of their boss in bed with the desired sexual partner, projecting the urge onto the boss rather than literally dreaming themselves in the bed.

Secondary revision: This is the expression Freud uses for the final stage of dream production. After the individual undergoes one or more of the other four dreamwork processes, they then undergo the secondary processes of the ego in which the more bizarre components of the dream are reorganized so the dream has a comprehensible surface meaning. This surface meaning, once arrived at through secondary revision, is called the manifest dream.

The process of dreamwork in Freudian theory is to interpret the content of the manifest dream, using psychoanalysis to decode the manifest content of the dream, and discover the hidden, "real" meaning of the dream which is termed the latent dream. This is discussed extensively in his book, and has been built upon by a variety of other researchers through the ages. Others, however, entirely discount Freud's work. Their methodologies for the interpretation of the dream will be discussed in fother above linked articles.