Dream Psychology by Sigmund Freud

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  • Dream Psychology by Sigmund Freud

    Dream Psychology

    Freud, Sigmund

    (Translator: M. D. Eder)

    Published: 1920

    Categories(s): Non-Fiction, Psychology

    Source: http://www.gutenberg.org

    1 About Freud:

    Sigmund Freud (born Sigismund Schlomo Freud) May 6, 1856 –

    September 23, 1939; was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who

    co-founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Freud is best

    known for his theories of the unconscious mind, especially involving the

    mechanism of repression; his redefinition of sexual desire as mobile and

    directed towards a wide variety of objects; and his therapeutic tech-

    niques, especially his understanding of transference in the therapeutic

    relationship and the presumed value of dreams as sources of insight into

    unconscious desires. He is commonly referred to as "the father of psy-

    choanalysis" and his work has been highly influential-—popularizing

    such notions as the unconscious, defense mechanisms, Freudian slips

    and dream symbolism — while also making a long-lasting impact on

    fields as diverse as literature (Kafka), film, Marxist and feminist theories,

    literary criticism, philosophy, and psychology. However, his theories re-

    main controversial and widely disputed. Source: Wikipedia

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    2 Introduction

    The medical profession is justly conservative. Human life should not be

    considered as the proper material for wild experiments.

    Conservatism, however, is too often a welcome excuse for lazy minds,

    loath to adapt themselves to fast changing conditions.

    Remember the scornful reception which first was accorded to Freud's

    discoveries in the domain of the unconscious.

    When after years of patient observations, he finally decided to appear

    before medical bodies to tell them modestly of some facts which always

    recurred in his dream and his patients' dreams, he was first laughed at

    and then avoided as a crank.

    The words "dream interpretation" were and still are indeed fraught

    with unpleasant, unscientific associations. They remind one of all sorts of

    childish, superstitious notions, which make up the thread and woof of

    dream books, read by none but the ignorant and the primitive.

    The wealth of detail, the infinite care never to let anything pass unex-

    plained, with which he presented to the public the result of his investiga-

    tions, are impressing more and more serious-minded scientists, but the

    examination of his evidential data demands arduous work and presup-

    poses an absolutely open mind.

    This is why we still encounter men, totally unfamiliar with Freud's

    writings, men who were not even interested enough in the subject to at-

    tempt an interpretation of their dreams or their patients' dreams, derid-

    ing Freud's theories and combatting them with the help of statements

    which he never made.

    Some of them, like Professor Boris Sidis, reach at times conclusions

    which are strangely similar to Freud's, but in their ignorance of psycho-

    analytic literature, they fail to credit Freud for observations antedating


    Besides those who sneer at dream study, because they have never

    looked into the subject, there are those who do not dare to face the facts

    revealed by dream study. Dreams tell us many an unpleasant biological

    truth about ourselves and only very free minds can thrive on such a diet.

    Self-deception is a plant which withers fast in the pellucid atmosphere of

    dream investigation.

    The weakling and the neurotic attached to his neurosis are not anxious

    to turn such a powerful searchlight upon the dark corners of their


    Freud's theories are anything but theoretical.

    3 He was moved by the fact that there always seemed to be a close con-

    nection between his patients' dreams and their mental abnormalities, to

    collect thousands of dreams and to compare them with the case histories

    in his possession.

    He did not start out with a preconceived bias, hoping to find evidence

    which might support his views. He looked at facts a thousand times

    "until they began to tell him something."

    His attitude toward dream study was, in other words, that of a statisti-

    cian who does not know, and has no means of foreseeing, what conclu-

    sions will be forced on him by the information he is gathering, but who

    is fully prepared to accept those unavoidable conclusions.

    This was indeed a novel way in psychology. Psychologists had always

    been wont to build, in what Bleuler calls "autistic ways," that is through

    methods in no wise supported by evidence, some attractive hypothesis,

    which sprung from their brain, like Minerva from Jove's brain, fully


    After which, they would stretch upon that unyielding frame the hide

    of a reality which they had previously killed.

    It is only to minds suffering from the same distortions, to minds also

    autistically inclined, that those empty, artificial structures appear accept-

    able molds for philosophic thinking.

    The pragmatic view that "truth is what works" had not been as yet ex-

    pressed when Freud published his revolutionary views on the psycho-

    logy of dreams.

    Five facts of first magnitude were made obvious to the world by his in-

    terpretation of dreams.

    First of all, Freud pointed out a constant connection between some

    part of every dream and some detail of the dreamer's life during the pre-

    vious waking state. This positively establishes a relation between sleep-

    ing states and waking states and disposes of the widely prevalent view

    that dreams are purely nonsensical phenomena coming from nowhere

    and leading nowhere.

    Secondly, Freud, after studying the dreamer's life and modes of

    thought, after noting down all his mannerisms and the apparently insig-

    nificant details of his conduct which reveal his secret thoughts, came to

    the conclusion that there was in every dream the attempted or successful

    gratification of some wish, conscious or unconscious.

    Thirdly, he proved that many of our dream visions are symbolical,

    which causes us to consider them as absurd and unintelligible; the

    4 universality of those symbols, however, makes them very transparent to

    the trained observer.

    Fourthly, Freud showed that sexual desires play an enormous part in

    our unconscious, a part which puritanical hypocrisy has always tried to

    minimize, if not to ignore entirely.

    Finally, Freud established a direct connection between dreams and in-

    sanity, between the symbolic visions of our sleep and the symbolic ac-

    tions of the mentally deranged.

    There were, of course, many other observations which Freud made

    while dissecting the dreams of his patients, but not all of them present as

    much interest as the foregoing nor were they as revolutionary or likely to

    wield as much influence on modern psychiatry.

    Other explorers have struck the path blazed by Freud and leading into

    man's unconscious. Jung of Zurich, Adler of Vienna and Kempf of Wash-

    ington, D.C., have made to the study of the unconscious, contributions

    which have brought that study into fields which Freud himself never

    dreamt of invading.

    One fact which cannot be too emphatically stated, however, is that but

    for Freud's wishfulfillment theory of dreams, neither Jung's "energic the-

    ory," nor Adler's theory of "organ inferiority and compensation," nor

    Kempf's "dynamic mechanism" might have been formulated.

    Freud is the father of modern abnormal psychology and he established

    the psychoanalytical point of view. No one who is not well grounded in

    Freudian lore can hope to achieve any work of value in the field of


    On the other hand, let no one repeat the absurd assertion that

    Freudism is a sort of religion bounded with dogmas and requiring an act

    of faith. Freudism as such was merely a stage in the development of psy-

    choanalysis, a stage out of which all but a few bigoted camp followers,

    totally lacking in originality, have evolved. Thousands of stones have

    been added to the structure erected by the Viennese physician and many

    more will be added in the course of time.

    But the new additions to that structure would collapse like a house of

    cards but for the original foundations which are as indestructible as

    Harvey's statement as to the circulation of the blood.

    Regardless of whatever additions or changes have been made to the

    original structure, the analytic point of view remains unchanged.

    That point of view is not only revolutionising all the methods of dia-

    gnosis and treatment of mental derangements, but compelling the

    5 intelligent, up-to-date physician to revise entirely his attitude to almost

    every kind of disease.

    The insane are no longer absurd and pitiable people, to be herded in

    asylums till nature either cures them or relieves them, through death, of

    their misery. The insane who have not been made so by actual injury to

    their brain or nervous system, are the victims of unconscious forces

    which cause them to do abnormally things which they might be helped

    to do normally.

    Insight into one's psychology is replacing victoriously sedatives and

    rest cures.

    Physicians dealing with "purely" physical cases have begun to take in-

    to serious consideration the "mental" factors which have predisposed a

    patient to certain ailments.

    Freud's views have also made a revision of all ethical and social values

    unavoidable and have thrown an unexpected flood of light upon literary

    and artistic accomplishment.

    But the Freudian point of view, or more broadly speaking, the psycho-

    analytic point of view, shall ever remain a puzzle to those who, from

    laziness or indifference, refuse to survey with the great Viennese the

    field over which he carefully groped his way. We shall never be con-

    vinced until we repeat under his guidance all his laboratory experiments.

    We must follow him through the thickets of the unconscious, through

    the land which had never been charted because academic philosophers,

    following the line of least effort, had decided a priori that it could not be


    Ancient geographers, when exhausting their store of information

    about distant lands, yielded to an unscientific craving for romance and,

    without any evidence to support their day dreams, filled the blank

    spaces left on their maps by unexplored tracts with amusing inserts such

    as "Here there are lions."

    Thanks to Freud's interpretation of dreams the "royal road" into the

    unconscious is now open to all explorers. They shall not find lions, they

    shall find man himself, and the record of all his life and of his struggle

    with reality.

    And it is only after seeing man as his unconscious, revealed by his

    dreams, presents him to us that we shall understand him fully. For as

    Freud said to Putnam: "We are what we are because we have been what

    we have been."

    Not a few serious-minded students, however, have been discouraged

    from attempting a study of Freud's dream psychology.

    6 The book in which he originally offered to the world his interpretation

    of dreams was as circumstantial as a legal record to be pondered over by

    scientists at their leisure, not to be assimilated in a few hours by the aver-

    age alert reader. In those days, Freud could not leave out any detail

    likely to make his extremely novel thesis evidentially acceptable to those

    willing to sift data.

    Freud himself, however, realized the magnitude of the task which the

    reading of his magnum opus imposed upon those who have not been

    prepared for it by long psychological and scientific training and he ab-

    stracted from that gigantic work the parts which constitute the essential

    of his discoveries.

    The publishers of the present book deserve credit for presenting to the

    reading public the gist of Freud's psychology in the master's own words,

    and in a form which shall neither discourage beginners, nor appear too

    elementary to those who are more advanced in psychoanalytic study.

    Dream psychology is the key to Freud's works and to all modern psy-

    chology. With a simple, compact manual such as Dream Psychology

    there shall be no longer any excuse for ignorance of the most revolution-

    ary psychological system of modern times.


    121 Madison Avenue, New York.

    November, 1920.

    7 1


    Dreams have a meaning

    In what we may term "prescientific days" people were in no uncertainty

    about the interpretation of dreams. When they were recalled after

    awakening they were regarded as either the friendly or hostile manifest-

    ation of some higher powers, demoniacal and Divine. With the rise of

    scientific thought the whole of this expressive mythology was trans-

    ferred to psychology; to-day there is but a small minority among edu-

    cated persons who doubt that the dream is the dreamer's own psychical


    But since the downfall of the mythological hypothesis an interpreta-

    tion of the dream has been wanting. The conditions of its origin; its rela-

    tionship to our psychical life when we are awake; its independence of

    disturbances which, during the state of sleep, seem to compel notice; its

    many peculiarities repugnant to our waking thought; the incongruence

    between its images and the feelings they engender; then the dream's

    evanescence, the way in which, on awakening, our thoughts thrust it

    aside as something bizarre, and our reminiscences mutilating or rejecting

    it—all these and many other problems have for many hundred years de-

    manded answers which up till now could never have been satisfactory.

    Before all there is the question as to the meaning of the dream, a question

    which is in itself double-sided. There is, firstly, the psychical significance

    of the dream, its position with regard to the psychical processes, as to a

    possible biological function; secondly, has the dream a meaning—can

    sense be made of each single dream as of other mental syntheses?

    Three tendencies can be observed in the estimation of dreams. Many

    philosophers have given currency to one of these tendencies, one which

    at the same time preserves something of the dream's former over-valu-

    ation. The foundation of dream life is for them a peculiar state of psych-

    ical activity, which they even celebrate as elevation to some higher state.

    Schubert, for instance, claims: "The dream is the liberation of the spirit

    from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the

    8 fetters of matter." Not all go so far as this, but many maintain that

    dreams have their origin in real spiritual excitations, and are the out-

    ward manifestations of spiritual powers whose free movements have

    been hampered during the day ("Dream Phantasies," Scherner, Volkelt).

    A large number of observers acknowledge that dream life is capable of

    extraordinary achievements—at any rate, in certain fields ("Memory").

    In striking contradiction with this the majority of medical writers

    hardly admit that the dream is a psychical phenomenon at all. According

    to them dreams are provoked and initiated exclusively by stimuli pro-

    ceeding from the senses or the body, which either reach the sleeper from

    without or are accidental disturbances of his internal organs. The dream

    has no greater claim to meaning and importance than the sound called

    forth by the ten fingers of a person quite unacquainted with music run-

    ning his fingers over the keys of an instrument. The dream is to be re-

    garded, says Binz, "as a physical process always useless, frequently mor-

    bid." All the peculiarities of dream life are explicable as the incoherent ef-

    fort, due to some physiological stimulus, of certain organs, or of the cor-

    tical elements of a brain otherwise asleep.

    But slightly affected by scientific opinion and untroubled as to the ori-

    gin of dreams, the popular view holds firmly to the belief that dreams

    really have got a meaning, in some way they do foretell the future,

    whilst the meaning can be unravelled in some way or other from its oft

    bizarre and enigmatical content. The reading of dreams consists in repla-

    cing the events of the dream, so far as remembered, by other events. This

    is done either scene by scene, according to some rigid key, or the dream

    as a whole is replaced by something else of which it was a symbol.

    Serious-minded persons laugh at these efforts—"Dreams are but sea-


    One day I discovered to my amazement that the popular view groun-

    ded in superstition, and not the medical one, comes nearer to the truth

    about dreams. I arrived at new conclusions about dreams by the use of a

    new method of psychological investigation, one which had rendered me

    good service in the investigation of phobias, obsessions, illusions, and

    the like, and which, under the name "psycho-analysis," had found ac-

    ceptance by a whole school of investigators. The manifold analogies of

    dream life with the most diverse conditions of psychical disease in the

    waking state have been rightly insisted upon by a number of medical ob-

    servers. It seemed, therefore, a priori, hopeful to apply to the interpreta-

    tion of dreams methods of investigation which had been tested in psy-

    chopathological processes. Obsessions and those peculiar sensations of

    9 haunting dread remain as strange to normal consciousness as do dreams

    to our waking consciousness; their origin is as unknown to conscious-

    ness as is that of dreams. It was practical ends that impelled us, in these

    diseases, to fathom their origin and formation. Experience had shown us

    that a cure and a consequent mastery of the obsessing ideas did result

    when once those thoughts, the connecting links between the morbid

    ideas and the rest of the psychical content, were revealed which were

    heretofore veiled from consciousness. The procedure I employed for the

    interpretation of dreams thus arose from psychotherapy.

    This procedure is readily described, although its practice demands in-

    struction and experience. Suppose the patient is suffering from intense

    morbid dread. He is requested to direct his attention to the idea in ques-

    tion, without, however, as he has so frequently done, meditating upon it.

    Every impression about it, without any exception, which occurs to him

    should be imparted to the doctor. The statement which will be perhaps

    then made, that he cannot concentrate his attention upon anything at all,

    is to be countered by assuring him most positively that such a blank state

    of mind is utterly impossible. As a matter of fact, a great number of im-

    pressions will soon occur, with which others will associate themselves.

    These will be invariably accompanied by the expression of the observer's

    opinion that they have no meaning or are unimportant. It will be at once

    noticed that it is this self-criticism which prevented the patient from im-

    parting the ideas, which had indeed already excluded them from con-

    sciousness. If the patient can be induced to abandon this self-criticism

    and to pursue the trains of thought which are yielded by concentrating

    the attention, most significant matter will be obtained, matter which will

    be presently seen to be clearly linked to the morbid idea in question. Its

    connection with other ideas will be manifest, and later on will permit the

    replacement of the morbid idea by a fresh one, which is perfectly adap-

    ted to psychical continuity.

    This is not the place to examine thoroughly the hypothesis upon which

    this experiment rests, or the deductions which follow from its invariable

    success. It must suffice to state that we obtain matter enough for the res-

    olution of every morbid idea if we especially direct our attention to the

    unbidden associations which disturb our thoughts—those which are oth-

    erwise put aside by the critic as worthless refuse. If the procedure is exer-

    cised on oneself, the best plan of helping the experiment is to write down

    at once all one's first indistinct fancies.

    I will now point out where this method leads when I apply it to the ex-

    amination of dreams. Any dream could be made use of in this way. From


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