Freuds Interpretation of Dreams

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Freud's approach to dreams analysis revolutionised the concept of the human mind; he concluded the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to the unconscious activities of the mind' (Freud, 1915 pg 92). Pre-scientific views of dreams were understood to be friendly or hostile manifestations of higher powers, demonical or divine' (Freud, 1914 pg 1). However contrary to popular belief, Freud viewed dreams as a psychical act and a manifestation of a latent thought repressed due to anxiety surrounding the forbidden wish held in the unconscious. His work on dreams and their interpretation paved the way in which we use and see dreams to a large extent in modern psychoanalytical practice, from a technical, clinical and theoretical perspective.

Before engaging on Freud's approach to dreams analysis, one must first appraise his hypothesis of the unconscious mind and the role of censorship, as this is the main reason behind any distortion in a dream. Freud divided the human mind into conscious and unconscious systems. The conscious mind contains contemporary thoughts, feelings and sensations that we are instantly aware of at any time.

In contrast however, the unconscious mind is usually suppressed from our conscious mind, consisting of all suppressed desires, drives (particularly libido), and also suppressed memories suppressed due to repression; a psychical mechanism keeping these wishes out of consciousness as a style of defence against guilt or anxiety, as these wishes are usually forbidden and emanate from what Freud termed the Id'.

Due to the unpleasantness of these instincts and wishes, a censorship is required to maintain repression, to protect the conscious mind, the Ego'. Freud nominated this censorship as the Superego', which was occasionally circumvented due to the desire of unconscious wishes to manifest into the conscious, indicating the failure of repression. Freud termed this the return of the repressed' (cited in Quinodoz, 2004 pg245). All dreams indicate failure in repression and the mechanisms involved in this circumvention will be explored further with specific reference to the Irma dream.

Freud believed dreams were unconscious wish fulfilments that had two contents; the latent thought and the manifest content. The latent thought being the repressed wish hiding in the unconscious yet ready to surface at any opportunity, usually in the form of a dream. The manifest content is an attempt at disclosing the latent thought but due to psychical mechanisms it comes in the form of distorted imagery that are passionless, disconnected and unintelligible (Freud, 1914 pg 7) As this is how the wish attempts to circumvent the censor, the dream is a compromised formation of the unconscious wish. This is usually remembered by the conscious mind upon wakening and is always nonsensical.

In order to unravel and decipher the real meaning of the dream, Freud explored in great detail the psychical process which transformed the latent thought into the manifest content and set about understanding the motives behind it. The conversion of one mode of expression into another, he termed dream work' (ibid pg 8) and "wherever a dream has undergone distortion, the wish has arisen from the unconscious" (Freud, 1900 pg 552)

Dream work comprises of condensation, displacement, representability and dramatisation and through free associating every thought that arises to each component of the dream individually, the hidden wish will surface through careful and professional examination of each component. Similar to detective work, it involves a person using a piecemeal approach, as though the dream were a rebus, and associating to each component until deduction after deduction the unconscious message is revealed, effectively addressing the emotional expression too.

Usually the manifest content would be triggered by events of the previous day, also termed the day's residues' (Freud, 1900, as cited by Quinodoz, 2004). Freud's Irma dream (1895) was triggered by just that, when Freud asked a close friend Otto how Irma was doing and he replied, she's better, but not quiet well' (Freud, 1900 pg 106). Irma was a family friend to both Freud and Otto and Freud had been treating Irma's hysteria but unfortunately failed to combat all of her somatic symptoms, and Otto's reaction seemed to annoy him as it questioned Freud's psychoanalytic treatment. That night his dream emerged.

To summarize, Freud dreamt that he was receiving guests at a large party when Irma showed up and Freud took her to one side, at the window, to reinforce her decision not to accept his solution' and stated if you still get pains, it's really your own fault', Irma replied, looking pale and puffy if you only knew what pains I've got now in my throat and stomach and abdomen its choking me' Freud calls his friend Dr M over to help with examination after he found a white spot in her throat; her mouth had dentures. Dr M confirmed it was somatic there's no doubt it's an infection, but no matter; dysentery will supervene and the toxin will be eliminated'. Otto and Leopold were also present. Freud places blame onto Otto in the dream for injecting Irma with Propyl' due to her feeling unwell, not long before. Freud suggested he made the decision thoughtlessly, adding and probably the syringe had not been clean' (Freud, 1900 pg 107).

The dream didn't make sense in many factors as he awoke perplexed. He applied his own approach he used on patients to his dream and breaking it down in a piecemeal approach and associating to each component enabled him to unravel the true meaning and confirm that the dream was in fact a wish fulfilment. Freud concentrated on the words, rather than images that accompanied the dream and I will explain some of his findings through examples given to correlate with his mechanisms employed in dream work.

Condensation (compression) brings together the several elements, images, thoughts etc., from different associations to a single one by total omission of certain latent elements (Quinodoz, 2004, pg 40), by only a fragment passing over or fusing of latent elements. In other words, because Irma in the dream was at the window, pale and puffy, and had dentures this suggested a composite figure had transpired; a condensation of a compilation of people in Freud's life.

Freud associated the Irma standing at the window with a woman friend of hers whom Freud knew. Freud visited this woman and she was standing by the window upon his arrival, Freud later learnt she suffered hysterical choking' and was also recalcitrant'. The stance Irma took in the dream suggested he replaced Irma with her friend. Irma's complexion he associated with his pregnant wife, whom was often pale and puffy. Complaining of abdomen pains also led Freud to associate his wife to this composite character. Examining the oral cavity and identifying false teeth led him to a governess he once examined and was surprised to find dentures on such picture of beauty, again this represents another element of the character compressed into one.

Displacement is a mechanism where the psychical accent shifts from something important to trivial and moves the crucial content of the dream off centre stage to conceal the wish fulfilment and Freud believed this was the most powerful instrument of the dream censorship (Quinodoz, 2004, pg 40). Condensation and displacement combine creating a compromise in the Irma dream as there was a question of an injection of Propyl'. Freud substituted Amyl for Propyl and the connection being a memory of Propylaea', which he had seen in a museum. Amyl reminded him of a present or liquor Otto gave to the family that gave off a strong smell, the bottle was labelled Ananas' and bore a remarkable resemblance to Irma's family name; an example of a compromise formation was created by means of simultaneous condensation and displacement.

Although condensation and displacement are the main methods used in dream work, they are also present in other forms. For example, if a certain element in a dream has several different connotations to it, it's said to be a nodal point', meaning various associations are derived from one element. This particular element can be said to be overdetermined'. Upon Freud's examination of Irma he found in her throat, turbinal bones with scabs [and] a white patch' (Freud, 1900 pg111). Freud determined, through associations, this element of the dream had many associations such as a reference to Irma's friend (another patient of Freud's), a reminder of Freud's own past ill-health and also an association to the death of his friend Fleiss thus highlighting it as a nodal point and therefore overdetermined.

Representability is the process by which the dream work transforms dream thoughts into pictures, in particular visual ones, the psychical material of the dream thoughts habitually include recollections of impressive experiences' (Freud, 1900, pg 659). Freud heard the words she's better, but not quite well' from Otto the previous day, the dream thoughts that arose from those words were of Otto himself giving her an injection which caused her infection, placing blame onto Otto for her untreated somatic symptoms. The dream represents the pictures created from the words that resonated with him and throughout the dream similar visions of past experiences where Freud reproached himself in situations with friends and family were represented.

Dramatization according to Freud is condensation, together with the transformation of thoughts into situations (dramatization) is by far the most peculiar characteristic of the dream-work' (Freud, 1901, pg 653). Freud had thoughts after the conversation with Otto, about how easily Otto's had been influenced by Irma, this surfaced as an attack on Otto when Freud commented injections of that sort should not be made so thoughtlessly... And probably the syringe had not been clean' (Freud, 1900, pg 107), unconsciously wishing blame onto Otto through the manifestation of the dream.

To conclude, through careful analysis and freely associating to every component of the dream and by focusing on the words the pictures represents, Freud was able to apply his dream-work approach and decipher the meaning behind the manifest content and reach the latent thought. Freud's dream was in fact a revenge dream as Otto's remarks caused a reaction in Freud, hence the formation of the dream the dream gave me revenge by throwing the reproach back onto him' (Freud, 1900, pg 118) to which Freud concluded after associating each component of the dream thus its content was the fulfiulment of a wish' (Freud, 1900 pg 119), and the motive was a wish; to acquit Freud for Irma's somatic problem and place it onto Otto. Also there was little evidence of the dream being sexual based, as his primary wish was a desire to seek revenge on Otto for attacking his psychoanalytic work.

More about this author: Sabrina Ginesi

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