Sunday, 29 July 2012

A Brief Summary of Freudian Dream Interpretation Methods

I have previously written articles on Freud's psychoanalytic method of dream interpretation, but I thought it would be helpful to provide a shorter, summary article as a refresher, bearing in mind I seek to undertake some Freudian dream interpretation work in the near future.

Freud believed that dreams were the ‘royal road to the unconscious’ which act as the ‘guardian’ of sleep. When we sleep we are attempting to disconnect from reality by extinguishing all external stimuli and the mind’s manufacturing of dreams is viewed by Freudian psychologists as an attempt to protect the sleeper from both the external stimuli (noise, temperature, light, physical conditions) as well as internal stimuli (thoughts, emotions etc). Basically, in order to sleep undisturbed, all strong negative emotions, forbidden desires or thoughts, must be censored into a less ‘dangerous’ form, as to confront these negative emotions/thoughts (which I shall generalise as fears/desires) would distress the sleeper, causing them to wake. The dream, if interpreted correctly, may possibly lead to an enhanced understanding of the subject’s psyche and subconscious mind.  Dreams, according to Freud, were often a form of wish fulfilment. The underlying or hidden (latent) ‘subtext’ of the dream often reveals the wish fulfilment function of the dream – internal stimuli are converted into visual fantasies. Freud noted in A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1920) that a subject is just as capable of interpreting their own dreams within the psychoanalytical framework, as they are interpreting someone else’s, although Freud is presupposing that the subject will be fluent with the psychoanalytic method, which this article seeks to outline and explain in simple, practical terms.

Freud categorised the content of dreams as LATENT or MANIFEST.

Manifest content
This is what the subject remembers upon waking – the way they would describe their dream to another person upon recollection. Freud claimed that there was no meaning in the manifest content of the dream, as it is a disguised representation of the subject’s subconscious mind – a ‘distorted substitute for something else’. The manifest content is often ‘day residue’ – events and memories left over from the previous day(s) before the dream. If the subject has a faulty recall of the dream, Freud states that this merely represents a further distortion of the unconscious or latent content of the dream – thus the gaps in the dream represent the subject’s further censoring of material. Freud, did however warn that many subjects may be selective in what they choose to express about their dreams – missing out information which seems meaningless or objectionable/distasteful (Freud supposedly moderated certain of his writings, where to make candid confession would cause him personal/professional detriment or embarrassment).

Latent content
The latent content is the symbolic meaning of the dream, distinct from the surface structure and manifest content of the dream. The latent content – the forbidden fears/desires -  is uncovered through psychoanalytic methods, such as free association. Free association basically required the subject to start with the dream symbol (i.e. the manifest content – for example, a fish) and then follow with a stream of consciousness exercise, expressing whatever thoughts flow into the mind (i.e. Pisces, female genitalia (although surprisingly, Freud believed the symbol of the fish was representative of the male phallus, water etc). In rare cases – which Freud refer to an ‘infantile dreams’ – the manifest and latent content will be indistinct. The process by which the latent content is transformed into the manifest content is known as ‘dream work’.  Dream work may distort or disguise the latent content in the following ways: 
  1. Condensation – Two or more latent thoughts are combined/spliced into one manifest dream character/scene/situation
  2. Displacement – Instead of the directing the emotional response – i.e. fear/desire onto towards the intended person/object, it is transferred onto meaningless/unrelated persons/objects
  3. Symbolism – Complex or vague concepts are converted into a symbolic dream image. The concept may be converted semantically (similar sounding words) or less intrusive/intimidating visual images. Freud viewed most dream symbols as having a latent sexual meaning – elongated, erect, inflated objects were thought to symbolise the male penis, whilst concave or vessel-like objects represented the female. Castration was also another theme used by Freud – represented by symbols such as amputation, hair/tooth loss etc.
  4. Secondary revision – this is the stage during which Freud stated that the dream would lose ‘the appearance of absurdity or incoherence’ – by reconciling contradictions and attempting to re-organise the dream into a pattern consistent with the subject’s experience of life.
 Further reading (click on the texts to access free online versions)

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