Importance of Dreams in Psychoanalysis
By: Alex Oleh Mulyar
03.04.2009, Psychoanalysis, Harvard University
Division of Continuing Education
Dreams are a fascinating topic and can be interpreted from multiple angles. Freud believed dreams were formed by an intrapsychic conflict created by the Id’s unconscious wants attempting to push into the conscious process, and the Ego defending, when necessary, against the Id’s assail. Dreams are believed by Freudian psychoanalyststo be a way of working through conflicts from waking life that may be too difficult to be rationalized by the conscious process. Another major element of dreams is to “trick” the Id by “compromise formation” into believing that its wants have been fulfilled, due to the fact that imagery within dreams through the “Manifest” or “Latent” content may present the want the Id desires, which may not be directly or easily attainable in waking life. This essay will explore the significance of dreams for the purpose of psychoanalytic theory, furthermore this essay will discuss what a person’s dreams may tell the analyst about their personality, and how dreams may be used as a measuring tool in the progress of therapy.
Freudian Psychoanalysts view dreams and their interpretations as a significant part of therapy, for the reason that they may represent conflicts the mind is trying to make sense of, which may correlate with the tribulations currently being counseled by the analyst. Dream interpretations may present the entity troubling the client through Latent Content, which is the hidden meaning of a dream, which is exposed by the psychoanalyst’s interpretations. The interpretations are based around the symbols presented in the Manifest Content, and analyst-lead free-association (Schwartz: Lecture, April 7,2009). According to Freud, Free Association is used to transcribe the Latent Content by having the patient relay whatever images came to mind while reminiscing of a particular part or symbol of the dream. These same interpretations may also aid the process of psychoanalysis and confirm the progression of analytic therapy, which will be discussed later within this paper. Dreams may also inform the analyst of certain personality or character traits due to a repeating pattern within dreams, or lack of certain patterns revealing more about the client, thus allowing the therapist to better shape the direction of analysis.
Intrapsychic conflicts that arise from waking life which cannot be tolerated while one is awake and that are not able to be rationalized by the Ego within the conscious process may be dealt with or played out within dreams, which are timeless and can associate random events. Also, natural impulses that are normally suppressed may turn into dreams; needs arising from the unconscious Id which cannot be allowed by the Superego to manifest through to the conscious process that are allowed to be acted out in dreams. Intrapsychic conflicts are carried out in dreams because “we attribute objective reality to the contents of the dream” (Freud, 1940, p.39) and due to this phenomena of dream imagery the Id, the Ego, and the Superego may be deceived into believing their conflicts or desires have been fulfilled, for the time being.
The theory of the Id is based upon the “pleasure principle” (Freud, 1961), which causes one to seek immediate gratification through whatever means necessary. The Id is comprised of impulses and drives that have no consideration for the future, as gratification must be attained immediately, regardless of whether harm will come to oneself or another person, now or in the future. The Superego, on the other hand, functions as the moral process representative of the internalized parents and other authority figures. The Superego continuously references back and forth with the ego to make sure the person is following the moral and social norms of the society in accordance with the clashing wished of the Id. The Superego and Id barter via the Ego, as the Ego compromises with some needs of the Id in order to keep the person within the Superego’s comfort zone.
The classic psychoanalytic perspective attributes two levels or components to a dream: the Manifest Content and the Latent Content. The Manifest Content of a dream, which is the superficial masked presentation, is usually a disordered presentation and lacks sense, although this is what a person remembers and is able to relay to the analyst. The manifest content poses a drawback since the client will usually have difficulty in remembering the whole manifest content, or even remembering it correctly. On the other hand the Latent content is the actual meaning of the dream which may not be easy to transcribe because it is hidden and not present in the manifestation of the dream. The Latent content is the Intrapsychic Conflict or suppressed wish from the Id that pushes itself into the face of the Ego, which converts the Id’s wishes with reference from the Superego into the Manifest content by the process of “dream-distortion” (Freud, 1940, p39); in this way the Ego still has control over the Id and shapes the dream in an appropriate way in order to preserve sleep. In the case that the unconscious wish of the Id does push through the ego without dream-distortion, the Ego may go in to an alert mode and abandon sleep, which is exactly what happens during nightmares. In nightmares a person wakes up from the dream because the Ego senses the contents of the dream are not within the comfort zone of neither the Ego nor the Superego, and therefore cannot be dealt with appropriately.