Theory of dreams in psychology

Inside the Dream Mind – Brescia University

Why do we dream? How do dreams provide insight into the mind? Are dreams relevant to waking life? From ancient times when dreams were considered to hold prophetic powers to the neurological phenomena studied today, dreams remain one of psychology’s most enduring mysteries. Although scientists continue to research the answers to these questions, they build their work on some commonly accepted dream theories.

The Nature of Dreams

Defined as a series of thoughts, visions or feelings, dreams arise several times per night during sleep.

As a process, sleep is cyclical. It occurs in five stages, each helping to further the body’s goal of bolstering and regenerating itself. While stages 1-4 are simply named as such, the fifth stage is called Rapid Eye Movement, or REM. It makes up about 20 to 25 percent of adult sleep.

The REM stage is the most common time of dreaming, explains the National Sleep Foundation. Dreams themselves usually last between a few seconds to 30 minutes in length. On average, people dream about four to six times per night, with adults dreaming about two hours for every eight hours of sleep.

In addition to its association with dreams, the REM stage is a time when the body processes information, creates memories and increases depleted chemicals, such as serotonin. Although the necessity of sleep has long been observed, only in recent history did people consider that dreams may also serve a utilitarian function.

Four Theories of Dreams

The past two centuries have given rise to four of the most commonly accepted dream theories.

Sigmund Freud and Wish-Fulfillment

The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was the first to suggest that dreams may serve a particular scientific purpose. He came to believe that dreams were often a form of wish-fulfillment, the American Psychoanalytic Association says. In a dream, a subject could act out desires he or she could not fulfill in waking life. Some types of dreams, however, proved problematic within this model, such as dreams involving punishment or traumatic events. These led Freud to believe that dreams sometimes served as a way for patients to express guilt or conquer trauma. All these conjectures played into Freud’s overall (and revolutionary) theory of dreams: that they were manifestations of unconscious workings of the brain. 

Carl Jung: Dreams as Direct Mental Expressions

Although Freud and Carl Jung were contemporaries, they disagreed strongly (and famously) about the nature of dreams. Freud believed that dreams, by nature, disguised their meaning. In contrast, Jung believed that dreams were actually direct expressions of the mind itself. Dreams, he thought, expressed an individual’s unconscious state through a language of symbols and metaphors. This “language” was natural to the unconscious state, but difficult to understand because it varied so much from waking language. Notably, Jung also believed that universal archetypes (or images) intrinsic to all human consciousness existed within this language. He believed that dreams served two functions: to compensate for imbalances in the dreamers’ psyche, and to provide prospective images of the future, which allowed the dreamer to anticipate future events.

REM and Activation-Synthesis

Yet another theory arose with the discovery of REM. The Activation-Synthesis theory was conceived by Harvard professors Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley in the 1970s, explains Joe Griffin of the Human Givens Institute. Hobson and McCarley discovered that during REM sleep, electrical signals called electroencephalogram recordings, or EEGs, pass through the brain. They theorized that the brain naturally reacted by attempting to make sense of the random stimulus. Thus, dreams had no intrinsic meaning; they were just a side effect of the brain’s normal activity. While this theory was revolutionary at the time, the continual advancement of technology has led to tremendous revision of this theory.

Threat Simulation Theory

Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo is one of the latest researchers to suggest a convincing theory about the function of dreams. Revonsuo found that during REM sleep, the amygdala (the fight-or-flight section of the brain) actually fires in similar ways as it does during a survival threat. “The primary function of negative dreams,” he explains, “is rehearsal for similar real events, so that threat recognition and avoidance happens faster and more automatically in comparable real situations.” In other words, dreams are an evolutionary trait designed to help us practice being safe.

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Dreams and Dreaming | Introduction to Psychology

Learning Objectives

  • Describe and differentiate between theories on why we dream


Dreams and their associated meanings vary across different cultures and periods of time. By the late 19th century, German psychiatrist Sigmund Freud had become convinced that dreams represented an opportunity to gain access to the unconscious. By analyzing dreams, Freud thought people could increase self-awareness and gain valuable insight to help them deal with the problems they faced in their lives. Freud made distinctions between the manifest content and the latent content of dreams.

Manifest content is the actual content, or storyline, of a dream. Latent content, on the other hand, refers to the hidden meaning of a dream. For instance, if a woman dreams about being chased by a snake, Freud might have argued that this represents the woman’s fear of sexual intimacy, with the snake serving as a symbol of a man’s penis.

Freud was not the only theorist to focus on the content of dreams. The 20th century Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that dreams allowed us to tap into the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious, as described by Jung, is a theoretical repository of information he believed to be shared by everyone. According to Jung, certain symbols in dreams reflected universal archetypes with meanings that are similar for all people regardless of culture or location.

The sleep and dreaming researcher Rosalind Cartwright, however, believes that dreams simply reflect life events that are important to the dreamer. Unlike Freud and Jung, Cartwright’s ideas about dreaming have found empirical support. For example, she and her colleagues published a study in which women going through divorce were asked several times over a five month period to report the degree to which their former spouses were on their minds. These same women were awakened during REM sleep in order to provide a detailed account of their dream content. There was a significant positive correlation between the degree to which women thought about their former spouses during waking hours and the number of times their former spouses appeared as characters in their dreams (Cartwright, Agargun, Kirkby, & Friedman, 2006). Recent research (Horikawa, Tamaki, Miyawaki, & Kamitani, 2013) has uncovered new techniques by which researchers may effectively detect and classify the visual images that occur during dreaming by using fMRI for neural measurement of brain activity patterns, opening the way for additional research in this area.

Figure 1. There are many theories about why we dream: the threat-simulation theory sees dreaming as an evolutionary “practice ground” for dealing with threats; the expectation-fulfillment theory says that we use up emotional energy during the night; the activation-synthesis theory claims that dreams are meaningless interpretations of random firings of the brain; the continual-activation theory says that dreams help transfer memories to our long-term memory.

Alan Hobson, a neuroscientist, is credited for developing activation-synthesis theory of dreaming. Early versions of this theory proposed that dreams were not the meaning-filled representations of angst proposed by Freud and others, but were rather the result of our brain attempting to make sense of (“synthesize”) the neural activity (“activation”) that was happening during REM sleep. Recent adaptations (e.g., Hobson, 2002) continue to update the theory based on accumulating evidence. For example, Hobson (2009) suggests that dreaming may represent a state of protoconsciousness. In other words, dreaming involves constructing a virtual reality in our heads that we might use to help us during wakefulness. Among a variety of neurobiological evidence, John Hobson cites research on lucid dreams as an opportunity to better understand dreaming in general. Lucid dreams are dreams in which certain aspects of wakefulness are maintained during a dream state. In a lucid dream, a person becomes aware of the fact that they are dreaming, and as such, they can control the dream’s content (LaBerge, 1990).

Theories on Dreaming

While the Freudian theory of dreaming may be the most well known, and Cartwright’s suggestions on dreaming the most plausible, there are several other theories about the purpose of dreaming. The threat-simulation theory suggests that dreaming should be seen as an ancient biological defense mechanism. Dreams are thought to provide an evolutionary advantage because of their capacity to repeatedly simulate potential threatening events. This process enhances the neurocognitive mechanisms required for efficient threat perception and avoidance.

The expectation-fulfillment theory posits that dreaming serves to discharge emotional arousals (however minor) that haven’t been expressed during the day. This practice frees up space in the brain to deal with the emotional arousals of the next day and allows instinctive urges to stay intact. In effect, the expectation is fulfilled (the action is “completed”) in a metaphorical form so that a false memory is not created. This theory explains why dreams are usually forgotten immediately afterwards.

One prominent neurobiological theory of dreaming is the activation-synthesis theory. According to this theory, dreams are electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories. The theory posits that humans construct dream stories after they wake up, in a natural attempt to make sense of the nonsensical. However, given the vast documentation of the realistic aspects of human dreaming, as well as indirect experimental evidence that other mammals such as cats also dream, evolutionary psychologists have theorized that dreaming does indeed serve a purpose.

The continual-activation theory proposes that dreaming is a result of brain activation and synthesis. Dreaming and REM sleep are simultaneously controlled by different brain mechanisms. The hypothesis states that the function of sleep is to process, encode, and transfer data from short-term memory to long-term memory through a process called consolidation. However, there is not much evidence to back this up. NREM sleep processes the conscious-related memory (declarative memory), and REM sleep processes the unconscious related memory (procedural memory).

The underlying assumption of continual-activation theory is that, during REM sleep, the unconscious part of the brain is busy processing procedural memory. Meanwhile, the level of activation in the conscious part of the brain descends to a very low level as the inputs from the senses are basically disconnected. This triggers the “continual-activation” mechanism to generate a data stream from the memory stores to flow through to the conscious part of the brain.

Link to Learning

Review the purpose and stages of sleep as well as the reasons why we dream in the following CrashCourse video:

You can view the transcript for “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream: Crash Course Psychology #9” here (opens in new window).

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activation-synthesis theory: states that dreams don’t actually mean anything. Instead, dreams are merely electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories.

collective unconscious: theoretical repository of information shared by all people across cultures, as described by Carl Jung

continual-activation theory: proposes that dreaming is a result of brain activation and synthesis; its assumption is that, during REM sleep, the unconscious part of the brain is busy processing procedural memory

latent content: hidden meaning of a dream, per Sigmund Freud’s view of the function of dreams

lucid dream: people become aware that they are dreaming and can control the dream’s content

manifest content: storyline of events that occur during a dream, per Sigmund Freud’s view of the function of dreams

threat-simulation theory: suggests that dreaming should be seen as an ancient biological defense mechanism that provides an evolutionary advantage because of its capacity to repeatedly simulate potential threatening events, thus enhancing the mechanisms required for efficient threat avoidance.


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Psychoanalytic theory of dreams uMEDp

The proposed work is devoted to the classical psychoanalytic concept of the dream by Z. Freud. It is based on the basic principles of psychoanalytic psychology and, above all, the idea of ​​"repression", the main mechanism for the formation of the unconscious contents of mental life. For Z. Freud, dreams were a distorted return of repressed material to consciousness. By reducing the ability to repress in the dream state, this unacceptable or traumatic material can reach the confines of consciousness and cause awakening. In this case, masking, distorting sleep activity appears to be a compromise solution. The paper raises questions of symbolism and typism of dream plots, as well as their psychoanalytic interpretation in therapeutic practice on the example of the classic dream of Z. Freud "About the injection of Irma" and a number of others.

Drawing. Mechanisms of dream formation


Unlike the well-established everyday idea of ​​a dream as a phenomenon that is quite consistent with the story about it, in psychoanalysis the term "dream" covers not one, but two phenomena. This is the dream itself, our nocturnal experience of experiencing dream reality, called the "manifest" or "manifest" dream, and its basis hidden from the dreamer himself, the unconscious sources of the dream, called the "hidden" or "latent" content of the dream. In this case, more precise terms will be the "manifest" and "hidden" content of the dream.

Historical aspects of the emergence of the psychoanalytic theory of dreams

Dreams have long remained the territory of an exclusively esoteric practice. Attempts to explain their origin and significance in people's lives were made even before Z. Freud, but he, one of the first serious researchers and clinicians, managed to create a coherent and logical theory of dreams, which laid the foundation for the use of dreams in psychotherapeutic practice, and the work on dreams, became a kind of "bible" of psychoanalysis [1]. Subsequently, S. Freud often noted that whenever he had doubts about what he had done, he returned to this work and drew confidence there, considering it the foundation of the entire psychoanalytic building.

Z. Freud showed interest in dreams quite early, he mentions this in his letters even before 1882. He speaks more extensively about dreams in "Etudes on Hysteria" in a footnote to the description of the case of treatment of Emma von N., where, reflecting on his own dreams, Z. Freud comes to the conclusion that they are explained by “two circumstances: firstly, the need to formalize those ideas that in passing occurred to me during the day, but were only outlined and did not find completion, and, secondly , an obsessive craving to connect everything that arises in such a state of consciousness with each other" [2, p. 9four].

The next step in the development of his views on the dream was taken by S. Freud in the unfinished work "Project for Scientific Psychology". In particular, in this work he speaks of a dream already as a "fulfillment of desires", motor paralysis in sleep, "displacement" and a number of other mechanisms associated with a dream [3]. It should be noted here that the idea of ​​the fulfillment in dreams of desires condemned by the subject himself was put forward by Plato in his dialogues.

The "Project of Scientific Psychology" largely outlined the future approach of Z. Freud to the creation of his theory of dreams, which was already formed at the beginning of 1896 "The Interpretation of Dreams" was completed in the same year, about which the author wrote in the work "An Outline of the History of Psychoanalysis" [4]. However, the publication of the book was postponed until the end of 1899 (usually the work is dated 1900), which Freud himself explained by the need for maximum criticality to what was done.

Z. Freud probably began to show a purposeful interest in dreams after he began to actively practice the cathartic method of treating hysteria, which was a modification of the “pronunciation method” of J. Breuer. In the “Study of Hysteria”, Z. Freud, describing his experience of using this method, says that neurotic patients feel the need to connect all the ideas that are present at one time in their mental world, just as it happens in a dream [2 ]. It can be seen that the idea of ​​a deep relationship between a mental symptom and a dream began to form along with the formation of psychoanalytic theory as a whole 1 .

From the mid 1890s. Z. Freud proceeds to a regular study of his own dreams, based on the experience of using the "pronunciation" method. As the main technique for this, he uses the technique of free association, that is, fixing everything that comes to mind in connection with the dream, no matter how ridiculous or obscene it may seem. It is believed that the first dream analyzed using the method of free association was the "Dream of Irma's Injection", which S. Freud saw in July 1895 years [1]. Self-analysis carried out in this way allowed Freud to identify the infantile origins of his own symptoms and develop the psychoanalytic method as a whole.

Basic elements of the psychoanalytic theory of dreams

Z. Freud's idea regarding dreams was that they are caused by repressed thoughts, desires and fantasies hidden from the dreamer himself 2 .

Daytime events in one way or another activate these unconscious contents, and during sleep, when the line of repression weakens, they reach the limit of conscious perception. In the state of sleep, the motor response of such desires is blocked, muscle atony is observed, and the excitation caused by these desires is directed towards the "organs of perception" - mainly visual and auditory (meaning the corresponding parts of the cerebral cortex). Having reached them, the excitement causes the hallucinatory fulfillment of these repressed desires, but in a distorted form acceptable to internal censorship. Thus, in addition to an explicit dream, there are also thoughts that cause it, or "hidden dream thoughts" that form its latent content.

On the one hand, from a functional point of view, the dream satisfies the need of the ego for sleep, since it protects the state of sleep due to the fact that the real reaction of excitation in motor activity is replaced by a hallucinatory one that does not require awakening. On the other hand, the dream allows the repressed desire to be fulfilled, albeit in a distorted form, and thereby reduce the mental tension associated with sexual or aggressive impulses. Thus, the dream is designed to reconcile two opposing forces - the desire to sleep and the desire to act in accordance with the excitation emanating from the psychic or somatic sphere. The whole process of dream formation takes place under the influence of the so-called censorship generated by the remnant of the remaining repression. The distorting activity of "censorship" is carried out with the help of a number of mental mechanisms, described below. When trying to interpret a dream, it is “censorship” that generates resistance to this process in the form of forgetting part of the dream, the lack of free associations to it, or otherwise. The following figure illustrates the process of dream formation. As can be seen from the figure, during sleep, the repressed attraction, relying on random stimuli and superimposed on neutral, that is, those that did not receive any emotional evaluation, the remnants of daytime impressions (for example, a stranger who was accidentally met and for some reason remembered), finds its expression in the form of a dream. This process is called "dream work". The neutrality of the remnants of daytime impressions is important, since impressions that have received any emotional evaluation cannot be used as free "building material" for a dream due to their connection with certain affects. In wakefulness, the failure of repression leads to the appearance of a symptom or erroneous actions and reservations; in the state of sleep, to the appearance of a dream.

In addition to relying on the remnants of daytime impressions, several mechanisms are at work in the formation of a dream.

Thickening. All elements of dream thoughts that have common features (for example, the faces of several people with blue eyes at once) are combined in one element. It turns out that behind one element of a dream there is a whole group of similar parts in hidden thoughts. The reverse process is also possible, when the same element of hidden thoughts receives several representatives (images) in a dream. Condensation is carried out by omitting some elements of the original image or using only part of it, as well as in the form of merging several similar elements of different images into one.

Offset. In the dream state, the connection of various emotional manifestations with the corresponding mental contents is broken, so that emotions and affects can be associated with other contents. Since the importance of mental content is closely related to its emotional coloring, the shift of emotions and affects from one content to another can perform, in particular, a masking function, bringing something insignificant to the foreground of the plot, and leaving the main thing in the shadows. In a dream, emotions and affects can shift to other elements of the dream, change intensity, sign, disappear, remain in their original form. The shift can be of two types: either the element of hidden thoughts is replaced by a hint (for example, instead of the original image of a particular person, someone else appears, but in glasses or clothes belonging to the original object), or the emotional coloring is shifted from some important element to a less important one. . It is due to the displacement that the dream takes on a strange and incomprehensible character. Another aspect of displacement in a dream is the replacement of a verbal expression that has an abstract, that is, intangible character, with a concrete image of a dream. In this way, the abstract thought is given a visual representation, which can also serve the purpose of masking the repressed latent thoughts of the dream.

Symbolization. Symbolism is the fourth kind of relationship between the manifest and latent material of dreams, after part of the whole, allusion and figurative representation [6]. The idea of ​​symbolism in psychoanalysis reduces its manifestations to the replacement of some objects by others, and in this sense, symbolization can be considered as the result of displacement. However, in contrast to the purely individual substitution (as a result of the operation of the "shift" mechanism) of one object by another, during symbolization, there is a similarity of such substitutions in many people. In other words, the symbol has the property of invariance with respect to the subject and has a constancy of the ratio between the replaced and replacing objects for different people. At the same time, the replaced objects and phenomena are mainly related to the sensitive aspects of corporality, for example, the sexual sphere, the motive of death, physiological processes, waste products, etc. The original object and its symbolic substitute are connected by the laws of associations (by external similarity, function, contiguity in time, etc.).

Secondary processing. A dream formed on the basis of fragments of childhood memories and the remnants of impressions of the day before, as a result of the work of the mechanisms of condensation, displacement and symbolization, is a set of separate, unrelated parts. For a dream to be acceptable to consciousness, it must be a coherent narrative. The secondary processing mechanism performs the necessary rationalizing work of filling in the gaps, establishing connections between the parts of the dream, that is, making the dream suitable for perception. However, this mechanism does not always work, and we can recall apparently meaningless and fragmentary dreams. In addition, the operation of this mechanism can be associated both with the formation of a dream and with its perception or even reproduction after awakening, which makes its involvement in the formation of a dream not obvious [1].

Symbolism of dreams

In classical psychoanalysis, the ability to symbolize is believed to be innate. Things symbolically related to modern man in prehistoric times probably had a conceptual and linguistic identity. This is also indicated by the fact that the use of a common symbol goes beyond the speakers of one language, for example, the urge to urinate among a number of peoples is indicated by the same words as swimming in water [1].

Let us dwell on some psychoanalytic symbolic relationships.

Parents are presented as kings and queens, emperors, authorities (presidents, leaders, etc.).

The person as a whole is usually symbolized by the house.

The woman is often replaced by a house with balconies, ledges and various frills and decorations.

Men are presented as houses with smooth walls.

Small children, brothers and sisters are symbolized by small animals, insects, parasites.

Male genitals - objects sticking up, penetrating inside, giving water, stretching out in length, tools, pencils and pens, keys, fish, snakes, hats, coats, mountain, rock, the number "3".

Female genitals - garden, landscape with mountains, forest and water, jewelry boxes, shoe or shoes, objects with a cavity inside, mines, caves, bottles, boxes, suitcases, bags, pockets, stove, wood (as material), snail, mouth, church.

Birth - exit or entry into the water, salvation from water or fire.

Death - departure, mourning frame, black color, an even number of colors, etc.

Delayed libido is coal.

Self-satisfaction - any kind of game (cards, piano), riding a bicycle, sliding, slipping, sewing up tearing matter.

Castration - loss or pulling out of a tooth, a broken branch of a tree.

Sexual intercourse - stairs, all rhythmic activities, riding, crushing, threatening with a weapon.

Passions, gross desires are wild beasts [1].

The clarification of the meaning of the symbolic element aims to reveal the poorly realized, repressed or denied psychological sources behind it. However, rigid adherence to only one psychoanalytic school of interpretation of symbolism in this case can be considered a technical error. For example, the symbolism of the forest in psychoanalysis is considered as a way of depicting hair on parts of the body covered by clothing, most often intimate, in particular pubic hair. At the same time, it is advisable to turn to other, non-psychoanalytic ideas about symbolism.

Consider an example: the dream of a woman in her 50s. She is in her third marriage, has three adult children, but she is seriously dissatisfied with her relationship with her husband (“an old, drinking, very narrow-minded and low-earning subject”), so she is “forced” to date other men. At the time of the dream, it was a young man of 37 years old.

Dream. The dreamer rides across the field on one horse with her young man towards the forest. They are trying to hide from a certain pursuer (her husband). At the same time, she sits on the croup of the horse, and her partner is in front. She has her own horse, which she leads by the bridle and at the same time makes periodic movements with her hand, feeling the horse's lips - "are they wet?".

A horse ride in psychoanalysis is considered as a symbolic image of coitus, the lips of a horse may well indicate the labia, which, together with the psychoanalytic symbolism of the forest described above, fits into the sexual interpretation of this plot. However, the question arises why a woman, meeting with this man, who arouses in her a strong sexual desire, seems to be experiencing difficulties of a physiological nature (you need to check if your lips are “wet”)? The simple answer here would be to refer her problems to the physiological characteristics of her age. However, this does not exclude the psychological background. Given the age of the dreamer (over 50), it can be assumed that the forest in this case is more appropriate to consider as an element related to the symbolism of death, rather than sexuality. V.Ya. Propp describes the forest in Russian folk tales as an analogue of the "land of the dead" in Egyptian mythology, where Anubis, a god with a jackal's head, meets one who enters it. In Russian fairy tales, the role of a guide to the “land of the dead” is played by the “gray wolf” [7]. In this case, the plot of the dream is filled with much deeper drama associated with the dreamer's attempts to "escape" from the fear of aging and death with the help of sexual relations with a young partner, which, however, lead her in this direction at an accelerated pace. Accordingly, with such a motivation (fear of old age and death) of meeting with a young person, one can well expect problems with physiological reactions during intercourse.

Typism of dream plots

Another side of the manifestation of symbolism in dreams is the typical plots of dreams. Despite the huge variety of such plots, completely different people belonging to different cultures can see dreams with the same plot. Many of these plots were identified and interpreted by Z. Freud, who came to the conclusion that most of these dreams have not only a similar plot, but also a general interpretation. The reason for this universalism is that the deepest source of dreams are infantile psychic traumas or forbidden desires, the set of which is not too wide, for example, trauma associated with weaning or the prohibition of infantile masturbation, etc.

Exploring his own dreams and the dreams of patients, Z. Freud singled out the following as typical dream plots.

Dreams of nakedness or disorder in clothes. In these dreams, the sleeper usually finds himself naked or lacking clothes in a crowd of people. At the same time, those around him do not pay attention to him. The latter circumstance gives reason to attribute such dreams to those coming from childhood memories of enjoying one's own nakedness, which at that time did not bother adults at all.

Dreams about the death of close relatives. Such dreams can be divided into two groups: with and without the affect of grief. The latter are not typical. A dream with the affect of grief means what it depicts, that is, it represents a death wish for relatives. It should be noted here that dreams are a product of the unconscious and reflect something that in the waking state looks completely unacceptable and is therefore actively repressed.

Dreams about exams. They usually dream on the eve of any test. The affect of fear in them is associated with childhood memories of punishment for failure to complete the assigned task. In these dreams, if they happen on the eve of real exams, they never dream of upcoming exams, but only those that were successfully passed once. Thus, these dreams, despite their disturbing nature, reassure the dreamer: "You will pass."

Dreams about missing the train. These dreams also belong to the group of consolation dreams. Here, departure is a symbol of dying, being late is a consolation: "You will not die, your hour has not come yet." Usually such dreams are provoked by the fear of death excited the day before. At the same time, dreams close in plot about how a dreamer escorts one of his relatives to the train, for example, a dreamer who sees her mother off and is annoyed that her mother is delaying and cannot get on the train in any way, may have a different interpretation, namely - unconscious wish for death to loved ones.

Dreams of disordered teeth, loss of a tooth, toothache. They go back to the masturbatory tendencies of puberty. For women, tooth loss, such as reaching into the mouth with the hands and pulling out the tooth, means the forbidden penetration of the fingers between the "lips". There is such a frequent change of top and bottom in a dream: hair on the head and hair on the genitals, lips (mouth) and lips (vagina), nose and penis. An important point in such dreams is the feeling of guilt, since the loss of teeth acts as a punishment for a very "terrible" crime. Given the archaic nature of the dream, it can be seen that the loss of teeth for our ancestors was tantamount to death, so these dreams are usually accompanied by an affect of fear or horror. The reason for such a dream is something that happened the day before and aroused feelings of guilt, for example, a repressed fantasy of adultery.

Flights in a dream. These scenes originate from childhood sensations of being thrown up, swinging on a foot or swing. The meaning of such dreams can be very different. It may be a teenage desire to become taller than others, or to rise above everyone in some other way. At the same time, a dream can also denote an orgastic experience. Often such dreams are due to the inability to achieve the desired in reality.

Dreams of falling. Dreams are often associated with the affect of fear. Most often they mean "fall" in a metaphorical sense - to succumb to some forbidden temptation, to fall in the eyes of others, etc. Any fall context is possible here.

Dreams of swimming, floods and fires. Such dreams are based on memories of childhood enuresis, possibly traumatic experiences associated with the inculcation of cleanliness skills.

Thus, typical (or typical) dream plots can have typical hidden content. At the same time, a typical plot is not yet the basis for a standard interpretation. In these cases, as in the case of symbolic fragments, a sufficient amount of free associations of the dreamer should be obtained, confirming the assumption of a typical latent dream content [1].

Psychoanalytic interpretation of dreams

Psychoanalysis, which owes a lot to the school of hypnosis by J. Charcot, the ideas of Janet and the experiments of I. Bernheim, following them, considers symptoms as derivatives of psycho-traumatic events in the past of a person, the memory of which, due to its unacceptability, is repressed and retained in the sphere of the unconscious. Absent from conscious memories, it manifests itself only through symptoms and dreams.

The methodological basis of the psychoanalytic study of dreams is interpretation. In his lectures, Z. Freud shows by a number of examples that any element of a dream is absolutely deterministic in nature and is conditioned by representations and repressed desires that are not conscious of the subject [6]. The incomprehensibility of a dream is due to the fact that its connection with unconscious material is not obvious to the dreamer. At the same time, if you offer the dreamer, refusing any kind of thinking, to simply say everything that “comes to mind” about what he saw in a dream in the form of a stream of associations, then such a connection can be restored. In a freely spoken set of words there will always be those that are associated with intense aspects of mental life, and they are the main motivators of dreams. Thus, the main technique in the study of dreams is free association about the dream (the whole dream, its fragments, or the events of the day before).

However, in themselves, the associations caused by sleep are not yet its hidden content. They can only contain elements that are determined by such content. In addition to these, there may be elements in dreams whose hidden meaning is the same for most people, such as the so-called typical dream plots or symbolic objects.

The technique of psychoanalytic interpretation plays a twofold role. On the one hand, it is intended to achieve changes in the patient's inner world by forming a new understanding of one's past, desires, fantasies and symptoms, and on the other hand, it is a way of describing the personality characteristics of the subject and as such can be considered as part of the research process. However, the formulation of an interpretation is a creative and therefore very indefinite process that does not involve following any algorithm, but only based on the most general ideas about the sexually aggressive nature of a person and his tendency to build specific relationships with parents in childhood, called the oedipal complex. The final point of interpretation is drives or instincts.

As an example, let us turn to the interpretation of the dream of Z. Freud "About the injection of Irma" [1].

Irma (Emma Eckstein) is one of the patients and close friends of Freud's family, with whom he had difficulty in treating hysteria using the emerging psychoanalytic method. For this reason, in 1895, Z. Freud sent her for treatment to his friend, otorhinolaryngologist V. Fliss. V. Fliss, studying female sexuality, came to the conclusion that hysteria (as it was then believed to be a consequence of excessive and unsatisfied sexuality in women) is closely related to the sense of smell and its treatment is quite possible by radical methods - the removal of part of the nasal mucosa. Treatment by V. Fliss almost became fatal for Irma, because the doctor left a fair piece of gauze in the patient's nasal cavity. This soon led to the development of an infection in the nasal cavity, the fatal consequences of which were almost avoided, while the patient's face was hopelessly disfigured. Z. Freud undoubtedly felt a strong sense of guilt before Irma, at the same time, reproaches to his friend Fliess for unprofessionalism were at first very hidden and veiled. It should be noted that, despite all the suffering and failures endured, Emma Eckstein later became a well-known psychoanalyst, the author of a number of psychoanalytic works.

The dream took place on the night of July 23-24, 1895. To interpret it, S. Freud first used the method of free association - a free flow of thoughts, feelings, fantasies, not bound by any requirements of logic, plausibility, appropriateness or decency. The material of free associations to a dream took up more than 20 pages in his book "The Interpretation of Dreams" and served as one of the starting points for understanding dreams as the fulfillment of desires.

“Large hall, many guests. Among them is Irma, I take her by the arm, as if I want to answer her letter, I reproach her for not accepting my "decision". I tell her - if you still have pain, then you yourself are to blame. She replies - if you knew what pains I have in my throat, in my stomach and in my stomach, everything just tightens me up. I get scared and look at her. She has a pale, swollen face. It occurs to me that I might not have noticed some organic disease. I take her to the window, look down her throat. She resists a little, like all women who have false teeth. I think that she doesn't need it. The mouth opens and I see on the right a large white spot, and a little further away a strange outgrowth that looks like a new shell; I see its grayish bark. I immediately call Dr. M. He looks and confirms my opinion ... Dr. M. has a completely different appearance than usual. He is very pale, limping and for some reason without a beard... My friend Otto is standing next to me, and my friend Leopold examines her lungs and says - she has dullness on the left below! He also points to infiltration in the left shoulder (despite the dress on, I also feel it, like him ...). Dr. M. says: “Surely it is an infection. But nothing, she will have dysentery and the infection will come out ... "For some reason, we immediately understand where this infection comes from. Otto recently, when she felt unwell, injected her with a propyl drug - propylene ... propylene acid ... trimethylamine (I see the formula clearly before my eyes) ... Such an injection should not be done lightly ... In all likelihood, the syringe was not entirely clean.

Analyzing this dream, Z. Freud came to the conclusion that the dream took revenge on his colleague Otto for his reproaches for the insufficient treatment of Irma (Emma Eckstein). Another desire is to remove the blame for Irma's illness: "I am not guilty, since it is caused by organic causes." In addition, the dream also contains Otto's revenge for the bad pineapple liquor with a fusel smell ("Pineapple" - "amil"), presented shortly before to Z. Freud. There is also revenge on the patient Irma in the form of attributing unusual humility to her. The picture of the psychoanalytic interpretation is completed by the hint that Irma's suffering is explained by her widowhood, and this the author of psychoanalysis cannot change. And trimethylamine is a substance that, according to Wilhelm Fliess ("Otto"), is involved in "human sexual metabolism."

Of course, there are many options for interpreting this dream, like any other. For example, one can pay attention to the plot dynamics of a dream, it is accompanied by an increase and decrease in the level of Freud's anxiety in relation to what is happening in a dream in connection with the state of health of his patient (Irma), whom he sent for treatment to his friend Otto. The epicenter of psychological tension is mediated by the figure of the patient of Z. Freud and Otto (Fliess) - Irma. Given the symbolic nature of the objects of dreams, it can be assumed that Irma symbolizes something that causes anxiety in Z. Freud. At the same time, Irma must symbolize (unite) in herself pairs of conflicting intrapsychic forces, in particular, the conflict between the explicit male and repressed female passive attitude of Z. Freud himself. As a heavy smoker, Z. Freud suffered from a chronic ENT disease, as a result of which he underwent surgery in 1898 years old, and V. Fliss operated on him. Thus, it can be assumed that the image of Irma symbolizes both the psychological and somatic problems of Z. Freud, the latter causing the greatest anxiety (it was during this period that Z. Freud says that he suffers from a “strange illness” - periodic depression, fear of death, pain in the region of the heart, etc.). As the transition from the relationship with Irma as a whole object to the study of her larynx, anxiety probably reaches its maximum, since Z. Freud does not find the opportunity to conduct a study on his own, but resorts to the help of a doctor (!) M. The doctor has pronounced signs of soreness and weakness (which in reality he did not have).

Growing anxiety in connection with Irma's laryngeal disease leads to the appearance of a group of fellow doctors, with the help of which a diagnosis is established, which is not explicitly pronounced, but has a "simple" treatment - diarrhea characteristic of dysentery. Thus, the problem is solved and anxiety related to one's own health recedes into the background, since its cause is revealed. The new symbol that ends the plot of the dream is the syringe. In this case, unlike Irma, it is an inanimate, that is, devoid of emotions, an object that has obvious functionality, much more definite, predictable than the female psyche. Briefly, this dynamic can be described as a transition from treating your illness as an ordinary person (more precisely, a highly anxious woman) to treating her as a doctor, who is called upon to reduce the anxiety associated with the disease.

Approaches to the study of dreams in different schools of the psychoanalytic field differ only in terms of interpretation, the method of obtaining material based on free association itself remains unchanged.

In particular, when interpreting dreams, attention is drawn to several points. If several dreams occurred during the night, then they are all considered as parts of one big dream. Forgotten fragments may indicate a particular sensitivity of the dreamer to the content hidden behind them. A short preliminary and a long subsequent dream can relate to each other as a condition for the fulfillment and the fulfillment of a desire itself, or if the desire is forbidden in relation to someone, then a fragment with this person may first follow, followed by a fragment with the fulfillment of a desire in relation to another face. Sometimes in dreams, scenes of punishment precede scenes with the fulfillment of a forbidden desire. Symbolic fragments, if they do not provide associations, can be interpreted by the analyst to fill in the gaps in the latent content of the dream, but the level of their interpretation must always correspond to the level of the problems being worked on. So, at the initial stage of psychoanalysis, for example, when interpreting the plot of sending a close relative to the train, it is better to avoid signifying it as a death wish for a loved one, despite the obvious symbolic context. The interpretation of this plot as a wish to remove one of the close people from oneself will meet much less resistance.

The free associations obtained on the material of the dream may contain memories or give a new look at known facts in the patient's life, or be "empty" and, therefore, work to resist the return of forgotten impressions. In any case, the material obtained with their help must be included in the general psychological context of the patient, and one must follow the patient in his associations.

Summarizing what has been said, the psychoanalytic method of investigating dreams can be described as follows. After telling about the dream, the patient is asked to speak his associations about what he saw. The analyst perceives all the material with a certain amount of absent-mindedness, without trying to find any meaning in it. Then he singles out elements in the dream that, as a rule, do not give associations, but are clearly symbolic in the psychoanalytic sense. Comprehending the material obtained in free associations and summing it up with knowledge of the symbolism of dreams, the analyst offers a trial interpretation, the main vector of which is either the desires suppressed by the dreamer or repressed childhood memories. This is followed by work on clarifying and detailing the interpretation.

More than a hundred years have passed since the publication of Z. Freud's work "The Interpretation of Dreams". Psychological science has come a long way during this time, partly this also affected the psychology of dreams. Psychoanalytic theory has also evolved quite a bit. In particular, views on the nature of the ability to symbolize have received a certain development. Today it is no longer regarded as having an indisputably genetic character, but rather as a certain achievement on the path of development ego subject. In this regard, the theory of dreams was also significantly improved, for example, in terms of its applicability to the dreams of persons suffering from deeper mental disorders than neuroses associated with the so-called preoedipal period of child development. The inability to fully symbolize such patients leads to the fact that the dream ceases to fulfill its specific function of returning the repressed material to consciousness, and the dreams themselves become not symbolic, but quite real objects [8].

Of course, today some theoretical provisions of the classical psychoanalytic theory of dreams look by no means indisputable, but its practical side remains undoubtedly relevant and continues to form the core of psychoanalytic and a number of other types of psychotherapy.

1 Freud's idea of ​​a deep connection between a mental symptom and a dream was also confirmed experimentally. In particular, in the treatment of persons suffering from hysteria with hypnosis, Z. Freud revealed their tendency to reproduce their memories in reverse chronological order to their occurrence - from the latest to the earliest and, finally, traumatic, which led to the relief of the condition of such patients. Studies conducted at the East European Institute of Psychoanalysis in 2005–2008 showed that when constructing dreams, the sleeper also prefers to refer to his memories in reverse chronological order [5].
2 In psychoanalysis, "repression" is understood as a special kind of forgetting, which is not associated with the irrelevance of certain contents, but is caused by their incompatibility with the person's conscious ideas about himself or their character that traumatizes the psyche. The basis of such contents is formed by infantile traumatic experiences and various kinds of sexual or aggressive desires, or rather, the forms of their manifestation.

Dreams. Theories of dreams. What do we dream about the most?0001

In psychological science, a dream is defined as the subjective perception of images or emotions that arise in the mind of a person in a state of sleep. Psychologists have not yet come to a consensus on why we have dreams and what they mean.

We list here some of the most important theories of dreams.

"Science" of dreams

Believe it or not, scientists still don't know why or for what purpose people sleep!

Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory of Dreams

According to Freud, the content of our dreams is connected with the fulfillment of desires, dreams supposedly reflect our unconscious thoughts, motives and aspirations. In addition, the psychoanalyst argued that a person’s sexual instincts, suppressed by his consciousness, manifest themselves in dreams. In his famous book The Interpretation of Dreams, he distinguished two types of content in a dream:

1. Manifest (explicit) - real plots and images.

2. Latent (hidden) — hidden psychological meaning.

In interpreting dreams, Freud identified five separate processes in them that make latent desire acceptable to the ego:

  • Offset. Hidden desire in a dream appears in a different way.
  • Projection. The desire of the sleeper is transferred in a dream to another person.
  • Symbolization. In a dream, repressed thoughts and desires are played out or brought to life.
  • Thickening. Separate elements, connections and relationships are combined into a compressed, concentrated image, forming a single view.
  • Secondary processing. This is the final stage of the dream. Here, the discordant components are reorganized and presented in the form of a clear, understandable meaning.

Further research disproved Freud's position that the latent content of dreams is masked by the manifest, but his ideas greatly contributed to the interest of other scientists in the interpretation of dreams.

The Theory of Dreams by Carl Jung

Although Jung's thoughts and ideas about dreams largely coincided with the theory of Sigmund Freud, he believed that dreams not only express desires repressed by a person, but also reveal those parts of the psyche that are hidden during periods of wakefulness. Jung argued that dreams reflect the collective and personal unconscious, and in them there is a manifestation of various archetypes of unconscious thinking.

Activation and synthesis model

In 1977, psychologists Robert McCarley and Alan Hobson created the activation and synthesis model, according to which dreams are the result of physiological processes in the brain. Their theory is that during REM sleep, characterized by rapid eye movement, neural circuits in the brainstem are activated, which in turn activate parts of the limbic system that play an important role in the formation of memories, sensations and emotions. Next, the brain tries to make sense of this brain activity, as a result of which dreams arise.

The model of activation and synthesis was met with hostility by the world of psychology, especially by the supporters of Freud's teachings. By that time, many psychologists were trying to interpret the meaning hidden in dreams, and McCarley and Hobson suddenly declared that dreams are just the result of the brain's efforts to process its own activity.

However, McCarley and Hobson did not regard dreams as completely meaningless; in their view, dreams represent "the most creative conscious state" in which ideas are born - both wild and bizarre, and quite practical.

Hall's dream theory

Psychology professor Calvin Hall has developed a codification system in which every dream is a story. Hall argued that for the correct interpretation of dreams, a psychologist needs to have a number of information, in particular:

  • activities in which the sleeper took part;
  • all figures and objects present in the dream;
  • all interactions between the sleeper and other actors in his dream;
  • "scenery" of the dream;
  • transitions that take place in a dream;
  • final sleep.

Domhoff's Theory of Dreams

William Domhoff was a student of Calvin Hall; this scientist came to the conclusion that dreams are a reflection of the thoughts and problems of the real life of the sleeper. According to his theory, dreams are the result of neurological processes.

What do we most often dream of

The following lists the most common dream plots, as well as their likely interpretations according to Freud's theory.

1. Passing an exam for which you are not ready. It is not always in a dream that academic tests and exams are passed; the details of the dream vary depending on the personal qualities of the person. For example, an actor may dream that they forgot about an important audition or can't remember the words while standing on stage in front of an audience. Usually such dreams speak of a feeling of insecurity or symbolize the feeling that someone is judging or evaluating you.

2. Being naked or inappropriately dressed in public indicates feelings of shame or vulnerability.

3. Children often dream of being chased or attacked, and their dreams reflect physical rather than social fears. Because of their small size, children are more likely than adults to feel physically insecure and vulnerable. In adults, such dreams can indicate serious stress.

4. Falling from a height symbolizes a feeling of absolute stunnedness of a person by the current situation and a complete loss of control over it.

5. A dream in which a person is lost when moving, usually means that a person is confused and is trying to return something or find his way, but does not know how to do it.

6. Tooth loss symbolizes the feeling that you are not heard or seen by close people, or a feeling of aggression.

7. Natural disasters mean that personal problems have overcome a person so much that it seems to him that the situation is completely out of control.

8. Flying means the desire to avoid a situation or to get rid of it.

9. Death or injury often symbolizes some side of a person's daily life that has recently begun to show less, for example, personal relationships or some quality of character; this does not always mean that the sleeper is thinking about death.

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