Freud brought back the idea of dreams
when society had lost all respect for them. In the early
part of the 19th century, dream interpretation had fallen
out of fashion, and almost no one practiced this art
seriously. This was the time when the "rational"
was given almost total dominance over our other abilities
and dreams were thought to have no meaning atall, and
to be simply the result of a heavy meal before bedtime,
noises heard in the night and other trivial causes.
Now while it is true that all of these things can effect
our dreams, it is certainly not true that that is all
there is to dreams!
By the latter part of the 19th century, however,
Sigmund Freud would revolutionize
the world of dream interpretation with his radical
new ideas incorporating dreams and deep seated childhood
Born in 1865, Freud revolutionized the world of
psychiatry and dream interpretation with his work “The
Interpretation of Dreams”. Freud started to analyze
the dreams of his patients, and he used this dream analysis
to diagnose and treat their psychiatric ills.
Freud also studied dreams as a way to understand
certain aspects of the personality, especially those
aspects that lead to psychological problems and disorders.
He believed that nothing human beings did, happened
by chance, and that every action, no matter how small
or seemingly trivial, was at some level motivated by
the unconscious mind.
In order for a civilized, modern society to function,
certain primal needs and desires must be repressed,
and Freud’s theory was that
these repressed urges and desires were released by the
unconscious during dream sleep.
To Freud dreams were a direct connection to the unconscious
mind, and he studied that connection through the interpretation
of symbols found in dreams. Hebelieved that with
the conscious mind acts as a guard on the unconscious,
preventing certain repressed feelings from coming to
the surface. During sleep, however, this conscious
guard is absent, and the subconscious mind is free to
run wild and express its most hidden desires.
Freud was especially interested in the sexual content
of dreams, and he often saw ordinary objects in dreams
as representations of sexual desire. To him, every
long, slender item encountered in a dream, from a knife
to a flagpole, was a phallic image, while any receptacle
such as a bowl or vase, represented the female genitalia.
Freud believed in five stages
of personality, and he saw dreams as manifestations
of desired stemming from each of these five stages.
To him, personality formation consisted of:
Stage One – Oral/Dependency
This is our earliest time in life when we are totally
dependent on our caretaker and when we explore the world
through our muth, when feeding and by exploring objects.
Anyone who knows very young children will be aware
that everything goes into their mouths! Freud’s theory
was that we need satisfaction in each of these stages and
therefore any needs not satisfied during the oral/dependency
stage would cause the person to go through life trying
to meet them. Thus, to Freud, habits such as overeating,
drinking to much and smoking were all oral fixations.
People suffering from these oral fixations often
dreamed about their unmet needs and desires.
Stage Two – Anal/Potty Training
Freud believed that to a young child the contents
of their potty (or nappy) were very important. It
was something they themselves had produced and felt
to the child like a gift from him or her. He therfore
felt great care should be taken with potty training.
Freud held that improper potty
training could traumatize a child, and cause him or
her to become anal retentive, rigid and controlling.
Such traumatized children might develop obsessive
compulsive disorders as well and this might be seen
by recurring dreams of being out of control, such as
dreams of falling.
Stage Three – Phallic Stage
According to Freud, the personality is completely
developed by the time stage three rolls around. The
third stage of personality is identified with the Oedipus
and Electra complexes. The Oedipus complex represents
the love a male child feels toward the mother, coupled
with fear and jealousy of the male parent. The
Electra complex is the female version of Oedipus, in
which the female child feels anger toward the mother
and develops “penis envy”. Jeffrey Masson has written
a credible and interesting book The
Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory in which he
argues well that Freud's theory here came after he had
realised that many of his patients had sufered from
incest and had tried to get this publicly known, but
society, particularly his peers would not accept this.
He believes Freud was in danger of being shunned
and found this intollerable and so gave up on the truth
of incest he had discovered and chose instead
to believe that girls and women were jealous of boy's
and men's penis's.
Stage Four – Latent Stage
Unlike the other stages, the latency period is a
time of relative calm. During this stage, the
aggression and sexual urges are less intense, and little
psychosexual conflict is exhibited. This is during the
years that most children have been 'conditioned' into
the society in which they were born and have not yet
Stage Five – Genital Stage
The genital stage is the period of sexual maturity
and the creation and enhancement of life. It is
where reproduction, intellectual activity and artistic
pursuits take place.
Freud believed that wish
fulfillment was the source of dreams, and that
dreamers used dreams as a way to satisfy the fixations
they had developed during childhood. Issues like power
and control frequently manifested themselves in dreams.
The central part of Freud’s dream theory was that
thoughts and desires repressed during the day were free
to run wild during the dream stage.
Freud believed that what is hidden in the unconscious
tends to be the nasty parts of ourselves. Jung
never believed this and went on to develop a system
of understanding dreams rich in symbolism.
Since Freud’s death, many have criticized him for
seeing sexual motivation behind every dream object.
Many have pointed out that Freud was born into
the sexually repressed Victorian era, and his preoccupation
with sexual matters could have been as much a product
of the times in which he lived as a valid scientific
theory. Even so, many of Freud’s dream interpretations
have proven to have substance and are still used by
some psychologists and dream researchers today. With
Freud it is easy to see his flaws but we need to take
care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater as
there also was a great deal of intelligence and insight
in his work. For an excellent book on Freud see
and Limitations of Freud's Work by Erich Fromm and for a fuller understanding
of him see our article on Freud
and the Unconscious and visit Sigmund Freud - Life and Work