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The Method of Dream Interpretation - 3

The next step was to treat the dream itself as a symptom, and to apply to it the method of interpretation which had been worked out for such symptoms.

5. After the completion of my manuscript, a paper by Stumpf came to my notice which agrees with my work in attempting to prove that the dream is full of meaning and capable of interpretation. But the interpretation is undertaken by means of an allegorising symbolism, and there is no guarantee that the procedure is generally applicable.

6.Selected papers on hysteria and other Psychoneuroses. Monagraph series, Journ, of Nervous and Mental Diseases.

For this a certain psychic preparation on the part of the patirnt is necessary. A twofold effort is made, to stimulate his attentiveness in respect of his psychic perceptions, and to eliminate the critical spirit in which he is ordinarily in the habit of viewing such thoughts as come to the surface. For the purpose of self observation with concentrated attention it is advantageous that the patient  should take up a restful position and close his eyes; he must explicitly instructed to renounce all criticism of the thought formations which he may perceive. He must also be told that the success of the psychoanalysis depends upon his noting and communicating everything that passes through his mind, and that he must not allow himself to supress one idea because it seems to him unimportant or irrelevant to the subject, or another because it seems nonsensical.

He must preserve an absolute impartiality in respect to his idea; for if he is successful in finding the desired solution of the dream, the obsessional idea, or the like, it will be because he permits himself to be critical of them.

I have noticed in the course of my psychoanalytical work that the psychological state of man is an attitude of reflection is entirely different from that of man who is observing his psychic processes. In reflection there is a greater play of psychic activitythan in the most attentive self-observation; this is shown even by the tense attitude and the wrinkled brow of the man in a state of reflection, as opposed to the mimic tranquillity of the man observing himself.

In both cases there must be concentrated attention, but the reflective man makes use of his critical faculties, with the result that he rejects some of the thoughts which rise into consciousness after he has become aware of them, and abruptly interrupts others, so that he does not follow the lines of thought which they would otherwise open up for him; while in respect of yet other thoughts he is able to behave in such a manner that they do not become conscious at all - that is to say, they are supressed before they are perceived.In self-observation, on the other-hand, he has but one task - that of suppressing criticism; if he succeeds in doing this, an unlimited number of thoughts enter his consciousness-which would otherwise have eluded his grasp.  

With the aid of the material thus obtained - material which is new to the self-observer - it is possible to achieve the interpretation of pathological ideas, and also that of dream-formations. As will be seen, the point is to induce a psychic state which is in some degree analogous, as regards the distribution of psychic energy (mobile attention), to the state of mind before falling asleep - and also, of course, to the hypnotic state. On falling asleep the 'undesired ideas' emerge, owing to the slackening of a certain arbitrary (and, of course, also critical) action, which is allowed to influence the trend of our ideas; we are accustomed to speak of fatigue as the reasons  of this slackening; the merging undesired ideas are changed into visual and auditory images. In the condition which it utilised for the analysis of dreams and pathological ideas, this activity is purposely and deliberately renounced, and the psychic energy thus saved (or some parts of it) is employed in attentively tracking the undesired thoughts which now come to the surface - thoughts which the state of falling asleep). 'Undesired ideas' are thus changed into 'desired' ones.

There are many people who do not seem to find it easy to adopt the required attitude toward the apparently 'freely rising' ideas, and to renounce the ctiticism which is otherwise applied to them. The 'undesired ideas' habitually evoke the most violent resistance,which seeks to prevent them from coming to the surface. But if we may credit our great poet-philosopher Fredrich Schiller, the essential condition of poetical creation includes a very similar attitude. 


In a certain passage in his correspondence  with Korner(for the tracing of which we are indebted to Otto Rank), Schiller replies in the following words to a friend who complains of his lack of creative power." The reason for your complaint lies, it seems to me, in the constraint which your intellect imposes upon your imagination. Here I will make an observation, and illustrate it by an allogry. Apparently it is not good - and indeed it hinders the creative work of the mind - if the intellect examines too closely the ideas already pouring in, as it were, at the gates. 

Regarded in isolation, an idea may be quite insignificant, and venturesome in the extreme, but it may acquire importance from an idea which follows it; perhaps; in a certain collocation with other ideas, which may seem equally absurd, it may be capable of furnishing a very serviceable link. The intellect cannot judge all these ideas unless it can retain them until it has considered them in connection with these other ideas. In the case of a creative-mind, it seems to me, the intellect has withdrawn its watches from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it review and inspect the multitude.

You worthy critics, or whatever you may call yourselves, are ashamed or afraid of the momentary and passing madness in which distinguishes the thinking artist from the dreamer. Hence your complaints of unfruitfulness, for you reject too soon and discriminate too severely' (letter of December 1, 17880. And yet, such a withdrawal of the watchers from the gates of the intellect, as Schiller puts it, such a translation into the condition of uncritical self-observation, is by no means difficult. Most of my patients accomplish it after my first instructions. I myself can do so very completely, if I assist the process  by writing down the ideas that flash through my mind. The quantum of psychic energy by which the critical activity is thus reduced, and by which the intensity of self-observation may be increased, varies considerably according to the subject-matter upon which the attention is to be fixed.

The first step in the application of this procedure teaches us that one cannot make the dream as a whole the objects of one's attention, but only the individual components of its content. if I ask a patient who is as yet unpractised: 'What occurs to you in connection with this dream? he is unable, as a rule, to fix upon anything in his psychic field of vision. I must first dissect the dream for him; then, in connection with each fragment, he gives me a number of ideas which may be described  as the 'thoughts behind' this part of the dream.In this first important condition, then, the method of dream-interpretation which I employ diverges from the popular, historical and legendary method of interpretation by symbolism and approaches more nearly to the second or 'cipher method'. Like this, it is an interpretation in detail, not en masse;like this, it conceives the dream, from the outset, as something built up, as a conglomerate of psychic formations.

In the course of my psychoanalysis of neurotics I have already subjected perhaps more than a thousand dreams to interpretation, but I do not wish to use this material now as an introduction to the theory and techique of dream-interpretation. For quite apart from the fact that I should lay myself open tom the objection that these are the dreams of neuropaths, so that the dreams of healthy persons, ther is another reason that impels me to reject them. The theme to which these dreams point is, of course, always the history of the malady that is responsible for the neurosis. Hence every dream would require a very long introduction, and an investigation of the nature and etiological conditions of the psychoneuroses, matters which are in themselves novel and exceedingly strange,and which would therefore distract attention from the dream-problem proper. My purpose is rather to prepare the way, by the solution of the dream-problem, for the solution of the more difficult problems of the psychology of the neurosis.

Reference: The Interpretation of Dreams: Freud

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