Dream Psychology – Psychoanalysis for Beginners – By: Sigmund Freud

Chapter I – Dreams Have A Meaning

In what we may term “prescientific days” people were in no uncertainty
about the interpretation of dreams. When they were recalled after
awakening they were regarded as either the friendly or hostile
manifestation of some higher powers, demoniacal and Divine. With the
rise of scientific thought the whole of this expressive mythology was
transferred to psychology; to-day there is but a small minority among
educated persons who doubt that the dream is the dreamer’s own psychical

But since the downfall of the mythological hypothesis an interpretation
of the dream has been wanting. The conditions of its origin; its
relationship to our psychical life when we are awake; its independence
of disturbances which, during the state of sleep, seem to compel notice;
its many peculiarities repugnant to our waking thought; the incongruence
between its images and the feelings they engender; then the dream’s
evanescence, the way in which, on awakening, our thoughts thrust it
aside as something bizarre, and our reminiscences mutilating or
rejecting it–all these and many other problems have for many hundred
years demanded answers which up till now could never have been
satisfactory. Before all there is the question as to the meaning of the
dream, a question which is in itself double-sided. There is, firstly,
the psychical significance of the dream, its position with regard to the
psychical processes, as to a possible biological function; secondly, has
the dream a meaning–can sense be made of each single dream as of other
mental syntheses?

Three tendencies can be observed in the estimation of dreams. Many
philosophers have given currency to one of these tendencies, one which
at the same time preserves something of the dream’s former
over-valuation. The foundation of dream life is for them a peculiar
state of psychical activity, which they even celebrate as elevation to
some higher state. Schubert, for instance, claims: “The dream is the
liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a
detachment of the soul from the fetters of matter.” Not all go so far as
this, but many maintain that dreams have their origin in real spiritual
excitations, and are the outward manifestations of spiritual powers
whose free movements have been hampered during the day (“Dream
Phantasies,” Scherner, Volkelt). A large number of observers acknowledge
that dream life is capable of extraordinary achievements–at any rate,
in certain fields (“Memory”).

In striking contradiction with this the majority of medical writers
hardly admit that the dream is a psychical phenomenon at all. According
to them dreams are provoked and initiated exclusively by stimuli
proceeding from the senses or the body, which either reach the sleeper
from without or are accidental disturbances of his internal organs. The
dream has no greater claim to meaning and importance than the sound
called forth by the ten fingers of a person quite unacquainted with
music running his fingers over the keys of an instrument. The dream is
to be regarded, says Binz, “as a physical process always useless,
frequently morbid.” All the peculiarities of dream life are explicable
as the incoherent effort, due to some physiological stimulus, of certain
organs, or of the cortical elements of a brain otherwise asleep.

But slightly affected by scientific opinion and untroubled as to the
origin of dreams, the popular view holds firmly to the belief that
dreams really have got a meaning, in some way they do foretell the
future, whilst the meaning can be unravelled in some way or other from
its oft bizarre and enigmatical content. The reading of dreams consists
in replacing the events of the dream, so far as remembered, by other
events. This is done either scene by scene, _according to some rigid
key_, or the dream as a whole is replaced by something else of which it
was a _symbol_. Serious-minded persons laugh at these efforts–“Dreams
are but sea-foam!”

One day I discovered to my amazement that the popular view grounded in
superstition, and not the medical one, comes nearer to the truth about
dreams. I arrived at new conclusions about dreams by the use of a new
method of psychological investigation, one which had rendered me good
service in the investigation of phobias, obsessions, illusions, and the
like, and which, under the name “psycho-analysis,” had found acceptance
by a whole school of investigators. The manifold analogies of dream life
with the most diverse conditions of psychical disease in the waking
state have been rightly insisted upon by a number of medical observers.
It seemed, therefore, _a priori_, hopeful to apply to the interpretation
of dreams methods of investigation which had been tested in
psychopathological processes. Obsessions and those peculiar sensations
of haunting dread remain as strange to normal consciousness as do
dreams to our waking consciousness; their origin is as unknown to
consciousness as is that of dreams. It was practical ends that impelled
us, in these diseases, to fathom their origin and formation. Experience
had shown us that a cure and a consequent mastery of the obsessing ideas
did result when once those thoughts, the connecting links between the
morbid ideas and the rest of the psychical content, were revealed which
were heretofore veiled from consciousness. The procedure I employed for
the interpretation of dreams thus arose from psychotherapy.

This procedure is readily described, although its practice demands
instruction and experience. Suppose the patient is suffering from
intense morbid dread. He is requested to direct his attention to the
idea in question, without, however, as he has so frequently done,
meditating upon it. Every impression about it, without any exception,
which occurs to him should be imparted to the doctor. The statement
which will be perhaps then made, that he cannot concentrate his
attention upon anything at all, is to be countered by assuring him most
positively that such a blank state of mind is utterly impossible. As a
matter of fact, a great number of impressions will soon occur, with
which others will associate themselves. These will be invariably
accompanied by the expression of the observer’s opinion that they have
no meaning or are unimportant. It will be at once noticed that it is
this self-criticism which prevented the patient from imparting the
ideas, which had indeed already excluded them from consciousness. If the
patient can be induced to abandon this self-criticism and to pursue the
trains of thought which are yielded by concentrating the attention, most
significant matter will be obtained, matter which will be presently seen
to be clearly linked to the morbid idea in question. Its connection with
other ideas will be manifest, and later on will permit the replacement
of the morbid idea by a fresh one, which is perfectly adapted to
psychical continuity.

This is not the place to examine thoroughly the hypothesis upon which
this experiment rests, or the deductions which follow from its
invariable success. It must suffice to state that we obtain matter
enough for the resolution of every morbid idea if we especially direct
our attention to the _unbidden_ associations _which disturb our
thoughts_–those which are otherwise put aside by the critic as
worthless refuse. If the procedure is exercised on oneself, the best
plan of helping the experiment is to write down at once all one’s first
indistinct fancies.

I will now point out where this method leads when I apply it to the
examination of dreams. Any dream could be made use of in this way. From
certain motives I, however, choose a dream of my own, which appears
confused and meaningless to my memory, and one which has the advantage
of brevity. Probably my dream of last night satisfies the requirements.
Its content, fixed immediately after awakening, runs as follows:

_”Company; at table or table d’hôte…. Spinach is served. Mrs. E.L.,
sitting next to me, gives me her undivided attention, and places her
hand familiarly upon my knee. In defence I remove her hand. Then she
says: ‘But you have always had such beautiful eyes.’…. I then
distinctly see something like two eyes as a sketch or as the contour of
a spectacle lens….”_

This is the whole dream, or, at all events, all that I can remember. It
appears to me not only obscure and meaningless, but more especially odd.
Mrs. E.L. is a person with whom I am scarcely on visiting terms, nor to
my knowledge have I ever desired any more cordial relationship. I have
not seen her for a long time, and do not think there was any mention of
her recently. No emotion whatever accompanied the dream process.

Reflecting upon this dream does not make it a bit clearer to my mind. I
will now, however, present the ideas, without premeditation and without
criticism, which introspection yielded. I soon notice that it is an
advantage to break up the dream into its elements, and to search out the
ideas which link themselves to each fragment.

_Company; at table or table d’hôte._ The recollection of the slight
event with which the evening of yesterday ended is at once called up. I
left a small party in the company of a friend, who offered to drive me
home in his cab. “I prefer a taxi,” he said; “that gives one such a
pleasant occupation; there is always something to look at.” When we were
in the cab, and the cab-driver turned the disc so that the first sixty
hellers were visible, I continued the jest. “We have hardly got in and
we already owe sixty hellers. The taxi always reminds me of the table
d’hôte. It makes me avaricious and selfish by continuously reminding me
of my debt. It seems to me to mount up too quickly, and I am always
afraid that I shall be at a disadvantage, just as I cannot resist at
table d’hôte the comical fear that I am getting too little, that I must
look after myself.” In far-fetched connection with this I quote:

“To earth, this weary earth, ye bring us,
To guilt ye let us heedless go.”

Another idea about the table d’hôte. A few weeks ago I was very cross
with my dear wife at the dinner-table at a Tyrolese health resort,
because she was not sufficiently reserved with some neighbors with whom
I wished to have absolutely nothing to do. I begged her to occupy
herself rather with me than with the strangers. That is just as if I had
_been at a disadvantage at the table d’hôte_. The contrast between the
behavior of my wife at the table and that of Mrs. E.L. in the dream now
strikes me: _”Addresses herself entirely to me.”_

Further, I now notice that the dream is the reproduction of a little
scene which transpired between my wife and myself when I was secretly
courting her. The caressing under cover of the tablecloth was an answer
to a wooer’s passionate letter. In the dream, however, my wife is
replaced by the unfamiliar E.L.

Mrs. E.L. is the daughter of a man to whom I _owed money_! I cannot help
noticing that here there is revealed an unsuspected connection between
the dream content and my thoughts. If the chain of associations be
followed up which proceeds from one element of the dream one is soon led
back to another of its elements. The thoughts evoked by the dream stir
up associations which were not noticeable in the dream itself.

Is it not customary, when some one expects others to look after his
interests without any advantage to themselves, to ask the innocent
question satirically: “Do you think this will be done _for the sake of
your beautiful eyes_?” Hence Mrs. E.L.’s speech in the dream. “You have
always had such beautiful eyes,” means nothing but “people always do
everything to you for love of you; you have had _everything for
nothing_.” The contrary is, of course, the truth; I have always paid
dearly for whatever kindness others have shown me. Still, the fact that
_I had a ride for nothing_ yesterday when my friend drove me home in his
cab must have made an impression upon me.

In any case, the friend whose guests we were yesterday has often made me
his debtor. Recently I allowed an opportunity of requiting him to go by.
He has had only one present from me, an antique shawl, upon which eyes
are painted all round, a so-called Occhiale, as a _charm_ against the
_Malocchio_. Moreover, he is an _eye specialist_. That same evening I
had asked him after a patient whom I had sent to him for _glasses_.

As I remarked, nearly all parts of the dream have been brought into this
new connection. I still might ask why in the dream it was _spinach_
that was served up. Because spinach called up a little scene which
recently occurred at our table. A child, whose _beautiful eyes_ are
really deserving of praise, refused to eat spinach. As a child I was
just the same; for a long time I loathed _spinach_, until in later life
my tastes altered, and it became one of my favorite dishes. The mention
of this dish brings my own childhood and that of my child’s neartogether.
“You should be glad that you have some spinach,” his mother
had said to the little gourmet. “Some children would be very glad to get
spinach.” Thus I am reminded of the parents’ duties towards their
children. Goethe’s words–

“To earth, this weary earth, ye bring us,
To guilt ye let us heedless go”–

take on another meaning in this connection.

Here I will stop in order that I may recapitulate the results of the
analysis of the dream. By following the associations which were linked
to the single elements of the dream torn from their context, I have been
led to a series of thoughts and reminiscences where I am bound to
recognize interesting expressions of my psychical life. The matter
yielded by an analysis of the dream stands in intimate relationship with
the dream content, but this relationship is so special that I should
never have been able to have inferred the new discoveries directly from
the dream itself. The dream was passionless, disconnected, and
unintelligible. During the time that I am unfolding the thoughts at the
back of the dream I feel intense and well-grounded emotions. The
thoughts themselves fit beautifully together into chains logically bound
together with certain central ideas which ever repeat themselves. Such
ideas not represented in the dream itself are in this instance the
antitheses _selfish, unselfish, to be indebted, to work for nothing_. I
could draw closer the threads of the web which analysis has disclosed,
and would then be able to show how they all run together into a single
knot; I am debarred from making this work public by considerations of a
private, not of a scientific, nature. After having cleared up many
things which I do not willingly acknowledge as mine, I should have much
to reveal which had better remain my secret. Why, then, do not I choose
another dream whose analysis would be more suitable for publication, so
that I could awaken a fairer conviction of the sense and cohesion of the
results disclosed by analysis? The answer is, because every dream which
I investigate leads to the same difficulties and places me under the
same need of discretion; nor should I forgo this difficulty any the
more were I to analyze the dream of some one else. That could only be
done when opportunity allowed all concealment to be dropped without
injury to those who trusted me.

The conclusion which is now forced upon me is that the dream is a _sort
of substitution_ for those emotional and intellectual trains of thought
which I attained after complete analysis. I do not yet know the process
by which the dream arose from those thoughts, but I perceive that it is
wrong to regard the dream as psychically unimportant, a purely physical
process which has arisen from the activity of isolated cortical elements
awakened out of sleep.

I must further remark that the dream is far shorter than the thoughts
which I hold it replaces; whilst analysis discovered that the dream was
provoked by an unimportant occurrence the evening before the dream.

Naturally, I would not draw such far-reaching conclusions if only one
analysis were known to me. Experience has shown me that when the
associations of any dream are honestly followed such a chain of thought
is revealed, the constituent parts of the dream reappear correctly and
sensibly linked together; the slight suspicion that this concatenation
was merely an accident of a single first observation must, therefore,
be absolutely relinquished. I regard it, therefore, as my right to
establish this new view by a proper nomenclature. I contrast the dream
which my memory evokes with the dream and other added matter revealed by
analysis: the former I call the dream’s _manifest content_; the latter,
without at first further subdivision, its _latent content_. I arrive at
two new problems hitherto unformulated: (1) What is the psychical
process which has transformed the latent content of the dream into its
manifest content? (2) What is the motive or the motives which have made
such transformation exigent? The process by which the change from latent
to manifest content is executed I name the _dream-work_. In contrast
with this is the _work of analysis_, which produces the reverse
transformation. The other problems of the dream–the inquiry as to its
stimuli, as to the source of its materials, as to its possible purpose,
the function of dreaming, the forgetting of dreams–these I will discuss
in connection with the latent dream-content.

I shall take every care to avoid a confusion between the _manifest_ and
the _latent content_, for I ascribe all the contradictory as well as the
incorrect accounts of dream-life to the ignorance of this latent
content, now first laid bare through analysis.

The conversion of the latent dream thoughts into those manifest deserves
our close study as the first known example of the transformation of
psychical stuff from one mode of expression into another. From a mode of
expression which, moreover, is readily intelligible into another which
we can only penetrate by effort and with guidance, although this new
mode must be equally reckoned as an effort of our own psychical
activity. From the standpoint of the relationship of latent to manifest
dream-content, dreams can be divided into three classes. We can, in the
first place, distinguish those dreams which have a _meaning_ and are, at
the same time, _intelligible_, which allow us to penetrate into our
psychical life without further ado. Such dreams are numerous; they are
usually short, and, as a general rule, do not seem very noticeable,
because everything remarkable or exciting surprise is absent. Their
occurrence is, moreover, a strong argument against the doctrine which
derives the dream from the isolated activity of certain cortical
elements. All signs of a lowered or subdivided psychical activity are
wanting. Yet we never raise any objection to characterizing them as
dreams, nor do we confound them with the products of our waking life.

A second group is formed by those dreams which are indeed self-coherent
and have a distinct meaning, but appear strange because we are unable to
reconcile their meaning with our mental life. That is the case when we
dream, for instance, that some dear relative has died of plague when we
know of no ground for expecting, apprehending, or assuming anything of
the sort; we can only ask ourself wonderingly: “What brought that into
my head?” To the third group those dreams belong which are void of both
meaning and intelligibility; they are _incoherent, complicated, and
meaningless_. The overwhelming number of our dreams partake of this
character, and this has given rise to the contemptuous attitude towards
dreams and the medical theory of their limited psychical activity. It is
especially in the longer and more complicated dream-plots that signs of
incoherence are seldom missing.

The contrast between manifest and latent dream-content is clearly only
of value for the dreams of the second and more especially for those of
the third class. Here are problems which are only solved when the
manifest dream is replaced by its latent content; it was an example of
this kind, a complicated and unintelligible dream, that we subjected to
analysis. Against our expectation we, however, struck upon reasons which
prevented a complete cognizance of the latent dream thought. On the
repetition of this same experience we were forced to the supposition
that there is an _intimate bond, with laws of its own, between the
unintelligible and complicated nature of the dream and the difficulties
attending communication of the thoughts connected with the dream_.
Before investigating the nature of this bond, it will be advantageous to
turn our attention to the more readily intelligible dreams of the first
class where, the manifest and latent content being identical, the dream
work seems to be omitted.

The investigation of these dreams is also advisable from another
standpoint. The dreams of _children_ are of this nature; they have a
meaning, and are not bizarre. This, by the way, is a further objection
to reducing dreams to a dissociation of cerebral activity in sleep, for
why should such a lowering of psychical functions belong to the nature
of sleep in adults, but not in children? We are, however, fully
justified in expecting that the explanation of psychical processes in
children, essentially simplified as they may be, should serve as an
indispensable preparation towards the psychology of the adult.

I shall therefore cite some examples of dreams which I have gathered
from children. A girl of nineteen months was made to go without food
for a day because she had been sick in the morning, and, according to
nurse, had made herself ill through eating strawberries. During the
night, after her day of fasting, she was heard calling out her name
during sleep, and adding: “_Tawberry, eggs, pap_.” She is dreaming that
she is eating, and selects out of her menu exactly what she supposes she
will not get much of just now.

The same kind of dream about a forbidden dish was that of a little boy
of twenty-two months. The day before he was told to offer his uncle a
present of a small basket of cherries, of which the child was, of
course, only allowed one to taste. He woke up with the joyful news:
“Hermann eaten up all the cherries.”

A girl of three and a half years had made during the day a sea trip
which was too short for her, and she cried when she had to get out of
the boat. The next morning her story was that during the night she had
been on the sea, thus continuing the interrupted trip.

A boy of five and a half years was not at all pleased with his party
during a walk in the Dachstein region. Whenever a new peak came into
sight he asked if that were the Dachstein, and, finally, refused to
accompany the party to the waterfall. His behavior was ascribed to
fatigue; but a better explanation was forthcoming when the next morning
he told his dream: _he had ascended the Dachstein_. Obviously he
expected the ascent of the Dachstein to be the object of the excursion,
and was vexed by not getting a glimpse of the mountain. The dream gave
him what the day had withheld. The dream of a girl of six was similar;
her father had cut short the walk before reaching the promised objective
on account of the lateness of the hour. On the way back she noticed a
signpost giving the name of another place for excursions; her father
promised to take her there also some other day. She greeted her father
next day with the news that she had dreamt that _her father had been
with her to both places_.

What is common in all these dreams is obvious. They completely satisfy
wishes excited during the day which remain unrealized. They are simply
and undisguisedly realizations of wishes.

The following child-dream, not quite understandable at first sight, is
nothing else than a wish realized. On account of poliomyelitis a girl,
not quite four years of age, was brought from the country into town, and
remained over night with a childless aunt in a big–for her, naturally,
huge–bed. The next morning she stated that she had dreamt that _the
bed was much too small for her, so that she could find no place in it_.
To explain this dream as a wish is easy when we remember that to be
“big” is a frequently expressed wish of all children. The bigness of the
bed reminded Miss Little-Would-be-Big only too forcibly of her
smallness. This nasty situation became righted in her dream, and she
grew so big that the bed now became too small for her.

Even when children’s dreams are complicated and polished, their
comprehension as a realization of desire is fairly evident. A boy of
eight dreamt that he was being driven with Achilles in a war-chariot,
guided by Diomedes. The day before he was assiduously reading about
great heroes. It is easy to show that he took these heroes as his
models, and regretted that he was not living in those days.

From this short collection a further characteristic of the dreams of
children is manifest–_their connection with the life of the day_. The
desires which are realized in these dreams are left over from the day
or, as a rule, the day previous, and the feeling has become intently
emphasized and fixed during the day thoughts. Accidental and indifferent
matters, or what must appear so to the child, find no acceptance in the
contents of the dream.

Innumerable instances of such dreams of the infantile type can be found
among adults also, but, as mentioned, these are mostly exactly like the
manifest content. Thus, a random selection of persons will generally
respond to thirst at night-time with a dream about drinking, thus
striving to get rid of the sensation and to let sleep continue. Many
persons frequently have these comforting _dreams_ before waking, just
when they are called. They then dream that they are already up, that
they are washing, or already in school, at the office, etc., where they
ought to be at a given time. The night before an intended journey one
not infrequently dreams that one has already arrived at the destination;
before going to a play or to a party the dream not infrequently
anticipates, in impatience, as it were, the expected pleasure. At other
times the dream expresses the realization of the desire somewhat
indirectly; some connection, some sequel must be known–the first step
towards recognizing the desire. Thus, when a husband related to me the
dream of his young wife, that her monthly period had begun, I had to
bethink myself that the young wife would have expected a pregnancy if
the period had been absent. The dream is then a sign of pregnancy. Its
meaning is that it shows the wish realized that pregnancy should not
occur just yet. Under unusual and extreme circumstances, these dreams
of the infantile type become very frequent. The leader of a polar
expedition tells us, for instance, that during the wintering amid the
ice the crew, with their monotonous diet and slight rations, dreamt
regularly, like children, of fine meals, of mountains of tobacco, and of

It is not uncommon that out of some long, complicated and intricate
dream one specially lucid part stands out containing unmistakably the
realization of a desire, but bound up with much unintelligible matter.
On more frequently analyzing the seemingly more transparent dreams of
adults, it is astonishing to discover that these are rarely as simple as
the dreams of children, and that they cover another meaning beyond that
of the realization of a wish.

It would certainly be a simple and convenient solution of the riddle if
the work of analysis made it at all possible for us to trace the
meaningless and intricate dreams of adults back to the infantile type,
to the realization of some intensely experienced desire of the day. But
there is no warrant for such an expectation. Their dreams are generally
full of the most indifferent and bizarre matter, and no trace of the
realization of the wish is to be found in their content.

Before leaving these infantile dreams, which are obviously unrealized
desires, we must not fail to mention another chief characteristic of
dreams, one that has been long noticed, and one which stands out most
clearly in this class. I can replace any of these dreams by a phrase
expressing a desire. If the sea trip had only lasted longer; if I were
only washed and dressed; if I had only been allowed to keep the cherries
instead of giving them to my uncle. But the dream gives something more
than the choice, for here the desire is already realized; its
realization is real and actual. The dream presentations consist chiefly,
if not wholly, of scenes and mainly of visual sense images. Hence a kind
of transformation is not entirely absent in this class of dreams, and
this may be fairly designated as the dream work. _An idea merely
existing in the region of possibility is replaced by a vision of its

–End of Chapter 1–

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