In a process called psycho-analysis, Freud would look to his patients’ dreams to discover what was going on in the subconscious mind. Dreams that are pure wish-fulfilment can sometimes be straightforward and easy to analyse.
Freud and Dreams
However, dreams rich in symbolism are, according to Freud, a disguise by the unconscious so as not to ‘disturb’ the consciousness and wake the sleeper. Freud put forward the idea that the events and items in a dream are its “manifest content” while the hidden meanings of the dream are its “latent content.”
He suggested that the unconscious converts the latent content to manifest content through a process which he called ‘dream work’.
The Ego and the Superego Freud and Dreams
Freud believed that there is always conflict within a person because the ego is being pulled in opposite directions. There is one side of a person that wants immediate satisfaction but another side (the superego) which makes a person feel guilty to give in to his every need.
A dream, therefore, according to Freud is “a disguised fulfilment of a suppressed or repressed wish.” Some dreams are obvious wish-fulfilment and have no need for analysis. Others come to a person in symbols. Freud saw “displacement” as the role of symbols in a dream, where one thing would be substituted for another in order to fulfil suppressed desires.
Many of these desires, according to Freud, are sexual in nature. Below are examples of some symbols, and the objects they stand for:
Symbol and Latent Meaning
- House – Human Body
- House with ledges and balconies – Female Body
- King and Queen – Parents
- Children – Genitals
- Small Animals – Children
- Elongated objects (snakes, guns etc) – Penis
- Balloon, aeroplane – Erection
- Box – Uterus
- Fruit – Breast
- Climbing stairs/ladders – Sexual intercourse
- Bath – Birth
Freud believed that the unconsciousness was basically centred around sexual energies and this is why he placed so much emphasis on dream symbols in terms of hidden sexual content.
It must however be remembered that many of Freud’s patients were middle-class (generally neurotic) Victorian women where sexual repression would have been a major feature of their everyday life.
Analysing Dreams Freudian-Style
It was Freud’s own personal experiences and his research with his patients which helped him develop his theories. And therefore, his suggested links between symbolism and sexual desire may well have been appropriate for his patients, in the time in which they lived, but they may not always hold true today.
To analyse a dream, Freudian-style, it would be necessary to take each feature separately to decide what it might mean in relation to the life experience of the dreamer and to his or her wishes in relation to it.
Hume, L “Ancestral Power: The Dreaming, Consciousness and Aboriginal Australians” (Melbourne University Press (2002))
Freud, S, “The Interpretation of Dreams” (Avon Books (1983