The Freud Museum


An Evidential Dream (1913)

A patient of Freud's who suffered from 'doubting mania' and obsessive ceremonials interpreted a dream of her nurse to prove that the nurse had fallen asleep the previous evening when she was supposed to be looking after her. The dream involves the nurse losing a child that was entrusted to her, but waking up feeling reassured that the child would turn up all right in a neighbours house.

Freud ignores the obviously tendentious nature of this interpretation, and praises his patients psychological acuity before he begins his own additions to the process.

"I think we must credit the lady with having correctly interpreted and evaluated her nurses dream. As so often happens with dream- interpretation during analysis, the translation of the dream does not depend solely on the products of association, but we have also to take into account the circumstances of its narration, the behaviour of the dreamer before and after the analysis of the dream, as well as every remark or disclosure made by the dreamer at about the same time - during the same analytic session. " With all this we shall confirm the conclusion that the dream contained an admission that , despite her denial, the nurse had actually dosed off, and was afraid she would be dismissed because of it.

For the patient this dream had practical significance, but for us it stimulates theoretical interest. "How does it come about that a dream, which is after all supposed to serve as the fulfillment of a wish, could take the place of an admission which was not even of any advantage to the dreamer? Must we really concede that in addition to wishful (and anxiety) dreams, there are also dreams of admission, as well as of warning, reflection, adaptation, and so on?"

I must confess, I don't know what all the fuss is about. "The so-called 'day's residues' can act as disturbers of sleep and constructors of dreams ; they are affectively cathected thought processes from the dream-day which have resisted the general lowering of energy through sleep.......

"In accordance with the multiplicity of thought-processes in the conscious and preconscious, these days residues have the most varied meanings: they may be wishes or fears that have not been disposed of, or intentions, reflections, warnings, attempts at adaptation to current tasks, and so on. To this extent the classification of dreams that is under consideration seeems to be justified by the content which is uncovered by interpretation. These day's residues, however are not the dream itself: they lack the main essential of a dream. They are, strictly speaking, only the psychical material for the dream-work......To attribute to them the part in the construction of dreams is simply to repeat at a new point the pre-analytic error which explained dreams by referring them to bad digestion or to pressure on the skin.....

"The present state of our knowledge leads us to conclude that the essential factor in the construction of dreams [is something which must relate to universal and species specific characteristics - that's why Freud's so insistent about this point] is an unconscious wish - as a rule an infantile wish, now repressed - which can come to expression in this somatic or psychical material....[ie. we have to get rid of something every night that is specifically human. Something about the tension of being a human being that has to be got rid of in the dream. Hence the 'wish' is always really the same - the kernal of the dream.]

"The dream is in every case a fulfillment of this unconscious wish, whatever else it may contain - warning, reflection, admission, or any other part of the rich content of preconscious waking life that has persisted un-dealt with into the night. It is this unconscious wish that gives the dream-work its peculiar character as an unconscious revision of preconscious material. A psychoanalyst can characterize as dreams only the products of the dream-work; in spite of the fact that the latent dream-thoughts can only be arrived at through interpretation, he cannot reckon them as part of the dream, but only as part of preconscious reflection.....The conclusion to be drawn from these considerations is that one cannot put the wish-fulfilling character of dreams on a par with their character as warnings, admissions, attempts at solution, etc, without denying the concept of a psychical dimension of depth - that is to say, without denying the standpoint of psychoanalysis."

"Let us now go back to the nurse's dream in order to demonstrate the quality of depth in the wish-fulfillment contained in it."

There are many themes of water in the dream, and material from the complex of giving birth.

"The wish 'I want to have a child' seems therefore to have been the dream-constructor from the unconscious; no other would have been better calculated to console the nurse for the distressing state of affairs in real life. 'I shall be discharged: I shall lose the child in my care. What does it matter? I shall get a real child of my own instead.' "

The defiance shown in the dream was directed against her aunt, who was a Superior in a nursing Order and who had prevented the girl's intended marriage some time earlier. She was tied to the aunt through expectations of an inheritance, but defied her by not entering into the Order as the lady had planned. We have ascribed an anal-erotic origin to this character trait, and may take into consideration that the interests which made her dependent on her aunt were of a financial nature; we are also reminded that children favour the anal theory of birth.

We can say that in so far as this dream was accessible to interpretation it has provided us with plenty of confirmations as well as with plenty of new problems.

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