The Freud Museum


Remarks on the Theory and Practice of Dream-Interpretation (1923)

(I) There are different technical procedures that can be employed when interpreting dreams. You can start at the beginning, or somewhere in the middle, or disregard the manifest content and ask the dreamer what he associates to the dream from events in the previous day, or just let the dreamer decide where to start. We can't really say that one way is better than any other.

(II) What is more important is whether the work of interpretation is carried out with a high or low "pressure of resistance".

It is only when resistance is kept within moderate limits that the familiar picture emerges: the dreamers associations begin by diverging widely from the manifest elements, after which a second series of associations quickly converge from these onto the dream-thoughts that are being looked for. When this is so collaboration between the analyst and the dreamer becomes possible.

(III) "It is possible to distinguish between dreams from above and dreams from below, provided the distinction is not made too sharply."

"Dreams from below are those which are provoked by the strength of an unconscious (repressed) wish which has found a means of being represented in some of the day's residues. They may be regarded as inroads of the repressed into waking life."

"Dreams from above correspond to thoughts or intentions of the day before which have contrived during the night to obtain reinforcement from repressed material that is debarred from the ego. When this is so, analysis as a rule disregards this unconscious ally and suceeds in inserting the latent dream-thoughts into the texture of waking thought. This distinction calls for no modification in the theory of dreams."

(IV) In some periods of analysis dream-life may have a momentum of its own, divorced from waking life. One dream may lead on to another like a serialised novel.

(V) The interpretation of a dream falls into two phases: the phase in which it is translated, and the phase in which it is judged or has its value assessed. During the first phase one must not allow oneself be influenced by any consideration whatever for the second phase.

What conclusions can one draw from a correctly translated dream? We sometimes overestimate this, because of too exaggerated respect for the 'mysterious unconscious'. "It is all too easy to forget that a dream is as a rule merely a thought like any other, made possible by a relaxation of the censorship and by unconscious reinforcement, and distorted by the operation of the censorship and by unconscious revision."

(VII) Suggestion and dreams.
The fact that the manifest content of a dream can be influenced by suggestion is obvious. Also portions of the latent dream thoughts, ie. those that were preconscious.

There are also 'corroborative' dreams, which seem to have beeen produced in compliance with the words of the physician, instead of having been brought to light from the dreamer's unconscious. "This ambiguous position cannot be escaped in the analysis, since with these patients unless one interprets, constructs and propounds, one never obtains access to what is repressed in them."

If memories are evoked then this is more likely that the interpretation is correct. But even here the sceptic might say that such recollections are illusory, and the subjective feeling of conviction is often absent.

"Furthermore, what we are dealing with may not be the reproduction of a real and forgottten event but the bringing forward of an unconscious phantasy, about which no feeling of memory is ever to be expected, though the possibility may sometimes remain of a sense of subjective conviction."

"If one succeeds in arranging the confused heap of fragments, each of which bears upon it an unintelligible piece of drawing, so that the picture acquires a meaning, so that there is no gap anywhere in the design and so that the whole fits into the frame - if all these conditions are fulfilled, then one knows that one has solved the puzzle and that there is no alternative solution."

"I think that in general it is a good plan occassionally to bear in mind the fact that people were in the habit of dreaming before there was such a thing as psychoanalysis."

(VIII) The use of dreams in analysis is something very remote from their original purpose. Within an analysis, far more of the repressed is brought to light than by any other method. Why? There must be some motive power, some unconscious force, which is better able to lend support to the purposes of analysis during sleep than at other times. "What is here in question cannot well be any other factor than the patient's compliance to the analyst which is derived from his parental complex - in other words the positive portion of what we call transference......So that if anyone wishes to maintain that most of the dreams that can be made use of in analysis are obliging dreams and owe their origin to suggestion, nothing can be said against that opinion from the point of view of analytic theory." (p117)

(See Introductory Lectures XXVIII where I have shown how little the trustworthiness of our results are affected by the recognition of the operation of suggestion in our sense.)

All this is connected to the 'compulsion to repeat', and it is very confusing. An 'alliance' is made between the treatment and the compusion to repeat.

(IX) "So far as I can at present see, dreams that occur in a traumatic neurosis are the only genuine exceptions, and punishment dreams are the only apparent exceptions, to the rule that dreams are directed towards wish-fulfilment."

In punishment dreams "we are met by the remarkable fact that actually nothing belonging to the latent dream thoughts is taken up into the manifest content of the dream. Something quite different appears instead, which must be described as a reaction formation against the dream thoughts...[which] can only be ascribed to the critical agency of the ego."
It might have reacted to the dream by waking up, but instead has found a means, by constructing the punishment dream, of avoiding an interuption of sleep.

There's no problem with all this says Freud. Think of how frequently dream-distortion replaces a particular element by something that is its opposite. A portion of the dream can also be replaced by a defensive contradiction, and thus we can see that the whole dream could also be replaced by the punishment dream.

(X) "Astonishment is sometimes expressed at the fact that the dreamer's ego can appear two or more times in the manifest dream, once as himself and again disguised behind the figures of other people. During the course of the construction of the dream, secondary revision has evidently sought to obliterate this multiplicity of the ego, which cannot fit in with any possible scenic situation; but it is re-established by the work of interpretation. In itself this multiplicity is no more remarkable than the multiple appearance of the ego in waking thought, especially when the ego divides itself into subject and object, puts one part of itself as an observing and critical agency in contrast to the other, or compares its present nature with its recollected past, which was also once; for instance, in such sentences as 'When I think what I've done to this man' or 'When I think that I too was a child once'. But I should reject as a meaningless and unjustifiable piece of speculation the notion that all figures that appear in a dream are to be regarded as fragmentations and representatives of the dreamer's own ego. It is enough that we should keep firmly to the fact the separation of the ego from an observing, critical, punishing agency (an ego ideal) must be taken into account in the interpretation of dreams as well."

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