What are dreams really? “The dream is the reflection of the waves of theunconsciouslife in the floor of the imagination” (H.AMIEL 1989).
“This day’s residue is transformed by dream work into a dream and made innocuous bysleep” (S.FREUD 1932).
“I was never able to agree with Freud that the dream is a ‘façade’ behind which its meaning lies hidden—a meaning already known but maliciously so to speak withheld from consciousness” (Carl Jung, 1952).
Why do we enter a fantasy world several times a night when we sleep? Why do we perceive imaginary events and perform imaginary behaviours and what do they mean? Are they really a gateway, even a super highway, into our unconscious? Can we really interpret our dreams? Will it ever tell us anything of significance?
Dreams can be frightening or reassuring. Dreams are “fantastic” in the sense that impossible, illogical things can and do occur. In dreams you can fly; dead people come to life; inanimate objects speak.
REM sleep: Most of us dream on average one to two hours each night, having a variety of dreams. Most dreams are completely forgotten and some people therefore claim not to (ever) dream. Researchers have found that if people are awakened directly after a rapid eye movement (REM) sleep episode, many can recall their dreams fairly accurately. A person awakened during REM sleep will almost always report a dream, often in great detail. These reports indicate that people are conscious during sleep, even though they may not always remember the experience.Brainwave studies show we are very active. Also we know that men are likely to have erections and women greater blood flow to the vagina at this time.
Types of dreams: It is said the word ‘dream’ is derived from the words for ‘joy’ and ‘music’. Many people talk of various different kinds of dreams: of highly lucid but also vague dreams; ofnightmaresand of lovely dreams. Children from 3 to 8 years old often report having nightmares but they seem not to appear in their own dreams much before the ages of 3 or 4 years old.
Many report recurrent dreams, some which theyfear,others which they long for. Some believe that their dreams are prophetic. Nearly two-thirds of people claim that they have had déjà-vu dreams. Certainly there appear cross-culturally common dreams to all people at all times.
The flying dream is common: people report that they can fly like a bird, perhaps by doing a swimmer’s breast stroke. Others report the falling dream where they fall out of tall buildings or down dark pits fora very long time. Or they just fall over a lot. Many dream of suddenly being naked and hence very embarrassed in front of others. The chase dream is common: most often you are being chased relentlessly by others, or perhaps you are chasing them. Students will know of the test/exam dream where you have to sit a test and despite revision can’t remember anything, or worse, are paralysed and just can’t write. The dream of losing your teeth is also surprisingly common.
Interpretations: Inevitably there are various proposed interpretations of these dreams. Does the teeth dream signal that we are very concerned with our physical attractiveness?
Or perhaps it represents a loss of power and ageing, or the concern that you are never heard or being over looked. Perhaps your teeth represent oral weapons and they are falling out because you have been saying untruths about others. It has even been proposed that it is about money: hoping a magical tooth fairy will appear and give you lots of money.
But how to interpret the naked dream? Is it all about vulnerability andshame? You are hiding some information, concealing a relationship, doing something you should not and you feelguilty. Worse, you are scared of being found out, disgraced and ridiculed. Or it could mean that you are feeling unprepared for some major test or task? One curious feature is that you realize you are naked but no one else seems to be paying attention to that fact. This could indicate that you have worries but that you really feel they are unfounded.
Freudianideas: Freud is given credit for developingpsychoanalysisa formtherapyaimed at providing the client insight into his or her unconscious motivations and impulses. These come about as Freud claimed, through the competing demands/motives of everyone’s id, ego and superego. Dream interpretation was a favorite way of Freud to get to understand this conflict and so he would encourage people to talk without restraint about their dreams. This evaluation of the underlying meaning of dreams is the hallmark of psychoanalysis.
In his view dreams concern one’s past and present and they arise from unknown regions within. Every dream at its core is an attempt at wish fulfillment. This explains Freud gives us insight into our unconscious as the underlying wish touches upon some forbidden matters. This invokes defense mechanisms and the wish is not expressed directly but only reaches the surface in symbolic disguise.
The manifest content seen by the dreamer masks the hidden meaning or significance behind the latent content which is what can causeanxiety and psychological discomfort. The dreams themselves aren’t direct representations of our unconscious but need to be analysed as they are symbolic or metaphors for our true underlying feelings. Some symbols are widely shared because of physical or functional similarities for example, but there is no simple cipher that can be generally applied.
Sigmund Freud essentially proposed that dreams arise out of our inner conflicts between unconscious desires and prohibitions against acting out these desires, which we learn from society. Dream interpretation was Freud’s favourite way to get to understand this conflict and so he would encourage people to talk without restraint about their dreams. In his view, dreams concern one’s past and present and they arise from unknown regions within. Every dream at its core is an attempt at wish-fulfilment. Dreams are, as Freud claimed, the ‘royal road to the unconscious’.
Indreamingvarious processes occur like condensation, where themes are reduced to single images such as an open door or a deep-flowing river. Analysts are particularly interested in displacement, where people, things and certain activities replace each other. Then there is transformation, where people are transformed to be bigger or smaller, older or younger, more or less powerful. Freudian theory leads to various predictions about dreaming being tested. Thus males should have more castration anxiety dreams than females, who would have more penis-envydreams. Males should have more male strangers in dreams who they fight with (the father in the oedipal stage of development).
Critics point out that if dreams are merely wish-fulfilment, why are so many negative? Freud based his theory on those few dreams (less than 10 per cent) that are remembered and articulated by patients. There is also a serious problem of reliability in the interpretation of dreams, as different therapists offer very different interpretations. Moreover as Jung pointed out, dreams seem to have similar content across time and culture regardless of whether they are deeply repressive or surprisingly liberal.
Physical studies: Researchers have proposed an explanation for dreaming that does not involve unconscious conflict or desires. In the REM phase of sleep, a circuit of acetylcholine-secreting neurons in the pons with-in the brain become active, stimulating rapid eye movements ,activation of the cerebral cortex and muscular paralysis, which causes us to see images.
The eye movements a person makes during a dream correspond reasonably well with the content of the dream; the eye movements are what one would expect if the events in the dream were really occurring. The images evoked often incorporatememoriesof episodes that have occurred recently or what the person has been thinking about lately. Presumably the circuits responsible are more excited by their recent use. Patients awaiting major surgery reveal their fears in what they dream about during the two or three nights before the operation. Their fears are rarely expressed directly, being about scalpels or operating rooms. Their reference is indirect, in condensed symbolized form. Dreams often express what is currently most important in a person’s life, and not any deep underlying wish-fulfilment concept.
So the debate continues in one of the more interesting backwaters of psychology.
Source: Psychology Today