Sigmund Freud’s Dream Theory

“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to the unconscious”- Sigmund Freud

 Views on the origins and meaning of dreams have shifted over the centuries from the revelations of the divine in ancient civilizations to symbolic messages from the unconscious.  Sigmund Freud’s dream-analysis explicated in his major work Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams) has undoubtedly had a tremendous influence on modern day dream theory. Freud acquires his modern tone from ancient Greek philosopher’s theoretical structures of the mind. Analogous with Aristotle and Plato, Freud followed a dualist approach supporting the idea of psyche to explain the traditional belief which adheres to the mind-body problem. Interwoven through the psychology of Aristotle, Plato, and Freud is the parallel idea of a “trinity of souls”, “Tripartite Mind”, theory of the ego, superego, and id. In order to maintain a healthy mind, the three parts of the brain must find a balance which will determine ones actions (Shuttleworth, 2010). Dreams are considered to be a conscious expression of the fulfillment of a particular wish or impulse rooted from early childhood which has been repressed into the unconscious (Van Renterghem, 1915). Adopting the Freudian approach to the interpretation of dreams, we can travel “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (Auld et al.,2005)

Freudian dream theory sanctions the dreamer to use free association in tandum with the symbolic elements which are brought into the realm of consciousness through the manifest content of the dream. Expressed through the origins of ancient proverbs such as the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, the latent content of the dream can be revealed through the symbols.  The interpretation of the latent content will expose true inner thoughts and feelings which have visually been distorted and repressed by the personality consisting of the id, ego, and superego (Auld, 2005).  Freud believed that the systematic interpretation of dreams would expose the fears, wishes, and desires of the unconscious mind. Freud’s concept of the three levels of the personality controlling the content of our dreams is similar to Plato’s viewpoint on dreams. Plato supposed the content of our dreams expressed the interaction of the dynamics of the personality as a whole (McCurdy,1946).  Freud’s assertion that within the latent content lye’s the symbolic representation of an important wish fulfillment is analogous with Socrates perspective on dreams. Socrates believed “dreams reveal the violent and lawless desires which exist in everyman” (McCurdy,1946). Ancient precursors to Freudian dream theory such as Socrates and Plato denied the prophetic nature of dreams.

As with many great theories, an antithesis to the parallel themes traced through dream theory was offered during the transition from the time of the Anglo-Saxon’s into Christianity. Early Christian’s believed that God determined the content of dreams separating prophecy from rational prediction. (McCurdy,1946). Over time differing views on dream theory has built off each other developing the basis for the most influential dream theory offered by Freud. Sigmund Freud’s dream theory has influenced great minds such as Carl Jung, and continues to influence modern day dream interpretation. Van Renterghem elogently epitomizes the culmination of Freud’s dream theory, “Men saw in the dream a prophecy for the future, a warning spirit, a comforter, a messenger of the gods. Now we join forces with it in order to explore the subconscious, to unravel the mysteries which it jealousy guards and conceals” (1915).

By: Ellen Higinbotham

Example of Sigmund Freud’s Dream Theory in the movie “Freud” (1962) directed by John Hutson.

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