You wake up in the morning and remember the strange dream you had at night. The first thing you ask yourself is whether it has a meaning or not. Sigmund Freud proposed a theory that says the manifest content of a dream serves to disguise its actual meaning, so it is no surprise you can’t understand what is going on in your dreams.
But how exactly are your dreams created and what are the mechanisms behind them?
Sigmund Freud is one of the most influential and controversial figures known in the psychology field. He is acknowledged as the founder of psychoanalysis, a school of thought that emphasizes the impact of unconscious mind on behavior. His works also include child psychology, sexuality, dream interpretation and personality.
One of his most notable writings is ” The Interpretation of Dreams”, a work that describes the underlying mechanism of dreams and how they can lead us to a person’s deepest unconscious wishes.
The Dream as a Wish-Fulfillment
Freud considered that a dream always has a motive, which is a wish, and a manifesting content, which is the fulfillment of this wish. This idea received a lot of attention and criticism, mostly people blamed him because they thought this is not relatable for nightmares. Actually, Freud explained how they occur through dream distortion and gave real examples in his book, by specifying the difference between what we see in a dream and what it is really about.
Freud believed that every dream is a wish fulfillment, but the only way to understand this, is through the complex process of dream interpretation.
“When the work of interpretation has been completed the dream can be recognized as a wish-fulfillment.”
Latent Content and Manifest Content of the Dream
The first step in interpreting a dream is to differentiate the two types of dream contents: the manifest and the latent one, and this fact will even explain why nightmares are no exception to the wish fulfillment idea.
The latent content of a dream is the symbolic meaning, which is disguised by the manifest content. The events, storyline and images we visualize in our dreams and remember after waking up make up the manifest content of a dream. The manifest content serves to disguise the real meaning of the dream.
Let ‘s imagine you have this dream where you are at a party, dancing, drinking and not giving a damn about anything. The visuals in the dream are very colorful and it is pretty noisy there, as the music is loud and everybody is trying to share an amazing life-story. And then you see a guy in the corner, he plays the music at that party. All the songs he plays are your favorite songs, songs from your playlist that you truly adore.
You’ ll wake up in the morning remembering that you had a dream about a party, a really cool party, as during the whole night was playing your favorite music and you were enjoying it. This is the manifest content of your dream.
Then what is the latent content of the dream? This is the whole point:you don’t know it, because you don’t see it in your dreams. You can only have access to the latent content through analysis and dream interpretation. In this case, the latent content could be your wish to finally find someone who appreciates your tastes and therefore satisfies your need for approval or love.
But why is the latent content hidden from the conscious mind?
Censorship: Conscious and Unconscious Mind
The conscious and the unconscious mind are two separate psychic instances that function differently. Your unconscious mind contains desires and thoughts that could be unacceptable to your conscious mind. Through the mechanism of censorship you are protected from your own unconscious wishes that could cause anxiety or repulsion to the conscious you.
People have a lot of inappropriate emotions and wishes they don’t want to deal with. Some content has to stay in the unconscious mind and get consumed there, in order to prevent unpleasant consequences. Our minds use different strategies to hide our real thoughts from ourselves.
A lot of people refuse to believe that their dreams have a meaning and it is also a defense mechanism. As S. Freud specified: “Your opinion that the dream is nonsense probably signifies merely an inner resistance to it’s interpretation.”
The Relation Between Dreams and Waking Life
The father of psychoanalysis succeeded to identify 3 peculiarities of memory in dreams. These peculiarities influence what material will appear in your dreams.
- The first one refers to the fact that dreams prefer the events and impressions of the past few days. It means that the manifest content will include elements you interacted with in the last few days.
- Memory in dreams doesn’t work as in the waking life, it is governed by different principles. Instead of analyzing what is important and essential, the memory in dreams recalls the things we disregard consciously: the subordinate and irrelevant in appearance details.
- Dreams have access to our earliest impressions and childhood memories. We might consider these events as being already insignificant, but they are the cause of a lot of our internal conflicts, which are pretty often manifested in dreams.
Bibliography : Freud, S. ( 1997) The Interpretation of Dreams. Wordsworth Editions