The Interpretation of Dreams (3rd edition) by Sigmund Freud
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D. Waking Caused by Dreams -- The Function of Dreams --
The Anxiety Dream
Now that we know that throughout the night the preconscious is orientated to the wish to sleep, we can follow the dream-process with proper understanding. But let us first summarize what we already know about this process. We have seen that day -residues are left over from the waking activity of the mind, residues from which it has not been possible to withdraw all cathexis. Either one of the unconscious wishes has been aroused through the waking activity during the day or it so happens that the two coincide; we have already discussed the multifarious possibilities. Either already during the day or only on the establishment of the state of sleep the unconscious wish has made its way to the day - residues, and has effected a transference to them. Thus there arises a wish transferred to recent material ; or the suppressed recent wish is revived by a reinforcement from the unconscious. This wish now endeavours to make its way to consciousness along the normal path of the thought processes, through the preconscious, to which indeed it belongs by virtue of one of its constituent elements. It is, however, confronted by the censorship which still subsists, and to whose influence it soon succumbs. It now takes on the distortion for which the way has already been paved by the transference to recent material. So far it is on the way to becoming something resembling an obsession, a delusion, or the like, i.e., a thought reinforced by a transference, and distorted in expression owing to the censorship. But its further progress is now checked by the state of sleep of the preconscious; this system has presumably protected itself against invasion by diminishing its excitations. The dream-process, therefore, takes the regressive course, which is just opened up by the peculiarity of the sleeping state, and in so doing follows the attraction exerted on it by memory- groups, which are, in part only, themselves present as visual cathexis, not as translations into the symbols of the later systems. On its way to regression it acquires representability. The subject of compression will be discussed later. The dream- process has by this time covered the second part of its contorted course. The first part threads its way progressively from the unconscious scenes or phantasies to the preconscious, while the second part struggles back from the boundary of the censorship to the tract of the perceptions. But when the dream-process becomes a perception-content, it has, so to speak, eluded the obstacle set up in the Pcs by the censorship and the sleeping state. It succeeds in drawing attention to itself, and in being remarked by consciousness. For consciousness, which for us means a sense- organ for the apprehension of psychic qualities, can be excited in waking life from two sources: firstly, from the periphery of the whole apparatus, the perceptive system; and secondly, from the excitations of pleasure and pain which emerge as the sole psychic qualities yielded by the transpositions of energy in the interior of the apparatus. All other processes in the Psi- systems, even those in the preconscious, are devoid of all psychic quality, and are therefore not objects of consciousness, inasmuch as they do not provide either pleasure or pain for its perception. We shall have to assume that these releases of pleasure and pain automatically regulate the course of the cathectic processes. But in order to make possible more delicate performances, it subsequently proved necessary to render the flow of ideas more independent of pain-signals. To accomplish this, the Pcs system needed qualities of its own which could attract consciousness, and most probably received them through the connection of the preconscious processes with the memory-system of speech-symbols, which was not devoid of quality. Through the qualities of this system, consciousness, hitherto only a sense- organ for perceptions, now becomes also a sense-organ for a part of our thought-processes. There are now, as it were, two sensory surfaces, one turned toward perception and the other toward the preconscious thought-processes.
I must assume that the sensory surface of consciousness which is turned to the preconscious is rendered far more unexcitable by sleep than the surface turned toward the P-system. The giving up of interest in the nocturnal thought-process is, of course, an appropriate procedure. Nothing is to happen in thought; the preconscious wants to sleep. But once the dream becomes perception, it is capable of exciting consciousness through the qualities now gained. The sensory excitation performs what is in fact its function; namely, it directs a part of the cathectic energy available in the Pcs to the exciting cause in the form of attention. We must therefore admit that the dream always has a waking effect- that is, it calls into activity part of the quiescent energy of the Pcs. Under the influence of this energy, it now undergoes the process which we have described as secondary elaboration with a view to coherence and comprehensibility. This means that the dream is treated by this energy like any other perception-content; it is subjected to the same anticipatory ideas as far, at least, as the material allows. As far as this third part of the dream-process has any direction, this is once more progressive.
To avoid misunderstanding, it will not be amiss to say a few words as to the temporal characteristics of these dream- processes. In a very interesting discussion, evidently suggested by Maury's puzzling guillotine dream, Goblot tries to demonstrate that a dream takes up no other time than the transition period between sleeping and waking. The process of waking up requires time; during this time the dream occurs. It is supposed that the final picture of the dream is so vivid that it forces the dreamer to wake; in reality it is so vivid only because when it appears the dreamer is already very near waking. "Un reve, c'est un reveil qui commence." *
* A dream is the beginning of wakening.
It has already been pointed out by Dugas that Goblot, in order to generalize his theory, was forced to ignore a great many facts. There are also dreams from which we do not awaken; for example, many dreams in which we dream that we dream. From our knowledge of the dream-work, we can by no means admit that it extends only over the period of waking. On the contrary, we must consider it probable that the first part of the dream-work is already begun during the day, when we are still under the domination of the preconscious. The second phase of the dream-work, viz., the alteration by the censorship, the attraction exercised by unconscious scenes, and the penetration to perception, continues probably all through the night, and accordingly we may always be correct when we report a feeling that we have been dreaming all night, even although we cannot say what we have dreamed. I do not however, think that it is necessary to assume that up to the time of becoming conscious the dream-processes really follow the temporal sequence which we have described; viz., that there is first the transferred dream-wish, then the process of distortion due to the censorship, and then the change of direction to regression, etc. We were obliged to construct such a sequence for the sake of description; in reality, however, it is probably rather a question of simultaneously trying this path and that, and of the excitation fluctuating to and fro, until finally, because it has attained the most apposite concentration, one particular grouping remains in the field. Certain personal experiences even incline me to believe that the dream-work often requires more than one day and one night to produce its result, in which case the extraordinary art manifested in the construction of the dream is shorn of its miraculous character. In my opinion, even the regard for the comprehensibility of the dream as a perceptual event may exert its influence before the dream attracts consciousness to itself. From this point, however, the process is accelerated, since the dream is henceforth subjected to the same treatment as any other perception. It is like fire works, which require hours for their preparation and then flare up in a moment.
Through the dream-work, the dream-process now either gains sufficient intensity to attract consciousness to itself and to arouse the preconscious (quite independently of the time or profundity of sleep), or its intensity is insufficient, and it must wait in readiness until attion, becoming more alert immediately before waking, meets it half-way. Most dreams seem to operate with relatively slight psychic intensities, for they wait for the process of waking. This, then, explains the fact that as a rule we perceive something dreamed if we are suddenly roused from a deep sleep. Here, as well as in spontaneous waking, our first glance lights upon the perception-content created by the dream-work, while the next falls on that provided by the outer world.
But of greater theoretical interest are those dreams which are capable of waking us in the midst of our sleep. We may bear in mind the purposefulness which can be demonstrated in all other cases, and ask ourselves why the dream, that is, the unconscious wish, is granted the power to disturb our sleep, i.e., the fulfilment of the preconscious wish. The explanation is probably to be found in certain relations of energy which we do not yet understand. If we did so, we should probably find that the freedom given to the dream and the expenditure upon it of a certain detached attention represent a saving of energy as against the alternative case of the unconscious having to be held in check at night just as it is during the day. As experience shows, dreaming, even if it interrupts our sleep several times a night, still remains compatible with sleep. We wake up for a moment, and immediately fall asleep again. It is like driving off a fly in our sleep; we awake ad hoc. When we fall asleep again we have removed the cause of disturbance. The familiar examples of the sleep of wet-nurses, etc., show that the fulfilment of the wish to sleep is quite compatible with the maintenance of a certain amount of attention in a given direction.
But we must here take note of an objection which is based on a greater knowledge of the unconscious processes. We have ourselves described the unconscious wishes as always active, whilst nevertheless asserting that in the daytime they are not strong enough to make themselves perceptible. But when the state of sleep supervenes, and the unconscious wish has shown its power to form a dream, and with it to awaken the preconscious, why does this power lapse after cognizance has been taken of the dream? Would it not seem more probable that the dream should continually renew itself, like the disturbing fly which, when driven away, takes pleasure in returning again and again? What justification have we for our assertion that the dream removes the disturbance to sleep?
It is quite true that the unconscious wishes are always active. They represent paths which are always practicable, whenever a quantum of excitation makes use of them. It is indeed an outstanding peculiarity of the unconscious processes that they are indestructible. Nothing can be brought to an end in the unconscious; nothing is past or forgotten. This is impressed upon us emphatically in the study of the neuroses, and especially of hysteria. The unconscious path of thought which leads to the discharge through an attack is forthwith passable again when there is a sufficient accumulation of excitation. The mortification suffered thirty years ago operates, after having gained access to the unconscious sources of affect, during all these thirty years as though it were a recent experience. Whenever its memory is touched, it revives, and shows itself to be cathected with excitation which procures a motor discharge for itself in an attack. It is precisely here that psychotherapy must intervene, its task being to ensure that the unconscious processes are settled and forgotten. Indeed, the fading of memories and the weak affect of impressions which are no longer recent, which we are apt to take as self-evident, and to explain as a primary effect of time on our psychic memory-residues, are in reality secondary changes brought about by laborious work. It is the preconscious that accomplishes this work; and the only course which psychotherapy can pursue is to bring the Ucs under the dominion of the Pcs.
There are, therefore, two possible issues for any single unconscious excitation-process. Either it is left to itself, in which case it ultimately breaks through somewhere and secures, on this one occasion, a discharge for its excitation into motility, or it succumbs to the influence of the preconscious, and through this its excitation becomes bound instead of being discharged. It is the latter case that occurs in the dream-process. The cathexis from the Pcs which goes to meet the dream once this has attained to perception, because it has been drawn thither by the excitation of consciousness, binds the unconscious excitation of the dream and renders it harmless as a disturber of sleep. When the dreamer wakes up for a moment, he has really chased away the fly that threatened to disturb his sleep. We may now begin to suspect that it is really more expedient and economical to give way to the unconscious wish, to leave clear its path to regression so that and it may form a dream, and then to bind and dispose of this dream by means of a small outlay of preconscious work, than to hold the unconscious in check throughout the whole period of sleep. It was, indeed, to be expected that the dream, even if originally it was not a purposeful process, would have seized upon some definite function in the play of forces of the psychic life. We now see what this function is. The dream has taken over the task of bringing the excitation of the Ucs, which had been left free, back under the domination of the preconscious; it thus discharges the excitation of the Ucs, acts as a safety-valve for the latter, and at the same time, by a slight outlay of waking activity, secures the sleep of the preconscious. Thus, like the other psychic formations of its group, the dream offers itself as a compromise, serving both systems simultaneously, by fulfilling the wishes of both, in so far as they are mutually compatible. A glance at Robert's "elimination theory" will show that we must agree with this author on his main point, namely, the determination of the function of dreams, though we differ from him in our general presuppositions and in our estimation of the dream-process. * -
* Is this the only function which we can attribute to dreams? I know of no other. A. Maeder, to be sure, has endeavoured to claim for the dream yet other secondary functions. He started from the just observation that many dreams contain attempts to provide solutions of conflicts, which are afterwards actually carried through. They thus behave like preparatory practice for waking activities. He therefore drew a parallel between dreaming and the play of animals and children, which is to be conceived as a training of the inherited instincts, and a preparation for their later serious activity, thus setting up a fonction ludique for the dream. A little while before Maeder, Alfred Adler likewise emphasized the function of thinking ahead in the dream. (An analysis which I published in 1905 contained a dream which may be conceived as a resolution-dream, which was repeated night after night until it was realized.)
But an obvious reflection must show us that this secondary function of the dream has no claim to recognition within the framework of any dream-interpretation. Thinking ahead, making resolutions, sketching out attempted solutions which can then perhaps be realized in waking life- these and many more performances are functions of the unconscious and preconscious activities of the mind which continue as day-residues in the sleeping state, and can then combine with an unconscious wish to form a dream (chapter VII., C.). The function of thinking ahead in the dream is thus rather a function of preconscious waking thought, the result of which may be disclosed to us by the analysis of dreams or other phenomena. After the dream has so long been fused with its manifest content, one must now guard against confusing it with the latent dream-thoughts.
The above qualification- in so far as the two wishes are mutually compatible- contains a suggestion that there may be cases in which the function of the dream fails. The dream-process is, to begin with, admitted as a wish-fulfilment of the unconscious, but if this attempted wish-fulfilment disturbs the preconscious so profoundly that the latter can no longer maintain its state of rest, the dream has broken the compromise, and has failed to perform the second part of its task. It is then at once broken off, and replaced by complete awakening. But even here it is not really the fault of the dream if, though at other times the guardian, it has now to appear as the disturber of sleep, nor need this prejudice us against its averred purposive character. This is not the only instance in the organism in which a contrivance that is usually to the purpose becomes inappropriate and disturbing so soon as something is altered in the conditions which engender it; the disturbance, then, at all events serves the new purpose of indicating the change, and of bringing into play against it the means of adjustment of the organism. Here, of course, I am thinking of the anxiety-dream, and lest it should seem that I try to evade this witness against the theory of wish- fulfilment whenever I encounter it, I will at least give some indications as to the explanation of the anxiety-dream.
That a psychic process which develops anxiety may still be a wish- fulfilment has long ceased to imply any contradiction for us. We may explain this occurrence by the fact that the wish belongs to one system (the Ucs), whereas the other system (the Pcs) has rejected and suppressed it. * The subjection of the Ucs by the Pcs is not thoroughgoing even in perfect psychic health; the extent of this suppression indicates the degree of our psychic normality. Neurotic symptoms indicate to us that the two systems are in mutual conflict; the symptoms are the result of a compromise in this conflict, and they temporarily put an end to it. On the one hand, they afford the Ucs a way out for the discharge of its excitation- they serve it as a kind of sally- gate- while, on the other hand, they give the Pcs the possibility of dominating the Ucs in some degree. It is instructive to consider, for example, the significance of a hysterical phobia, or of agoraphobia. A neurotic is said to be incapable of crossing the street alone, and this we should rightly call a symptom. Let someone now remove this symptom by constraining him to this action which he deems himself incapable of performing. The result will be an attack of anxiety, just as an attack of anxiety in the street has often been the exciting cause of the establishment of an agoraphobia. We thus learn that the symptom has been constituted in order to prevent the anxiety from breaking out. The phobia is thrown up before the anxiety like a frontier fortress.
* General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis, p. 534 below.
We cannot enlarge further on this subject unless we examine the role of the affects in these processes, which can only be done here imperfectly. We will therefore affirm the proposition that the principal reason why the suppression of the Ucs becomes necessary is that, if the movement of ideas in the Ucs were allowed to run its course, it would develop an affect which originally had the character of pleasure, but which, since the process of repression, bears the character of pain. The aim, as well as the result, of the suppression is to prevent the development of this pain. The suppression extends to the idea- content of the Ucs, because the liberation of pain might emanate from this idea-content. We here take as our basis a quite definite assumption as to the nature of the development of affect. This is regarded as a motor or secretory function, the key to the innervation of which is to be found in the ideas of the Ucs. Through the domination of the Pcs these ideas are as it were strangled, that is, inhibited from sending out the impulse that would develop the affect. The danger which arises, if cathexis by the Pcs ceases, thus consists in the fact that the unconscious excitations would liberate an affect that- in consequence of the repression that has previously occurred- could only be felt as pain or anxiety.
This danger is released if the dream-process is allowed to have its own way. The conditions for its realization are that repressions shall have occurred, and that the suppressed wish- impulses can become sufficiently strong. They, therefore, fall entirely outside the psychological framework of dream-formation. Were it not for the fact that our theme is connected by just one factor with the theme of the development of anxiety, namely, by the setting free of the Ucs during sleep, I could refrain from the discussion of the anxiety-dream altogether, and thus avoid all the obscurities involved in it.
The theory of the anxiety-dream belongs, as I have already repeatedly stated, to the psychology of the neuroses. I might further add that anxiety in dreams is an anxiety-problem and not a dream-problem. Having once exhibited the point of contact of the psychology of the neuroses with the theme of the dream- process, we have nothing further to do with it. There is only one thing left which I can do. Since I have asserted that neurotic anxiety has its origin in sexual sources, I can subject anxiety- dreams to analysis in order to demonstrate the sexual material in their dream-thoughts.
For good reasons, I refrain from citing any of the examples so abundantly placed at my disposal by neurotic patients, and prefer to give some anxiety-dreams of children.
Personally, I have had no real anxiety-dream for decades, but I do recall one from my seventh or eighth year which I subjected to interpretation some thirty years later. The dream was very vivid, and showed me my beloved mother, with a peculiarly calm, sleeping countenance, carried into the room and laid on the bed by two (or three) persons with birds' beaks. I awoke crying and screaming, and disturbed my parents' sleep. The peculiarly draped, excessively tall figures with beaks I had taken from the illustrations of Philippson's Bible; I believe they represented deities with the heads of sparrowhawks from an Egyptian tomb- relief. The analysis yielded, however, also the recollection of a house-porter's boy, who used to play with us children on a meadow in front of the house; I might add that his name was Philip. It seemed to me then that I first heard from this boy the vulgar word signifying sexual intercourse, which is replaced among educated persons by the Latin word coitus, but which the dream plainly enough indicates by the choice of the birds' heads. I must have guessed the sexual significance of the word from the look of my worldly-wise teacher. My mother's expression in the dream was copied from the countenance of my grandfather, whom I had seen a few days before his death snoring in a state of coma. The interpretation of the secondary elaboration in the dream must therefore have been that my mother was dying; the tomb-relief, too, agrees with this. I awoke with this anxiety, and could not calm myself until I had waked my parents. I remember that I suddenly became calm when I saw my mother; it was as though I had needed the assurance: then she was not dead. But this secondary interpretation of the dream had only taken place when the influence of the developed anxiety was already at work. I was not in a state of anxiety because I had dreamt that my mother was dying; I interpreted the dream in this manner in the preconscious elaboration because I was already under the domination of the anxiety. The latter, however, could be traced back, through the repression to a dark, plainly sexual craving, which had found appropriate expression in the visual content of the dream.
A man twenty-seven years of age, who had been seriously ill for a year, had repeatedly dreamed, between the ages of eleven and thirteen, dreams attended with great anxiety, to the effect that a man with a hatchet was running after him; he wanted to run away, but seemed to be paralysed, and could not move from the spot. This may be taken as a good and typical example of a very common anxiety-dream, free from any suspicion of a sexual meaning. In the analysis, the dreamer first thought of a story told him by his uncle (chronologically later than the dream), viz., that he was attacked at night in the street by a suspicious- looking individual; and he concluded from this association that he might have heard of a similar episode at the time of the dream. In association with the hatchet, he recalled that during this period of his life he once hurt his hand with a hatchet while chopping wood. This immediately reminded him of his relations with his younger brother, whom he used to maltreat and knock down. He recalled, in particular, one occasion when he hit his brother's head with his boot and made it bleed, and his mother said: "I'm afraid he will kill him one day." While he seemed to be thus held by the theme of violence, a memory from his ninth year suddenly emerged. His parents had come home late and had gone to bed, whilst he was pretending to be asleep. He soon heard panting, and other sounds that seemed to him mysterious, and he could also guess the position of his parents in bed. His further thoughts showed that he had established an analogy between this relation between his parents and his own relation to his younger brother. He subsumed what was happening between his parents under the notion of "an act of violence and a fight." The fact that he had frequently noticed blood in his mother's bed corroborated this conception.
That the sexual intercourse of adults appears strange and alarming to children who observe it, and arouses anxiety in them, is, I may say, a fact established by everyday experience. I have explained this anxiety on the ground that we have here a sexual excitation which is not mastered by the child's understanding, and which probably also encounters repulsion because their parents are involved, and is therefore transformed into anxiety. At a still earlier period of life the sexual impulse towards the parent of opposite sex does not yet suffer repression, but as we have seen (chapter V., D.) expresses itself freely.
For the night terrors with hallucinations (pavor nocturnus) so frequent in children I should without hesitation offer the same explanation. These, too, can only be due to misunderstood and rejected sexual impulses which, if recorded, would probably show a temporal periodicity, since an intensification of sexual libido may equally be produced by accidentally exciting impressions and by spontaneous periodic processes of development.
I have not the necessary observational material for the full demonstration of this explanation. * On the other hand, pediatrists seem to lack the point of view which alone makes intelligible the whole series of phenomena, both from the somatic and from the psychic side. To illustrate by a comical example how closely, if one is made blind by the blinkers of medical mythology, one may pass by the understanding of such cases, I will cite a case which I found in a thesis on pavor nocturnus (Debacker, 1881, p. 66).
* This material has since been provided in abundance by the literature of psycho-analysis.
A boy of thirteen, in delicate health, began to be anxious and dreamy; his sleep became uneasy, and once almost every week it was interrupted by an acute attack of anxiety with hallucinations. The memory of these dreams was always very distinct. Thus he was able to relate that the devil had shouted at him: "Now we have you, now we have you!" and then there was a smell of pitch and brimstone, and the fire burned his skin. From this dream he woke in terror; at first he could not cry out; then his voice came back to him, and he was distinctly heard to say: "No, no, not me; I haven't done anything," or: "Please, don't; I will never do it again!" At other times he said: "Albert has never done that!" Later he avoided undressing, "because the fire attacked him only when he was undressed." In the midst of these evil dreams, which were endangering his health, he was sent into the country, where he recovered in the course of eighteen months. At the age of fifteen he confessed one day: "Je n'osais pas l'avouer, mais j'eprouvais continuellement des picotements et des surexcitations aux parties; * a la fin, cela m'enervait tant que plusieurs fois j'ai pense me jeter par la fenetre du dortoir." *(2)
* The emphasis [on 'parties'] is my own, though the meaning is plain enough without it.
*(2) I did not dare admit it, but I continually felt tinglings and overexcitements of the parts; at the end, it wearied me so much that several times I thought to throw myself from the dormitory window.
It is, of course, not difficult to guess: 1. That the boy had practised masturbation in former years, that he had probably denied it, and was threatened with severe punishment for his bad habit (His confession: Je ne le ferai plus; * his denial: Albert n'a jamais fait ca.) *(2) 2. That, under the advancing pressure of puberty, the temptation to masturbate was re-awakened through the titillation of the genitals. 3. That now, however, there arose within him a struggle for repression, which suppressed the libido and transformed it into anxiety, and that this anxiety now gathered up the punishments with which he was originally threatened.
* I will not do it again.
*(2) Albert never did that.
Let us, on the other hand, see what conclusions were drawn by the author (p. 69):
"1. It is clear from this observation that the influence of puberty may produce in a boy of delicate health a condition of extreme weakness, and that this may lead to a very marked cerebral anaemia. *
* The italics ['very marked cerebral anaemia.'] are mine.
"2. This cerebral anaemia produces an alteration of character, demono-maniacal hallucinations, and very violent nocturnal, and perhaps also diurnal, states of anxiety.
"3. The demonomania and the self-reproaches of the boy can be traced to the influences of a religious education which had acted upon him as a child.
"4. All manifestations disappeared as a result of a lengthy sojourn in the country, bodily exercise, and the return of physical strength after the termination of puberty.
"5. Possibly an influence predisposing to the development of the boy's cerebral state may be attributed to heredity and to the father's former syphilis."
Then finally come the concluding remarks: "Nous avons fait entrer cette observation dans le cadre delires apyretiques d'inanition, car c'est a l'ischemie cerebrale que nous rattachons cet etat particulier." *
* We put this case in the file of apyretic delirias of inanition, for it is to cerebral anaemia that we attach this particular state.