Psychoanalysis Discovers the Dream

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Dreams in Freud's Time

Freud opened the doors of science to the dream in 1900 [1]. His "discovery" grew from a model of the mind based on the concept of psychic energy behind man's desire. This has its roots in infancy and must be satisfied. Freud's thinking thus upturned the whole of the old order of the origin of dreams long held by the Greek "oneiromanciers" and the Medieval and Renaissance dream diviners. in place of the idea that dreams are sent to man by the gods or through supernatural forces, Freud offered the alternative that they come from man himself-from his unconscious mind. Not from on high, then, but from down below, on earth! By suggesting that dreams originated naturally "inside" man, Freud gave them an anthropological dimension, which opened the way to scientific investigation.

In 1895 [2], a period of great changes in Freud's scientific thinking, he shifted away from the exact sciences approach to venture onto the sands of the universe of the mind. This move paralleled a shift in personal identification: from Breuer, strict guardian of the scientific method, to Fliess, whose approach was less tightly bound to scientific rigor. The Project for a Scientific Psychology bears witness to this, as does the mind-brain relation model Freud set up as the foundation for his concept of the dream-to which he returned, modifying it, in Chapter 7 of the Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams).

Figure 1 summarizes Freud's mind/brain model (elaborated between 1895 and 1900) relative to the organization of the memory and the unconscious, and the role of the latter in the production of dreams. There is the a>

REALITY

PERCEPTION

MEMORY &

UNCONSCIOUS

censorship M (MOTRICITY)

I P - C (PERCEPTION -I CONSCIOUSNESS)

MEMORY &

UNCONSCIOUS

MEMORY INSTINCTS

Fig.l. Drawing representing the synthesis of the two models for the brain/mind relationship proposed by Freud in the Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895) and The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). For explanation, see the text

9 system, responsible for perception; the ty system, containing memory and instincts; and the m system, representing reality. On the right-hand axis Freud puts movement (M) and the perception-consciousness system (P-C). Outside stimuli reaching the gateway of perception (9) run along the abscissa, reaching movement according to the reflex scheme drawn up by Sherrington [3]; at the same time, however, they are deposited in the memory, where they integrate themselves with the world of instincts to create the unconscious psychic system (ty). In the waking state, reality (m) guides progress along this path. In sleep, however, with the inhibition of movements and loss of contact with reality, the psychic energy built up in the ty system cannot proceed towards M, and is obliged to regress towards the gateway of perception (9) which, pushed from inside as it were, sets up a perception with no external object, i.e., a hallucination. Through this regressive path the hallucination can satisfy the repressed desire. On the basis of this model Freud formulated his definition of the dream as a hallucinatory satisfaction of a desire repressed in infancy.

In Chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams Freud elaborates the model further with ordinates for the memory, the unconscious, and the censorship. Dreams not only provide hallucinatory satisfaction of a repressed desire: they enable the unconscious to pick its way through censorship to reach the P-C system. But to manifest itself to the conscious mind, the unconscious has to undergo the distortions and transformations imposed by the censorship. This is what causes the rhetoric of dreams, meaning the difference between its manifest and its latent contents. The censorship executes the main work of dreaming, preventing the unconscious from gaining direct access to the conscious mind. Censorship creates a dream as the primary event, but also makes us forget it. The primary event cannot be known as such, but we can gain access to the secondary event through narration which transforms the representations of the dream into a system with linguistic significance. Censorship, however, always has the main job in the work of dreams: condensation, displacement, symbolization, and dramatization.

Condensation involves space and time, helping to give the dream its typical feelings of estrangement and unreality, of being bizarre, absurd and "alien." Displacement is what arranges the content of the dream around features that are not its main lines, so the essential aspects of the dream come to look as though they are not really valuable. Displacement also involves the affects, but its most interesting aspect regards the language of the dream and its narration. This is linked to an associative syn-tagmatic chain by which the dream can generate a linguistic "swap-over," enabling one proposition to take the place of another. This swap benefits condensation too, and the whole work of the dream which, as a secondary process, is based on linguistic transformation of the primary representations. Freud had grasped this subtle aspect of dreams, where language becomes the crossroads where the meanings of the various representations meld and multiply.

Symbolization has particular weight in the dream, alongside displacement: one object is seen in place of another, acquiring a totally personal meaning linked to the dreamer's own affective history and his relational context. Symbolization has a natural part in the dream's metaphoric operations, making its language poietic. Closely related to symbolization is the dream's dramatization of the emotional and affective contents. The dream is thus like a private theater where the individual personages and parts in the piece are united by a range of logical and affective relations. The mind stages this play in its dreams by transforming the individual representations, each with its own symbolic significance. Freud believed the dream, as a primary scene, was the mind's true nourishment, something it really needed. He maintained that the dream could stage more complex scenes than the theater, as several events could be presented at the same time. In this sense it was comparable to an artist depicting lots of people together in one painting, relating to each other (the intrapsychic dimension of the dream) but also to the person enjoying the work of art (the intersubjective dimension). Freud [1] introduces another concept fundamental to psychoanalytic theory into the dream: identification, in the sense that one can be hidden, by identification, behind another person.

The work of the dream is permeated with affectivity and builds a bridge to the events of infancy, making it possible to transcribe the contents of the memory from the child's earliest affective experiences. Freud defines this emotional recovery of memories Nachträglichkeit-a "rewriting of memory." The concept stretches to the implicit memory too and its specific transcription of experiences forming the structure of the unrepressed unconscious [4, 5]. We shall come back to these points later on. Freud's concept of Nachträglichkeit embodies what he considered the aim of work on dreams: to transcribe from a patient's childhood the history of traumatic events that might explain a neurosis. Thus, Freud proposes using the dream to rewrite the patient's true life story, as faithfully as possible. This meant he could base his dream-reconstruction work on the historical, autobiographic memory, and the events from the past irrupting in the analytical relation, even if in Screen Memories [6] he cast doubts on whether we have precise recollections of our infancy, or more likely "recollections" constructed on what we remember of it. He comes close here to the more recent idea of the implicit memory, from which we cannot recall events and which therefore cannot hide anything repressed. This is another point we shall come back to.

In 1937, in Constructions in Analysis [7], Freud goes back to the past surviving into the present as the basis for the analytical relation and the work of (re)construction of things forgotten, starting from the traces they have left behind. In the 1930s, then, he shifted back to his original definition of the dream-made 30 years earlier in 1895-1900-as the hallucinatory satisfaction of a desire repressed in infancy-though with some exceptions. His theory is still valid as a whole, but two conditions need reconsidering: dreams referring to traumatic experiences, and those evoking painful recollections of infancy. He thus admits that his theory may need modification, to permit the dream to be seen as an attempt at fulfilling a repressed desire. His theory is safe but cannot stand up to the evidence produced by advances in psychoanalytical thought.

Dreams Since Freud

The 1930s were an important time for psychoanalysis, as its paradigm shifted. Melanie Klein [8] burst onto the international psychoanalytical scene, radically transforming Freud's instinctual energy model, replacing it with a relational model. This metapsychological change of the mind wrought far-reaching changes in the concept of the dream and how it could be worked on in analysis. The importance of affective relations, linked primarily to primary experiences, suggested that it was not repression that triggered our mind to work in dreams, but more likely a dynamic relation between affective representations (internal objects) that have precipitated and layered themselves in the unconscious in early infancy but manifest themselves through the primary processes of splitting and projective and introjective identification.

Although not explicitly, the Kleinian unconscious that manifests itself in dreams is therefore no longer linked to repression but to the splitting and projective identification that Klein introduced into clinical work, and is one of the most important features of current psychoanalysis. Klein is also credited with giving the dream a major part in the economy of the mind, where it represents the various stages of development that can surface in the transference.

In line with Klein's metapsychological model, the interpretation of dreams takes on a theological dimension: it links up with the internal objects-the internal representations of parental figures that are "sacred" to the individual-becoming the gods and devils of his mental universe [9]. It is interesting to see that Umberto Eco [10] maintains that behind every strategy of the symbolic world there is a theology legitimizing it. This encouraged me to look for matches and similarities between dreams and religion, taking this as an internal process reflecting an individual's level of religious belief that enables him in dreams to re-ligare-to take a Latin root that means to re-bind-or link up in a complex relationship all the items with the greatest affective and emotional significance that have been layered down over the years in his inner world [9].

Thus the dream becomes an internal theater [11] where man's mind is represented by people (internal objects) relating among themselves (the intrapsychic dimension) who give rise to a meaning that is then carried out into the outside world and external relations (the intersubjective dimension) [12]. The theory of internal objects has had considerable heuristic utility, bringing values into the psychoanalytical dimension of the mind, making man responsible for the state of his internal and external objects, giving new meaning-basically relational-to the concept of unconscious fantasy, hence to the deepest significance of dreams. This shift at the top constituted an important movement in psychoanalytical thought, replacing Freud's instinctual energy model based on desire and its repression with a relational model based on more complex modalities in the organization of the personality and the mind's unconscious functions. From this starting point, work on dreams implies finding out the state of the patients' internal objects, their conflicts and defenses.

The theoretical model of the mind has thus been transformed and enriched, and the dream has acquired a new purpose, studied by the last generation of analysts [13, 14]: it has become a basic tool of knowledge. The proposed model can be considered epistemological, and is based on an elegant statement by Money-Kyrle [15], who said that if man is his representation of the world, and this is identified with his knowledge dimension, the dream-representing man's inner world-is itself a source of knowledge. In 1962 Bion [13] formulated a task for the dream, executed by the alpha function: this was to transform sensory, emotive, and emotional experiences reaching the mind during waking hours in the form of beta elements into thoughts in the dream. This turned the dream into a tool the mind uses to work over sensory experiences and convert them to thought. This permitted a valuable continuity of mental functions in the passage from waking (dominated by fantasies) to sleep (dominated by dreams). Bion overturned Freud's relation between dreams and unconscious, maintaining that censorship and personal resistances in the dream were not the product of the unconscious, but tools dreams use to create and distinguish the conscious from the unconscious.

Bion introduced an extremely interesting theoretical-clinical concept of the dream, which he called the contact barrier, a sort of semipermeable membrane that allowed an exchange between conscious and unconscious but also differentiated their functions in waking and sleep. The contact barrier is the expression of the utmost plasticity of the mind in the transference1. In fact, in analysis the dream sets in motion a process where the barrier continually shifts and changes, enabling the analyst and patient to grasp the various dimensions of the dream-intrapsychic and interperson-al-and interpret them differently. It is often thanks to this plasticity of the barrier that we can detect, in the dream before anywhere else, the patient's resistances and defenses, significant changes in his transference "temperature," and his relation with the analyst. The dream, placed in its right context in the analytical relation, through the transference, defines its

1 I have borrowed the term plasticity here from biology, where it indicates the synapses' ability to adapt.

cognoscitive dimension. We call this dimension epistemological in that it enables the mind to grow on the basis of the knowledge it has gained of itself and its own internal and external objects. But since this knowledge is governed by the strength and value of its own representations, we can conclude that the mind's cognoscitive function is governed by its theology (and the affects binding these "sacred" objects).

This epistemological aspect of the dream raises the question of man's need to dream, since dreaming is essential for knowledge of oneself and of one's objects, and the mind needs these to mobilize itself and grow. One of the purposes of the dream might therefore be to produce knowledge through the world of representations. Freud [1] had guessed this when he compared dreams to a newspaper under a dictatorship: it has to come out every night but, as it is not allowed to tell the truth directly, the truth must be masked between the lines. We can use the same metaphor, except that for us the dream that comes out every night has to tell the truth even if it is distorted, to show the dreamer's affective state; this is connected-as if by a bridge-to his early experiences, but at the same time reflects his relationship with the analyst as regards the dreamer's mind and his objects, and the analyst's mind with his own personal and countertransferential affects. Today, therefore, we can consider the dream a real experience that represents the dreamer's inner world in the immediate present, and therefore expresses the whole of the transference.

The dream, however, has an active and irreplaceable role in the dramatization of the relationship, building a line of thought that both the analyst and his patient can share. This involves bringing "on stage" the affects in play in the relation at that particular, fleeting moment. From this viewpoint the transference is a total relational situation [16], shifted from the past to the present, but at the same time it projects the dynamics between internal objects into the analytical relationship. It enables the patient to represent through a dream and communicate through its narration the current state of his internal objects, in relation to the analyst, and its connections with his own primary affective life. The analyst can use the dream to recognize the splits, identifications, denials, idealizations, fears and defenses, aggressions and seductions activated by the patient, and can employ them in work on the dream. This work involves various parts: interpretation, decoding the manifest and translating it to the latent, exploring, hypotheses, second thoughts, re-working, moves and waiting like in chess: all with the aim of gaining knowledge-and making the patient gain knowledge-of the internal objects and their dynamics in relation to the patient's earliest experiences, the defenses set up in response to the pressures of the transference, and action towards the outside world. This complex work on dreams is possible thanks to the relational context that has its part in the organization of the dream.

Along this line, which is where psychoanalysis is going right now, we can view the dream as an event drawing on the mental life of both the patient and the analyst; not only does the analyst have to interpret the patient's symbols, but the process of symbolization itself is the result of the meeting of the two people, working to create a new, shared meaning for the dream [12, 17]. Although it is the patient who dreams-though occasionally the analyst does tool-there is more than just one truth to be uncovered, exclusive to the patient: there is a truth belonging to both of them that enables them to achieve an affective harmony-or dissonance-like that bonding the mother and child [18]. The patient must be reached wherever-and to whatever extent-he can bear it. Every dream carries a truth that must be grasped by both people involved on its two levels: intrapsychic, where dynamically related parts of the self are identified with objects in the dream, and intersubjective, where parts of the self are identified with the object-the analyst in the transference.

Taken in the right context and viewed in the here and now of the analytical setting, the dream is a most valuable aid for grasping a given moment in the transference, selecting the emerging affects, and assembling the pieces of the relational mosaic into a construction on which to attempt an interpretation. At the same time, however, dreaming makes it possible to bring early experiences to the surface and give them new meaning to "up-date" them to the present. Thus the dream can be seen as the most credible and reliable tool in what Freud called Nachträglichkeit, referring to the reassigning of significance to some past experience, even if it was preverbal and presymbolic, by rewriting the memory (with or without the actual recollection). This is the true work of reconstruction on dreams [5, 19].

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