For thousands of years, conventional wisdom held that dreams were either meaningless or were products of a supernatural power. In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Dr. Sigmund Freud (1900) re-calibrates these popular views by arguing that dreams are a meaningful glimpse into the unconscious mind.
Freud pointed out that dreams seldom adhere to reason or rationality. The non-sense of dreams, however, reveals the complex forces at work in the mind (I outline Freud’s theory of the mind in a previous post). Dreams originate in the unconscious of animalistic impulses. This content is then converted into symbolic language by a “censor” in the pre-conscious so as to make it more agreeable to the dreamer. Lost in this defensive process is the wish that every dream seeks to attain. As Freud famously declares: “the dream is the (disguised) fulfillment of a (suppressed, repressed) wish.”
The task of interpretation is to go beyond the dream’s manifest-content (the material that is readily viewable by the dreamer) to interrogate the dream’s latent-content (the hidden message behind the dream). Through analysis, the wishes of the unconscious can become available to the consciousness in an effort to fulfill them.
To do this, we need to be honest with ourselves, and to remember our experiences and thoughts from the preceding days – as dreams are heavily inspired by our immediate circumstances.
I will now present the contents of a recent dream and provide an interpretation through a Freudian lens.
DREAM: (Thursday, October 6, 2016 – awakened at 1:43am)
I am at home standing over my bed. I see materials such as cardboard boxes that are not mine on my bed, and it makes me angry, because I want to sleep.
Then, my voice becomes raspy – as if there were a build-up of phlegm in my throat. I cannot speak clearly. Upon further inspection, I realize that there are empty alcohol boxes on my bed. My 10-year old niece is also lying on my bed. I yell at her to remove all the stuff from my bed, and remind her that I already told her to do this before. My niece responds “it is not mine, it is Uncle’s” (her other uncle: my brother).
I yell up the hallway stairs to my brother. At the top of the stairs, there is a bathroom. He responds to my yell by opening the bathroom door and looking down at me. I get a profile view of him sitting on the toilet (exposing his left thigh/buttock). In my raspy voice, I struggle to tell him to move the garbage off of my bed.
That is all I remember.
The raspy voice. The day before the dream, I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled at 9:15am. I arrived at the office only to find that all the doors were locked and all of the lights were off. I was infuriated. In the past, my doctor has been known to send bills to patients who miss appointments. I waited 15 minutes, and then left. But before doing so, I called and left a message on the office phone, telling the doctor that “if you plan on sending me a bill for a missed appointment, save your paper – because you will not get a dime out of me.” Right in the middle of saying this, my voice got raspy – and I had to clear my throat. To me, this made my act of protest on the voicemail less forceful and lame. I wanted to delete that message and start over with a clear, confident voice – but it was not possible.
I carried this feeling of being pathetic all day, and I needed redemption. In an attempt to undo this feeling, I retold the story to my girlfriend and my mother about how I “told the doctor off” on his voicemail – but conveniently left out the fact that my voice got raspy. The dream was based on a wish to redeem myself – but, interestingly, the dream did not allow me to undo that feeling.
My niece laying on my bed. When I came home on Tuesday, my niece was laying on my bed watching television. I immediately felt violated because I just wanted to lay down in bed and be left alone. But I did not express this feeling, because I felt it would be too harsh. The dream, then, satisfied my wish to yell at my niece.
The empty boxes of beer on my bed. Every Monday, the garbage and recyclables go out on the curb for pick-up the next day. My father drinks a lot of alcohol, and thus, there are a lot of beer bottles and boxes in the recycling bin. On Monday evenings, a man in a truck goes around to all the houses in the neighborhood and takes the bottles and cans from people’s recycling bins – because they can be exchanged for money.
On Monday night, after the recyclables were put out on the curb, I heard bottles banging together in front of the house. I remember thinking to myself “that is the guy who takes the bottles and cans.” I wanted to get up out of bed to watch the process, but I just stayed put instead. The frustrated desire to see the man who collects the bottles and cans was the source of the imagery.
Moreover, I picked my mother up from work that day – and she received a text message from my father asking her to pick up a 6-pack of beer from the store. I was annoyed by this, but I did not want to be disrespectful to my mother in expressing it – so I kept it to myself.
Seeing my brother on toilet. A few days ago, I left my glasses in the bathroom after taking a shower. When I walked back upstairs to grab them, I saw that the bathroom door was closed. My brother must have anticipated my motive – because he handed my glasses to me out the door as he sat on the toilet. I never mentioned this to anyone.
Additionally, on Tuesday I remember sitting on the toilet and thinking about Freud’s theory of potty training. Once again, these were not ideas that I shared with anyone – I repressed them, thus making them available for content in a dream. My lack of outrage over seeing my brother on the toilet gestures toward my identification with him. He was a substitute for myself.
All of these images were a medley of unexpressed thoughts and emotions – making them ripe material for a dream.