Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), widely regarded as the founder of psychoanalysis, revolutionized dream analysis in his book The Interpretation Of Dreams. Freud examines dreams to comprehend how certain personality facets relate to pathology. He holds that nothing you do is a result of chance; every thought and action is, to some extent, driven by your unconscious.
You tend to suppress your urges and restrain your impulses to live in a civilized society. However, these urges and impulses must be let go of because they have a way of surfacing in covert ways.
Your dreams are one way that these urges and impulses are let go. Freud thought the unconscious communicated through symbols because their contents could be extremely upsetting or harmful.
The superego restrains the impulses, IDs, and desires while you are awake. You can see into your id or unconscious through dreams. When your guard is down in the dream state, your unconscious can manifest and express hidden d's desires.
However, the desires id occasionally have the potential to be so horrifying and even psychologically damaging that a "censor" steps in and transform the disturbing material into a more palatable symbolic form. This makes it easier to stay asleep and keeps you from being startled by the images when you wake up. As a result, cryptic and perplexing dream images appear.
According to Freud, the superego is at work when you have trouble remembering your dreams. It carries out its purpose by shielding the conscious mind from the disturbing images and desires that the unconscious conjures.
Despite being well-known and having influenced other psychological theories, the theory has recently lost favor and been thoroughly refuted by contemporary dream scientists. Numerous theories about why we dream now exist, ranging from rehearsing social or dangerous situations to aiding in processing our emotions and strengthening new memories. However, unlike when Freud's theory predominated, no single theory now does.
However, over the past ten years, a new wave of studies has shown that at least one aspect of Freud's theory—that we dream of things we are doing our best to ignore—might have been true.
Daniel Wegner conducted the first of these experiments and found that even when we suppress or ignore a thought, it keeps coming back.
He hypothesized that this is because when we try to suppress a thought, two psychological processes are active at once: an operational process that actively suppresses the thought and a monitoring process that keeps an eye out for it. Because of this, thought suppression is challenging and is only possible when the two processes interact effectively.
According to Wegner, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep may cause these processes to malfunction. The parts of the brain necessary for suppressing thought, such as those in charge of attention, control, and working memory, are inactive during REM sleep. Wegner assumed that since REM sleep is known to be the source of many of our dreams, we would observe many suppressed thoughts resurfacing in dreams.
Interestingly, he was able to test this theory in 2004. Before going to bed that night, participants in his study were instructed to name a familiar person and then spend five minutes writing a stream of consciousness about anything that came to mind. In contrast to the second group of participants, who were instructed to specifically think about the person during their five minutes of writing, the first group of these participants was specifically instructed not to think about the person.
A third group was free to reflect on whatever they desired. When they awoke the next morning, they all wrote down any dreams they could recall from the previous evening.
The findings were unmistakable: participants who were told to suppress thoughts of a person dreamed of them much more frequently than participants who were told to concentrate on the person or were free to think about anything. The "dream rebound effect" is what Wegner referred to as.
We now understand more about the dream rebound effect than before that experiment. It has been discovered, for instance, that people who are generally more prone to thought suppression experience more dream rebound and that suppressing a thought increases the likelihood that you will dream about it more frequently, as well as the likelihood that you will dream more unpleasant dreams.
Numerous elements of Freud's theory of dreaming have yet to or cannot undergo empirical testing. Although it's impossible to prove or refute, one could argue that almost all dreams involve some degree of fulfillment. In later writings, Freud acknowledged that the theory could explain not all types of dreams, like the nightmares connected to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Furthermore, his theory goes against the generally accepted ethical standards for dreamwork because it places the agency of dream interpretation in the analyst's hands rather than the dreamer's.
Nevertheless, some aspects of the theory have been tested in experiments. For instance, Freud could have used the fact that REM dreams are full of aggressive interactions as proof that our suppressed aggressive impulses manifest in our dreams.
As a result, while it's still unclear to what extent Freud's theory about dreams was accurate, it appears that he was right after all in at least one regard: dreams are the royal road to understanding the unconscious, where banished thoughts continue to exist.