Dreams: a Comparative Contrast Between Two Theories of the Possible Functions and Meanings of Dreams

Abstract Both Freud and Jung provided important and interesting theories on dreams; encompassing their functions, their roots, and their meanings. Freud looked at dreams as a result of repressed memories, particularly repressed sexual memories from our childhood. Jung however, believed that dreams delved beyond sexual repression during younger years, to other problems, be it trauma, anxiety etc. Jung also believed dreams changed predominately through middle adult years, while Freud believed the opposite.

There is little empirical evidence to reinforce either Freud or Jung’s theories, however, their contributions to the study of dreams in psychology cannot be lessened or denied. Dreams: A comparative contrast between two theories of the possible Functions and meanings of dreams Who among us hasn’t woken up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat following a nightmare, or indeed woke up and wished the dream they had just had was in fact real! Dreams have always been important to people as they have been considered different and paranormal.

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Some have interpreted dreams as messages from God, that they foretold the future, and that they required decoding in order to be understood. Some believe that a dream not interpreted is like a letter not read. (Hall & Castle, 1966). Dreams are considered to be expressions of the deepest levels and most remote recesses of the human mind (Hall & Castle, 1966) and that they are a record of the past or possibly a portent of the future (Hall & Castle, 1966). They can be both foreboding and welcoming, and are often not a reflection of the waking conscious person we consider ourselves to be.

Dream interpretation is the core of this essay, as it has social, medicinal, prophetic, and religious importance with implications for self-knowledge. (Blum, 2000) Dreams were not always thought of in this vein. In early times dreams were idealised and devalued as nonsensical. Aristotle (350 BCE) was among later writers who considered dreams as natural rather than supernatural phenomena. (Blum, 2000) The tendency toward the idealisation and devaluation of dreams continued as dreams were considered by many scientists and physicians prior to Freud as being babble, the rrational product of a sleepy mind in a sleeping brain. Since the publication of the “Interpretation of Dreams,” which first appeared on November 4, 1899, dreams were given an exceptional position by Freud and the pioneer analysts. Why are dreams of scientific interest? Like the Himalayas, the pyramids and the infinite galaxy around us; they exist, and are for the most part, unexplained. They are a form of behaviour which every healthy adult devotes about an hour and a half each night, and behaviour which occupies so much time should be studied. Hall & Castle, 1966) Since the work of Freud, dreams have become an exemplary section of psychological study and there have been countless pieces of research conducted on dreams and their interpretation. What follows is two separate dream theories which will be compared and contrasted against each other as well as critiqued in terms of their validity in the way they have presented those theories, and how modern psychology looks upon those theories. Firstly we examine Freud’s dream theory, who arguably brought dreams into mainstream psychology with his 1900 publication of “The Interpretation of Dreams”.

Prior to the late 19th century, the general consensus of dream theorists was that dreams were brief and that they were usually a reaction to an internal or external stimulus during the process of waking. Freud attempted to blend these perspectives with his own view that a dream was like “a firework hat has been hours in the preparation and then blazes up in a moment. ” (Freud, 1900) Freud’s dream theory had many profound contentions. Freud’s most poignant claim was that wish fulfillment was the meaning of each and every dream. Freud, 106. ) Freud applied this to adult patients, but based most of this assertion upon the dreams of young children. He believed that children provided invaluable proof of his wish fulfillment theory. Freud even went as far as using dreams from his own children as evidence. (Freud). Freud’s wish fulfillment theory began because he believed that the wishes in adult dreams were disguised in order to reduce their anxiety tendencies. Freud theorised that dreams are disguised by a “censor” of sorts, in four ognitive processes he collectively called the “dream-work” (Freud, 1900) these include; displacement, whereby highly charged thoughts are transferred to minor elements in the impending dream. Condensation then compresses several different dream thoughts. These two are then joined together by the regard for representability, which changes abstract thoughts into a form that is applicable for the sensor. Finally the dream is shaped by secondary revision which basically gives the dream content an understandable pattern. (Freud, 1900). It is through this dream work that Freud contended unconscious thoughts were transferred into dream content. Freud, 1900) According to Freud (1900) the emotions in dreams are often inappropriate to the content. “I dream I am in a frightful, dangerous, repulsive situation but I feel no fear or revulsion at all; other times……I am filled with horror at something harmless and with delight at something childish. ” (Freud, 1900). He attributes this to the fact that content in dreams is often replaced by displacements and substitutions, but emotions remain in place unaltered. (Freud, 1900). The main stumbling block for Freud’s dream-work theory is dreams brought about by trauma.

This was brought to Freud’s attention after World War I combatants suffered these occurrences. Freud’s opinion on this was to say that these dreams brought about by trauma are an attempt at mastering overwhelming stimuli. (Freud, 1900) Controversially, Freud (1912) claimed that impressions from early childhood years could appear in our dreams, which conversely, are not available to our memory when we are awake. To demonstrate his point, Freud claimed that the common adult dream of being naked is an “exhibition dream” which is based on a childish desire to prance around naked. Freud, 1900) Freud (1900) claimed that dreams were in fact guardians of sleep, arising from the mind to provide satisfaction for a bodily urge, for example, a dream of going to the toilet or getting a glass of water is a hallucinatory response to the actual urge to undertake these actions. (Freud). Freud’s conclusions on dreams rested upon his theory of free association in which the dreamer produces uncritical, unreflective trains of thought to each part of the dream. Freud felt that this would reveal the latent wishes on which dreams are based (Domhoff, 2003).

Freud combined these beliefs to conclude that the cognitive process of dream work turn these latent wishes into manifest dream content. While Freud looked at dreams in terms of our ego and the manifestation of thoughts and events in our early life, the Jungian theory of dreams is somewhat different. Jung’s dream theory is based around four main ideas. (Blum, 2000). Firstly; that highly significant dreams are the product of a collective unconscious, which contain what he called archetypes, describes as the inherited experiential record of the human species. (Domhoff, 2003).

Secondly, Jung argued that these archetypes of the collective unconscious express themselves through a set of inherited symbols that also appear in myths, religious ceremonies and other waking practices. Thus the core of Jung’s dream interpretation is through understanding and decoding these symbols using individual dreams and cultural parallels. (Domhoff, 2003). Jung used one of his own dreams as an example of this interpretation where he interpreted walking through various levels of a house, and slowly descending into the more primitive depths of that house as a “structural diagram of the human psyche. (Jung, 1963 in Domhoff, 2003). Jung’s third major idea is that most dreams, especially those with roots in the collective unconscious have a compensatory function, in that they express aspects of the personality that aren’t adequately developed in waking life. This may be a result of repressed emotions or repressed actions that aren’t available to a particular person during their waking life, but are left to the subconscious to develop during sleep. (Domhoff, 2003) Finally, Jung contended that gradual changes in dream content occur in the iddle years of adult life that reflect the psychological need for an integration of the personality and a search for the definitive “self”. (Domhoff, 2003) Jung’s theory is extremely conceptual in that it is based around understanding dreams through waking conceptual metaphors. Both Freud and Jung should be praised for their attempts to shed light on what is such an ambiguous and enigmatic topic. The problem for both of these theories is that they have little or no empirical evidence to reinforce their claims. And modern psychological evidence often requires empirical evidence or the theory is simply an interesting, but unfounded one.

G. William Domhoff (2003) analysed both the Freudian and Jungian theories in terms of their reliability and empirical evidence in order to find if one had more plausibility than the other. In terms of Freud’s “dream-work” theory, no convincing nonclinical studies demonstrated its operation. (Domhoff, 2003). This is the same case for Freud’s theory that the emotions in dreams are often inappropriate to the content. This theory was discredited by laboratory tests conducted in 1999 that suggest dream emotions are often overwhelmingly appropriate to the dream content. (Domhoff, 2003).

Domhoff (2003) also examines Freud’s lack of consideration for traumatic dreams, which he did not examine in any way until after World War I. If anything, recurring dreams brought about by severe trauma reduce Freud’s “wish-fulfillment” dreams to only a subset of all possible dreams, rather than encompassing all dreams as Freud believed. Domhoff (2003) also refused to accept Freud’s theory that impressions from very early life can appear in adult dreams, saying that this is “highly unlikely in the light of modern day research on memory, which shows that few or no conscience recollections occur from before age three. Domhoff (2003) in a similar vein dismisses Freud’s “guardian of sleep” theory, saying that the sheer frequency of dreams suggests that they are not a primary way to deal with impulses, and that while people do dream of eating and drinking etc, Domhoff felt that this is rarely a frequent occurrence in dreams. Finally Domhoff (2003) dismisses Freud’s free association in terms of its usefulness for examining dream hypothesis, claiming that it there is no empirical evidence that it provides a solution for discerning what is contained in a dream.

Additionally Domhoff quoted a study by Foulkes which concluded that using free associations to understand dreams is an inherently arbitrary method. The Jungian theory too is not without its criticisms. Domhoff (2003) also quoted a study of Jung’s work conducted by Neher (1977) in which Jung’s work was described as “unscientific because it is based on the discredited notion of the inheritance of of acquired characteristics, does not allow for a variation in specific archetypes, and is not grounded in a convincing elimination of outside influences on which it is based. Jung’s theory that dreams can be compensatory is hard to refute, but it’s also just as hard to endorse as there is infinite levels of compensation. Studies by Calvin S Hall also refute this as there is far more correlation between dreams and waking life than Jung or Freud’s theories allowed for. (Domhoff, 2003). Finally Domhoff (2003) states that Jung’s theory that dream content changes in the middle years of adult life is incorrect. Several studies have shown, some conducted by Domhoff himself, that dreams are more consistent as people grow older, not the reverse.

As opposed to each other, both Freud and Jung’s dream theories have certain similarities and differences. Rlizg (2003) felt that both dream interpretations placed great emphasis on dreams for their therapeutic value. Freud believed there was much to learn from dreams, and Jung believed that dreams could often direct us to finding solutions for our deepest problems, i. e. that dreams are a form of actual healing for Jung, and a hallucinatory healing for Freud. Also similar is the fact that for both interpretations, a dream report is the starting point where the meaning of the dream is believed to be contained. Rlizg, 2000). There are also important differences between the two theories. For Feud, dreams were simply a mirror of conflict that needed to be discovered, no matter how suppressed. Jung however, looked to the dream where conflict has been expressed for a solution. Jung felt that dreams were not always a mirror of repressed sexual trauma, but could mirror things like social adaptation, tragic life occurrences, and the need for respect etc. (Jung, 1989, in Rlizg, 2000)

Jung favoured induction over deduction in that he had no real definitive or empirical theory about dreams, but strongly felt that if absorbed properly, something could always be deduced from dreams. (Rlizg, 2000) Freud looked at dreams from a casual standpoint, he believed that dreams were created by some kind of internal stimulus, (Rlizg, 2000), which meant that dreams are simply a symbol of some kind of repression. Jung however, felt that dreams had their own purpose and should be interpreted on their own merit, not simply as asymbol of sexual repression.

Neither Freud’s nor Jung’s theory on dreams is completely accepted. What is accepted though is that they have attempted to create some kind of meaning where there appears to be little. Much of what Freud contended has been dismissed, but not forgotten, because much of what Freud said was extremely profound and important. However, his dream theories lack the empirical evidence modern psychology requires. It’s the same in the case of Jung, who made the extremely step in examining dreams in their finality, as their own product and not simply a product of repression.

Perhaps a synthesis of both Freud and Jung, as well as other dream theorists is required for us to truly understand dreams. Bibliography BOOKS: – Domhoff, William G, (2003), The Scientific Study Of Dreams, Washington DC American Psychological Association. – Foulkes, David, (1978), A Grammar Of Dreams, New York, Harvester Press. American Psychological Association. – Freud, Sigmund, (1900), The Interpretation Of Dreams, Great Britain, Unwin Brothers Ltd. – Hall, Calvin S & Van De Castle, Robert L, (1966).

Content Analysis of Dreams, USA, Meredith Publishing Company JOURNAL ARTICLES: – Blum, Harold, (2000), The Writing And Interpretation Of Dreams, Psychoanalytic Psychology, 17, 651-666. – Lippmann, Paul, (2000), Dreams and Psychoanalysis: A Love–Hate Story, Psychoanalytic Psychology, 17(4), 627-650. ONLINE MEDIA – Rlizg, J B, Dreams as Viewd by Freud and Jung, Online Psychic Journal, 1-5. Retrieved May 4th from http://www. psychicjournal. com/archives/000410/000410f2. htm


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