The Interpretation Of Dreams is Sigmund Freud’s seminal work on scientifically analyzing the deeper meaning hidden inside each and every one of our human dreams, which will help you make more sense of your own psyche.
A lot of my dreams as a kid involved flying. I would fly through the air, free like a bird, and soar across tree tops, mountains and cities surrounding our home. Little will it surprise you that to this day, one of my craziest goals is to invent a device that lets humans fly like birds.
What will surprise you is that this dream is one millions of people have, all of the time and it’s no coincidence. When our parents throw us into the air and catch us as children, it’s that exhilaration we’re craving deep down when we dream of flying in later years. Fascinating, right?
Inception might be a bit of a stretch, but what you can learn about your dreams in the real world still holds lot of potential for getting to know and improving your own psyche. And who better to learn it from than the founder of psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud?
Here are 3 lessons from one of his most important works, The Interpretation of Dreams:
All dreams serve to fulfill our wishes, but most of them obscure which wish it truly is.
There are three different sources for the “stuff that dreams are made of.”
Dreams are arranged through condensing, displacement and coherence.
I don’t know what you dream of, but whatever it is, after this you will know why. Here we go!
Lesson 1: Dreams always aim to fulfill our deepest desires, but they often hide which desire it is.
To be honest I can rarely remember my dreams. When I do, I’m almost disappointed when the dream is about something really obvious, like me suddenly becoming super rich or successful. These kinds of wishes aren’t special. Most people have them. There isn’t much to learn.
Another obvious desire your dreams want to fulfill for you is being lazy. If you dream about relaxing, lying in bed all day or living at the beach, free from worry, the innate human longing for lethargy is at play. However, quite often, our dreams successfully mask the deep and sometimes obscure desires in our hearts.
For example, one of Freud’s patients dreamed her youngest nephew Charles was lying dead in an open casket. When they analyzed her situation, it turned out the dream was about her suppressed love for a professor whose relationship with the family had gone awry. The last time she’d seen him was at the funeral of Charles’s older brother Otto, one of the rare events they both attended.
Her only way to see him again would have been if Charles had died – so that’s what her mind showed her. Crazy, right? That’s why reading dreams is a bit like reading between the lines in newspapers where journalists are censored. You have to look for what’s not obvious to find the truth.
Lesson 2: The content of your dreams originates from three different sources.
We often dream about what happened on the same day or the one before, but real-life events are just one of three sources of dream content:
Recent, real-life events. Anything that happened in the past 24 hours, or even the last week. If you bumped into Mr. Gartner, maybe he’ll show up. These often connect to other memories too, so you might dream about a garden you once visited, because Mr. Gartner’s name sounds similar.
Childhood memories. If we dream about it often enough, we might be able to identify definite, distant memories that ended up defining who we are. Freud’s dad told him he wouldn’t amount to anything when he was really young, so with each new success and award ceremony, dreams of embarrassing moments would come back.
Bodily stimuli. If you’ve ever had a wet dream, you’ve experienced this. But any physical influence on your body will transcend into your dreams while you’re asleep. For example, if you sleep on a plane and it starts shaking, you might get dizzy in your dream.
There are lots of places to find “the stuff that dreams are made of.” Now you know what it is. But how does your brain put it together?
Lesson 3: Your mind structures your dreams by condensing, displacing and coherently arranging their contents.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression of “weaving dreams.” Given the three types of “wool” used to create them and how your mind puts them together, that’s actually not too far off. Your dreams get their structure in three ways:
Condensing. Half a page of writing down your dream’s timeline might require six pages of written interpretation. That’s the power of compression. For example, if you see a new sports car you like and watched a spy movie three years ago, your dream might combine both and turn you into a racing super agent.
Displacement. Important matters are often represented in trivialities in dreams. You might be bored and unengaged at your job, but in your dream the only reference to that is that the license plate of your sports car reads “B0R1NG.”
Coherence. No matter how different the actual events and memories, your brain will always bring all your dreams’ elements into a logical sequence. It might feel strange to dream about a fellow racer riding on a lawnmower, but if those are the two elements, your mind will connect them in the most logical way.
When you look at where the elements of a dream come from and how they’re pieced together, you can now understand why dreams are often surreal and so hard to interpret. What will you do with this knowledge?
I guess I can only dream about that.
My personal take-aways
The Interpretation of Dreams is a massive, highly complex, scientific, verbose book. We have only dipped our toe into the water you can now take a leap.