THE dream stands in the center of the psycho-analytic theory and gives us the best insight into normal and abnormal mental structures. Dream-analysis furnishes the physician the most direct means of understanding various abnormal mental or nervous states, such as obsessions, fixed ideas, delusions, hysteria, etc., and is the most powerful instrument which he possesses for the removal of such pathological symptoms. The unconscious contains our repressed instincts, our erotic or sexual phantasies, and it expresses these as symbolic wish fulfillments in dreams or in psycho-neurotic symptoms.
The motive power for every dream is furnished by the unconscious, although this motive power may be set into activity by our conscious thoughts, pre-sleeping reveries, or physical instigators during sleep. A conscious wish in children or in adults may reinforce the unconscious wish, and it will be fulfilled in the dream. As Freud so well expresses it: "Experience teaches us that the road leading from the forecon-scious to the conscious is closed to the dream thoughts during the day by the resistance of the censor."1
At the bottom of every dream there lies a repressed wish in the unconscious, a wish which may appear disguised in the dream, and which can only be interpreted by an analysis of the dream. The theory that every dream represents the fulfillment of a repressed wish is one of the most important contributions of the psycho-analytic school but it can be well substantiated by practical experience in dream-analysis. Furthermore, as previously pointed out, the unconscious has no other force or function at its disposal but wish feelings and their fulfillment. Of course, except in the very elementary wish dreams of children, the wish in adult dreams is hidden within the dream thoughts or latent content of the dream, and only in rare instances does it appear in the dream itself.
1 "The Interpretation of Dreams," p. 429.
As an example of such a concealed wish, we may take the dream of a woman who dreamed that one of her brothers was about to be put to death by hanging. Such a dream appears to contradict totally the theory that dreams represent wish fulfillments, often the fulfillment of wishes impossible in reality, for one would at once say that no woman would be so heartless, so devoid of feeling as to entertain such a wish against her brother. If the dream is interpreted literally, such a criticism would be well taken, but the remembered dream (manifest content), as previously pointed out, is merely a disguise of the underlying unconscious thoughts which produced the dream. What, then, are these thoughts? Why does this woman's unconscious self wish her brother to be hanged, when her conscious thoughts, nay, even her whole moral being, would revolt from such an idea?
The analysis fully disclosed the reason for such a dream. It developed that the brother who was seen in the dream was a fusion or composite picture of two of her brothers, one of whom had died eight years previously of tuberculosis, and the other four years ago of cancer. After the death of the first brother, the dreamer had for some time been troubled with a cough, and although assured that her difficulty was not tubercular, she had never been able to dispel fully the idea of tubercular infection, particularly since she possessed a certain fear that the disease was hereditary. The dream itself occurred shortly after an operation for a small, non-malignant tumor, which had been growing for a number of years, and which she had feared might be of a malignant character. This fear was also somewhat exaggerated and fortified owing to the fact that her other brother had died of cancer, and she had become more or less obsessed by the idea that perhaps cancer, like tuberculosis, might be hereditary. In a way, this fear of a cancerous or tubercular heredity had worried her for a long period. With these data in mind, the meaning of the dream becomes clear. Its wish as disclosed is not the desire to have her brothers hanged, but a longing that she be free from any physical disease with the slightest hereditary taint, for the purpose of calming her anxieties and her almost obsessive attitude towards heredity. Therefore, the dream means that she wished her brothers had died of some disease other than cancer or tuberculosis (as these diseases might be hereditary, and she might also fall a victim to ope of them); in fact, even hanging would be preferable, so far as her peace of mind was concerned.
The term "wish" in psycho-analysis is very comprehensive and connotes in a broad sense all our desires, ambitions, or strivings, which are fulfilled in our dreams, if not in reality or in reveries, principally because such wishes or desires are strongly repressed from personal, social, religious, or ethical motives. Children have no such motives, therefore the wishes of the child's waking life and its dreams at night are identical.
The latent content of every dream is the imaginary fulfillment of an ungratified or repressed wish, but a wish cannot produce a dream, unless such a wish harmonizes with the whole or a portion of the unconscious self. Thus a mental conflict frequently arises, the repressed, unconscious wish constantly striving to enter consciousness, which it can accomplish only in a dream. Dreams and nervous symptoms have frequently the same construction and mechanism; both represent conflicts between wishes, i.e.; the wish to forget and the wish for fulfillment.
The source of the dream wish may lie not only in the thoughts repressed into the unconscious, but likewise in actual desires arising during the night, such as thirst. For instance, if a feeling of thirst arises during sleep, we may dream of gratifying this thirst through drinking. Since the thirst is gratified in the dream, the wish for a drink is fulfilled, and sleep remains undisturbed. Therefore, this, as many other dreams, serve to protect sleep; the wish has incited a dream in which the wish is fulfilled, instead of awaking the sleeper for the fulfillment of the wish in reality.