Home Personal Psychology Sleeping/Dreaming Dreamer Beware: The Insightful Dreams of Sarah, Dan and Katherine

Dreamer Beware: The Insightful Dreams of Sarah, Dan and Katherine

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Thoughtless or Thoughtful

There is a second important way in which to approach a dream and its meaning. Like Sigmund Freud and most of his followers, we can conceive of dreams as primarily being a vehicle for the “thoughtless” presentation and often fanciful fulfillment of some primitive wish. This being a case, then we are advised to not act on any outcomes of the dream when we wake up. The dream should never “unleash” the beast that resides in each of us. Freud’s “beast” (that he called the “Id”) is to be contained by our realistic functions (Freud’s “Ego”) or—as a fallback position—by the irrational forces of shame, guilt and remorse (embedded in Freud’s “Superego”) that encounter our beast and tie it to a stack.

Alternatively, we can conceive of dreams as being at times quite “thoughtful” – and filled with insights that can be of great value in guiding our waking behavior. Much as in the case of myths, rituals, art and music, dreams can teach us, warn us and even “save us” from the beast (rather than being a venue for the unleashing of the beast). A blended perspective is offered by Erich Fromm, a neo-psychoanalytic practitioner and author, in The Forgotten Language. Fromm (1951, pp. 146-147) suggests that:

“. . . . dreams are either manifestations of our animal nature–the gate of delusion–or of our most rational powers–the gate of truth . . .. Some [students of dreams] believe, like Freud, that all dreams are of an irrational nature; others, like Jung, that they are all revelations of higher wisdom. But many students share the view expressed throughout this book-that dreams partake of both, of our irrational and of our rational nature, and that it is the aim of the art of dream interpretation to understand when our better self and when our animal nature makes itself heard in the dream.”

While Fromm believes that dreams can be both thoughtless and thoughtful, he tends to lean in his analysis on the thoughtful side (probably as a way to balance off the predominant emphasis among psychoanalytic thinkers on the irrational, thoughtless side). Fromm (1951, pp. 31-32) offers the following insightful distinction between the “reality” of our waking life and the “reality” of our life in dreams. He first considers the “benefits” of relying on our waking reality:

“. . . while we are asleep we are not occupied with managing outer reality. We do not perceive it and we do not influence it, nor are we subject to the influences of the outside world on us. From this it follows that the effect of this separation from reality depends on the quality of reality itself. If the influence from the outside world is essentially beneficial, the absence of this influence during sleep would tend to lower the value of our dream activity, so that it would be inferior to our mental activities during the daytime when we are exposed to the beneficial influence of outside reality.”

Fromm (1951, p. 32-33) goes further in building the case for this assumption:

“Is . . . the man-made reality outside ourselves not the most significant factor for the development of the very best in us, and must we not expect that, when deprived of contact with the outside world, we regress temporarily to a primitive, animal-like, unreasonable state of mind? Much can be said in favor of such an assumption, and the view that such a regression is the essential feature of the state of sleep, and thus of dream activity, has been held by many students of dreaming from Plato to Freud. From this viewpoint dreams are expected to be expressions of the irrational, primitive strivings in us, and the fact that we forget our dreams so easily is amply explained by our being ashamed of those irrational and criminal impulses which we express when we were not under the control of society.”

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