Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 and died in 1939. His father was a Jewish wool merchant, Jakob, who in his second marriage wed Freud’s mother, Amalie Nathansohn. They were living at the time in Freiberg in the Czech Republic. The family later moved to Leipzig, and then to Vienna, where Freud lived and worked for much of his adult life.

Freud’s early ambition was to study law, but it is said that on hearing a talk on Goethe’s scientific investigations he decided to study medicine. This he did at the university of Vienna, and in his third year he became fascinated by a study of the central nervous system. He became so engrossed in this neurological research that it took him three years longer than was normally needed to qualify as a physician.

After spending three years at the General Hospital of Vienna, working in the fields of psychiatry, dermatology, and nervous diseases, he left when given the role of lecturer in neuropathology at the University of Vienna in 1885.

In that same year he was given a government grant, and Freud used this to spend 19 weeks in Paris as a student of the French neurologist Jean Charcot at the Salpêtrière mental hospital. Charcot was well known throughout Europe for his methods using hypnosis as a way to deal with hysteria and other nervous disorders. This deeply impressed Freud, and a year later he started his own clinical practice in Vienna, using some of the techniques learned while with Charcot. One of the influences of this association was probably that it left Freud feeling that not all mental illness had its source in the body. The physical brain does cause some illnesses, but Charcot helped Freud see that some problems stem from the mind, the psyche of the person.


Shortly after his return from Paris, Freud married Martha Bernays. Her family were prominent in the Jewish community, and her ancestors included a chief rabbi of Hamburg and Heinrich Heine. Martha was deeply supportive throughout Freud’s life.

In this same period of time, and shortly after his marriage to Martha, Freud became firm friends with Wilhelm Fliess. The dialogue this friendship afforded is thought to have deeply influenced the direction and detail of Freud’s developing concept of the human psyche. Ideas about erogenous areas of the body, human bisexuality, and early sexuality in childhood, may have originated in this dialogue.

It was in this same year, 1886, that Freud started a clinical practice in neuropsychology at Berggasse 19. He used this consulting room for almost fifty years. About the same time Freud began another association with a Viennese physician named Josef Breuer. In 1893 Breuer had presented a paper titled Studies in Hysteria. In essence Breuer stated that forgotten traumas, painful incidents that had left a psychological scar, were responsible for what was at that time called hysteria. It was, Breuer wrote, the undischarged emotional energy associated with these forgotten traumas that were the root cause of hysteria. Using hypnotic techniques, Breuer helped some patients to re-enact, and thus recall, the original traumatic incident. In doing so the emotional charge was released. The release and remembering or integrating, was called catharsis or abreaction.

Discovery of the talking cure

Although this was almost the same as work done by Franz Anton Mesmer a hundred years previously, Breuer’s paper on hysteria was the foundation for modern psychotherapy due to its basis in clinical observation.

There was a major difference between what Charcot was doing, and the approach Breuer took, and it was nearly ten years before Freud accepted this difference. Whereas Charcot used hypnotic suggestion to direct the course of treatment, Breuer, instead of being in command, allowed the person to follow a spontaneous course by talking about the initial events linked with the trauma. This ‘talking cure’ as Breuer and his patient Anna O called it, this ‘chimney sweeping,’ acted cathartically to release the bottled-up emotional obstruction at the root of the problem. This was the approach already used by Mesmer, and in essence, later by many modern practitioners. Unfortunately, none of the practitioners prior to Carl Jung noted the self-regulatory factors in it. See: Life’s Little Secrets;  LifeStream; Franz Anton Mesmer

It was not until Freud noticed how allowing his patients to freely associate ideas with whatever came to mind, that he really explored spontaneous abreaction. Freud himself suffered bouts of deep anxiety, and it was partly this that led him to explore the connection between association of ideas and dreams. In 1897 he wrote to his friend Wilhelm Fliess:

‘No matter what I start with, I always find myself back again with the neuroses and the psychical apparatus. Inside me there is a seething ferment, and I am only waiting for the next surge forward. I have felt impelled to start writing about dreams, with which I feel on firm ground.’

The doorway of dreams

This move toward dreams may have come about because in allowing his patients freedom to talk and explore the associations that arose – free association – Freud noticed that patients would often find a connection between the direction of their associations and a dream they had experienced. The more he allowed his patients to go in their own direction, the more frequently they mentioned their dreams. Also, talking about the dream often enabled the patient to discover a new and productive chain of associations and memories.

Freud began to take note of his own dreams and explore the associations they aroused. In doing so he was the first person to consciously and consistently explore a dream into its depths through uncovering and following obvious and hidden associations and emotions connected with the dream imagery and drama. Obviously previous dream researchers had noticed how the dream image associated with personal concerns, but Freud broke through into seeing the connection with sexual feelings, with early childhood trauma, and with the subtleties of the human psyche. He did this to deal with his own neurosis, and he says of this period, ‘I have been through some kind of neurotic experience, with odd states of mind not intelligible to consciousness, cloudy thoughts and veiled doubts, with barely here and there a ray of light.’

Using dreams for his self analysis, Freud discovered that previously unremembered details from his childhood were recaptured, along with feelings and states of mind which he had never met before. He wrote of this period, ‘Some sad secrets of life are being traced back to their first roots, the humble origins of much pride and precedence are being laid bare. …… I am now experiencing myself all the things that, as a third party, I have witnessed going on in my patients, days when I slink about depressed because I have understood nothing of the day’s dreams, fantasies, or moods.’

Norman MacKenzie believes that without this powerful and personal experience of working with his dreams, meeting emotions and fantasies welling up from the unconscious, Freud would not have so passionately believed in his theories regarding dreams and the unconscious.

The interpretation of dreams

From his work with dreams, Freud wrote and published his masterful book, Die TraumdeutungThe Interpretation of Dreams – in 1899. But the book was dated 1900 to represent it ground-breaking nature. What was new about his representation of dreams was their role in the health of ones psyche. Fundamental to this was his view of psychic/sexual energy that he named libido. He saw this as what one might call the electrical current of the psyche. It was the energy within all the mental, emotional and sexual life of the person. Like electricity in nature, or like the flow of a river, the energy could build up and would seek release. If it was not released in a satisfying way, or if its current was somehow linked with or directed into indirect expression, mental, emotional and even physical pain or disturbance would occur. Sexuality or emotions could become linked in strange ways with objects, such as one might find with shoe fetishism. (Freud was, however, not the first person to link dreams to psychic health. See American Indian Dream Beliefs.)

Through dreams, Freud felt the patient could gradually uncover the ways their libido was repressed, cross wired, or traumatised. This development of insight could release them.

Freud defined several aspects of dreams.

Wish fulfilment – Dreams were seen to be an expression of wishes that were perhaps unconscious. One might desire something that was socially or personally prohibited. Therefore one might dream of fulfilling that desire, even symbolically.

Dreamwork – Because of the struggle between what one was urged toward, and what was prohibited, dreams often symbolised the real nature of their content. Therefore to understand the dream, interpretative work needed to be done. This work was outlined in his book,

Manifest and latent content – The manifest content of a dream is that which we can remember and report as the images and plot or theme of the dream. Freud pointed out that this obvious and reported dream intermingled the residues of immediate daily experience with the deepest, often most infantile wishes. It did this by condensing a massive amount of associations and feelings in any given dream image. Almost any social symbol does this in fact. If you take the symbol of the Red Cross, for instance, at first you might say it represents an international organization that cares for the wounded, sick, and homeless in wartime. Beyond that however are millions of other things you could associate with it, such as its history, events or incidents it took part in, even personal memories and feelings of wartime experience.

Condensation – This is the action of representing two or more ideas or feelings in one object, word, or situation. For instance a man dreamt he was working in his father’s shop and a male acquaintance came in with his left bicep shot away. The shop connected with the difficulties of relationship the dreamer had with his father. It was also a place the dreamer had experienced feelings of extreme shyness in their youth due to acne. So it had the connection with difficulties in meeting people and feelings of self worth. There was the further connection with work. It had been the dreamer’s first work place. The shop therefore depicts all those parts of the dreamer’s feelings and memories. We can therefore say the dream shop condenses all those parts of the dreamer’s inner life. Freud said that no direct correspondence between the manifest content and its multidimensional latent counterpart can be assumed.

Displacement – This means that the dreamer substitutes one thing or person for another. This is done to take away stress. For instance the dreamer might use a king in place of the father. This allows them to fantasise/dream events that might otherwise be blocked.

Representation – Means the changing of thoughts into images. Therefore to understand a dream the images have to be translated back in to thought sequences.

Secondary Revision – One might think of this as a sort of writer’s skill, in which events and scenes are linked and made orderly.

Transference – This means that feelings a person had originally felt toward a parent, were now unconsciously felt for an important figure in their life such as the psychiatrist working with them, or a marriage partner.

Defining the nature of dreams

Freud also defined dreams as being:

  • ‘Thoughts in pictures’ – a process of thinking while asleep.
  • ‘Ego alien’. They have a life and will which often appears to be other than our conscious will. This led older cultures to believe they were sent by spirits or God.
  • ‘Hallucinatory’. We believe the reality of the dream while in it.
  • ‘Drama’. Dreams are not random images. They are ‘stage managed’ into very definite, sometimes recurring, themes and plots.
  • ‘Moral standards’. Dreams have very different moral standards than our waking personality.
  • ‘Association of ideas’. In dreaming we have access to infant or other memories or experience we would find very difficult to recall while awake.

Freud said of his dream findings, that his book, The Interpretation of Dreams “contains even according to my present day judgement the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make. Insights such as this fall to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.”

One of his basic views of dreams, that the purpose of dreams is to allow us to satisfy in fantasies the instinctual urges that society judges unacceptable, was partly responsible for enormous opposition and criticism that he met. During the period of his early life, only men were believed to have powerful sexual urges. When Freud showed that repressed but obvious sexual desires were equally at work in women this created a social uproar. Perhaps his second finding in regard to sexuality surprised even him. During his analysis of women patients, sexual advance or assault by the woman’s father was often revealed. Freud struggled with this, wondering whether the assault was memory of an actual event, or a psychic reproduction of it. He eventually came to the conclusion that hysterical and neurotic behaviour was often due to the trauma caused by an early sexual assault by the parent. Where there was not evidence of physical assault, then he saw the neurosis as due to sexual conflict or a trauma caused by some other event. This led to Freud being rejected by university colleagues, fellow doctors, and even by patients.

But the influence of his findings was even more widespread. He was, after all, questioning the role of women in society of that time. He was also implying that children were capable of sexual response and feelings. This was seen to be degrading and a slur on the purity of childhood.

What Freud proposed was that such urges and traumas were largely unknown or unrecognised by the conscious personality. This led him to say that such urges existed in the unconscious, and that dreams were the royal road to exploring what lay in this previously uncharted area of the mind. What shocked and dismayed so many people, whose view of life was largely formed by religious beliefs, was that each of us had an area of our mind that was largely unknown unless one took pains to explore it, and that had a will of its own that could be in conflict with conscious wishes or will, and could thus produce neurosis or even illness.

Geography of the mind

Through such findings Freud developed a geography of the human mind, showed the influence the unconscious has upon waking personality, and brought dreams to the attention of the scientific community. His book The Interpretation of Dreams, was a turning point in bringing concepts on dreaming from a primitive level to alignment with modern thought. With enormous courage, and against much opposition, he showed the place sexuality has in the development of conscious self-awareness.

In connection with dreams, although throughout history dream interpretation was a widely used practice, no one prior to Freud had defined a technique of using dreams to lay bare the hidden inner life of the dreamer. No one had revealed through dreams the now unconscious childhood traumas and sexual tangles. Freud’s method of dream interpretation, although it has now been modified and developed from his original techniques, his method was the breakthrough, the creative spark, that allowed so much work and exploration to be done in the dark continent of the mind. Countless people have found transformation through the therapeutic work he started.

But Freud didn’t actually explore very far into this amazing underworld. If we think of his journey as something like an archaeologist digging into a great tomb, then what Freud ran into was a mass of rubble blocking the way to further exploration. It was rubble that in general has to be cleared before the vastness of that interior can be appreciated. The rubble, in fact is made up of the massive amount of experiences, feelings, angers, urges, that we manage to keep below the surface of awareness; that we hold beyond the threshold of waking, imprisoning them in the darkness of the unconscious. The work done later in the explorations made possible through LSD psychotherapy was an amazing expansion of the world of the unconscious. See LSD Psychotherapy by W.V. Caldwell.

It is true that psychiatry owes a debt to Sigmund Freud for showing the revealing nature of dreams, but it he made the mistake of trying to reduce all dreaming to one formula. Havelock Ellis, himself an authority on aberrant sex phenomena, observes that “the great body of material accumulated by him [Freud] and his school is derived from the dreams of the neurotic. This is not normal dreaming.” Hence, he says, Freud promulgated “a premature and narrow generalisation.”  Quoted from The Mystery of Dreams by William Oliver Stevens.


See: Analysis of dreams; Association of ideas with dreams; Autonomous complex; the next step- criticisms; abreaction; Adler, Alfred; birds; displacement; door; Fromm, Eric; hallucinations and hallucinogens; LSD hypnosis Meditation and dreams; Jung Carl,; lucidity; plot of dreams; wordplay and puns; secret of universe dreams; healing and therapeutic action of dreams; unconscious, the.


-Patricia Clark 2017-09-04 13:53:08

Dream about ticks, police what do they mean, its two different dreams

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