Ep 192: An Example of How Psychoanalysts Really Interpret Dreams

MichaelCritical Thinking, Emotion, Therapy7 Comments

Dream AnalysisWhat do psychologists really think about your dreamsdo they have meaning? In this episode I talk about what psychologists think today about dreams. You probably know that Freud thought that dreams had a manifest content (the people and things that happened in the dream that you remember) and a latent content (the unconscious meaning of the dream). Do we still think this? Also: can you look up in a book or online to find out what your dreams meant? If you dream about a cat for example – what does this mean? In this episode I explore these questions with author and psychoanalyst Kerry Malawista. She and her colleagues discuss this topic in their book, Wearing My Tutu To Analysis. I’ll talk to her and include my own thoughts about whether or not dreams have meaning and whether you should be taking the time to analyze them.


Resources on Psychoanalysis and Dreams

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7 Comments on “Ep 192: An Example of How Psychoanalysts Really Interpret Dreams”

  1. Ricardo: I sent your question about Lucid dreaming to Kerry Malawista. Here’s her response (thanks Kerry): “Yes, a main function of dreaming is to keep us asleep, but keep in mind that this is not the same as being unconscious. Our unconscious is very much in action during the night, busy creating our dreams. Also, dreaming has been shown as a way the brain weaves information from our current life into memory, in essence as a way to make sense of our busy lives.

    A nightmare occurs when some anxiety or fear, whether conscious or unconscious, is so great that it overrides the part of our brain trying to remain asleep. When the terror becomes too threatening, we wake up to get out of the nightmare. I am sure most of us have had nightmares where we even say to ourselves, “please wake me up.”

    For some, nightmares are rare events, but for others, especially those who have experienced a real trauma, nightmares can be a frequent and re-traumatizing event. Rather than a dream that disguises our worries, a nightmare plunges us directly back into the traumatic event. Yet, we can still think of the nightmare as an attempt to make sense and work through a traumatic experience.

    A lucid dream is one where we are aware we are dreaming, where we can exert some control in the dream. A person who practices lucid dreaming – and yes you can get better at it—can use that type of control in their dream to direct what is happening or alter the outcome. As the listener points out, lucid dreaming can also be a useful technique to help with nightmares. The dreamer can come in and change the course of the dream to make it less terrifying.

    Lucid dreaming can also be used, more simply, to help make sense of something disturbing in a dream. For example, in my interview with Michael I mentioned my own dream where I was disturbed that one of the people in my dream, a childhood friend Linda, looked nothing like the person I know in the dream. That thought kept disturbing my dream, interrupting the storyline. At that point my brain created a voice over, as one might hear at the start of a Broadway play, announcing, “The role of Linda Malm will be played by Jane Smith.” This allowed me to continue on dreaming, no longer distressed that my friend Linda looked nothing like herself. This in an example of lucid dreaming and again in this instance another way for the dreamer to remain asleep, not too distressed by the incongruous events that are occurring. There are many interesting web sites on lucid dreaming if you are interested in learning more.

    Ricardo brings up a very interesting dream of his own, and a frequent one for many, where we find ourselves trapped, get free, only to be once again trapped in a similar room, tunnel, or space. Again, here I would think that the dreamer is attempting to work out some anxiety related to a feeling of being trapped. And of course only that particular dreamer can know the meaning of feeling trapped for them self. As with this dreamer’s dream, who thought the meaning was to keep the dreamer from getting “too free.” But rather than a nightmare where the panic becomes too great and the dreamer wakes up, he or she gets some reprieve, only to be once again ensnared. We can assume that the unconscious is still attempting to explore and work on this same fear, by returning us, over and over, to the exact same situation. The unconscious is nothing if not tenacious!”

  2. AJ: I asked Kerry about recurring dreams. Here’s her response: “We actually dream for a good part of every night, we just don’t remember most of them. Some dreams may hold deeper meaning for us, while others, may be a way to consolidate what is happening in our day-to-day life and moving experiences into memory. Yet, while even one dream may hold powerful meaning, a recurring dream likely represents something more significant for the dreamer, something they are trying to work out and resolve. They often bring to our attention something that hovers just outside of our awareness.

    With all the many dreams we forget or never even register in waking life, if there is one that stays with us when we wake, that we just can’t seem to shake, we can assume it is trying to express something of importance to us. But of course, the only way for us to know what that meaning might be is for the dreamer to freely think about the images and associations to that particular dream. I think once we begin to think about our dreams we can’t help but be surprised, delighted, or even horrified by the power of the unconscious.”

  3. Have you ever made a bit of research on lucid dreaming Michael? It’s a type of dream where you are aware that you are dreaming, which gives you many possibilities. For example, you can exercise your intent towards the dream in order to perform amazing things like flying, meeting your favorite actor, make a Safari in a imaginary land, among many other things. One of the most interesting things you can do is literally talk with dream characters, which are representations of your subconscious. They don’t act like robots, but can engage in real conversations, often knowing much about you and even giving you puzzling answers to your questions. Lucid dreaming is growing in the scientific community after it was proven in a laboratory by Keith Hearn and later by Stephen LaBerge, and it’s been researched as a tool to increase athletic performance (you can indeed practice riding a bike in a dream), help people with recurring nightmares or even PTSD (they can become aware that they are simply dreaming and either wake themselves up or just change the dream scenario), helping people recreate a scenario that is frightening to them (imagine you practicing for a job interview or a musical performance) and many other possibilities, like the study of consciousness (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120727095555.htm) for example. It’s also extremely healthy because it promotes sleep hygiene. I’ve been a lucid dreamer for several years now, and my dreams became my playground 🙂

  4. I’ve never had the ‘naked in public’ dream. Does that make me atypical? 🙂

  5. Good question AJ. I didn’t mention anything about this in the episode. I’m going to ask Kerry what she thinks about recurring dreams. I assume that – aside from the typical “I’m naked in public” kind of recurring dream – dreams like this must have some kind of meaning for us. Some issue must really be gnawing at us if one particular dream keeps recurring. I’ll see what I can find out.

  6. I can’t help but thinking there is a big difference between a single dream and a recurring dream. A recurring dream would seem more likely to represent something troubling or unresolved in your life, whereas a one-off dream is your brain keeping itself entertained while you sleep.Are there any studies that support this idea?

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