“Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” Sigmund Freud
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams. I dream a lot and I usually remember most of my dreams. I also used to find it easier to talk about my dreams than about my thoughts or feelings. There seems to be something safe when it comes to dreams, a certain distance or disconnect between you and the dream that makes it easier to talk about than it is to talk about your feelings or past traumas.
In psychoanalysis, we always ask for dreams and we work the dreams in our clinical work not only because they offer something we have no other way of accessing but also because they often provide us with valuable information about the therapeutic process itself. It is not unusual for people to bring in a dream to the therapeutic hour after being asked for one, almost as an unconscious gift to the desire of the analyst to know about the unconscious of their analysand.
Here are five reasons why it’s a good idea to pay attention to your dreams and bring them up to your analyst/therapist:
- Dreams provide us with insight about our deepest thoughts and feelings. As Freud said, “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” Dreams are different from nightmares in that they leave something too scary or too painful unresolved. Nightmares are also an important part of the analytic process and need to be talked about.
- Dreams help us make sense of our daily experiences and help us remember. Often, what we call the “manifest content” of a dream is drawn from everyday experiences of the sleeper, usually from the day prior to the dream. Any thoughts, feelings and unresolved issues from the day before may lead to a dream that provides a form of a “solution,” be it a wished for solution.
- Dreams allow us to think and feel things our conscious mind may not want to think or feel. Freud said that dreams are fulfillments of a (unconscious) wish. I think this is were the whole dream interpretation comes into play. Some people have this hunch that their dreams are trying to tell them something. Well, they are. Sometimes, when experiences are too painful, shameful or forbidden/impossible in real life, dreams provide a road to those pushed aside thoughts, wishes and feelings.
- Dreams speak in images and symbols that need to be deciphered, ideally in psychoanalysis. Writing down your dreams is helpful as far as remembering them (have a writing pad by your bed and jot down the major points in the dream as soon as you wake up) but in order to analyze the meaning of a dream, you need to share it with someone, who knows how to work with the dream to distill its meaning. We typically do this through free association to the different elements of the dream and connect common themes, symbols or images to the person’s past and present life.
- Dreams can lead us to better understand ourselves and our relationship to others. That’s one of the goals of psychoanalysis apart from ending dysfunctional, repeated patterns of behavior that lead to suffering – to increase your understanding of yourself and to shed light onto the way you connect and relate to people. Because many thoughts and impulses we have are against the societal “prescription” of what a life “should” be like, dreams let us access that part of ourselves that stays dormant and only peaks its head through the psychoanalytic symptom.
Everybody dreams. Some people may not remember their dreams. Others struggle with sleep issues and unconsciously avoid dreaming. But we all dream and we can learn a lot about each other if we share our dreams.