Skip to content.
EServer » Books home » Nonfiction » The Interpretation of Dreams » Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams, Chapter 7E

Books

Sections

Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams, Chapter 7E

Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter


E. THE PRIMARY AND SECONDARY PROCESSES; REPRESSION

In attempting to penetrate more profoundly into the psychology of the dream-processes, I have undertaken a difficult task, to which, indeed, my powers of exposition are hardly adequate. To reproduce the simultaneity of so complicated a scheme in terms of a successive description, and at the same time to make each part appear free from all assumptions, goes fairly beyond my powers. I have now to atone for the fact that in my exposition of the psychology of dreams I have been unable to follow the historic development of my own insight. The lines of approach to the comprehension of the dream were laid down for me by previous investigations into the psychology of the neuroses, to which I should not refer here, although I am constantly obliged to do so; whereas I should like to work in the opposite direction, starting from the dream, and then proceeding to establish its junction with the psychology of the neuroses. I am conscious of all the difficulties which this involves for the reader, but I know of no way to avoid them.

Since I am dissatisfied with this state of affairs, I am glad to dwell upon another point of view, which would seem to enhance the value of my efforts. As was shown in the introductory section, I found myself confronted with a theme which had been marked by the sharpest contradictions on the part of those who had written on it. In the course of our treatment of the problems of the dream, room has been found for most of these contradictory views. We have been compelled to take decided exception to two only of the views expressed: namely, that the dream is a meaningless process, and that it is a somatic process. Apart from these, we have been able to find a place for the truth of all the contradictory opinions at one point or another of the complicated tissue of the facts, and we have been able to show that each expressed something genuine and correct. That our dreams continue the impulses and interests of waking life has been generally confirmed by the discovery of the hidden dream-thoughts. These concern themselves only with things that seem to us important and of great interest. Dreams never occupy themselves with trifles. But we have accepted also the opposite view, namely, that the dream gathers up the indifferent residues of the day, and cannot seize upon any important interest of the day until it has in some measure withdrawn itself from waking activity. We have found that this holds true of the dream-content, which by means of distortion gives the dream-thought an altered expression. We have said that the dream-process, owing to the nature of the mechanism of association, finds it easier to obtain possession of recent or indifferent material, which has not yet been put under an embargo by our waking mental activity; and that on account of the censorship it transfers the psychic intensity of the significant but also objectionable material to the indifferent. The hypermnesia of the dream and its ability to dispose of infantile material have become the main foundations of our doctrine; in our theory of dreams we have assigned to a wish of infantile origin the part of the indispensable motive-power of dream-formation. It has not, of course, occurred to us to doubt the experimentally demonstrated significance of external sensory stimuli during sleep; but we have placed this material in the same relation' to the dream-wish as the thought-residues left over from our waking activity. We need not dispute the fact that the dream interprets objective sensory stimuli after the manner of an illusion; but we have supplied the motive for this interpretation, which has been left indeterminate by other writers. The interpretation proceeds in such a way that the perceived object is rendered harmless as a source of disturbance of sleep, whilst it is made usable for the wish-fulfilment. Though we do not admit as a special source of dreams the subjective state of excitation of the sensory organs during sleep (which seems to have been demonstrated by Trumbull Ladd), we are, nevertheless, able to explain this state of excitation by the regressive revival of the memories active behind the dream. As to the internal organic sensations, which are wont to be taken as the cardinal point of the explanation of dreams, these, too, find a place in our conception, though indeed a more modest one. These sensations -- the sensations of falling, of soaring, or of being inhibited -- represent an ever-ready material, which the dream-work can employ to express the dream-thought as often as need arises.

That the dream-process is a rapid and momentary one is, we believe, true as regards the perception by consciousness of the preformed dream-content; but we have found that the preceding portions of the dream-process probably follow a slow, fluctuating course. As for the riddle of the superabundant dream-content compressed into the briefest moment of time, we have been able to contribute the explanation that the dream seizes upon readymade formations of the psychic life. We have found that it is true that dreams are distorted and mutilated by the memory, but that this fact presents no difficulties, as it is only the last manifest portion of a process of distortion which has been going on from the very beginning of the dream-work. In the embittered controversy, which has seemed irreconcilable, whether the psychic life is asleep at night, or can make the same use of all its faculties as during the day, we have been able to conclude that both sides are right, but that neither is entirely so. In the dream-thoughts we found evidence of a highly complicated intellectual activity, operating with almost all the resources of the psychic apparatus; yet it cannot be denied that these dream-thoughts have originated during the day, and it is indispensable to assume that there is a sleeping state of the psychic life. Thus, even the doctrine of partial sleep received its due, but we have found the characteristic feature of the sleeping state not in the disintegration of the psychic system of connections, but in the special attitude adopted by the psychic system which is dominant during the day -- the attitude of the wish to sleep. The deflection from the outer world retains its significance for our view, too; though not the only factor at work, it helps to make possible the regressive course of the dream-representation. The abandonment of voluntary guidance of the flow of ideas is incontestable; but psychic life does not thereby become aimless, for we have seen that upon relinquishment of the voluntary directing ideas, involuntary ones take charge. On the other hand, we have not only recognised the loose associative connection of the dream, but have brought a far greater area within the scope of this kind of connection than could have been suspected; we have, however, found it merely an enforced substitute for another, a correct and significant type of association. To be sure, we too have called the dream absurd, but examples have shown us how wise the dream is when it simulates absurdity. As regards the functions that have been attributed to the dream, we are able to accept them all. That the dream relieves the mind, like a safety-valve, and that, as Robert has put it, all kinds of harmful material are rendered harmless by representation in the dream, not only coincides exactly with our own theory of the twofold wish-fulfilment in the dream, but in its very wording becomes more intelligible for us than it is for Robert himself. The free indulgence of the psyche in the play of its faculties is reproduced in our theory as the noninterference of the preconscious activity with the dream. The 'return to the embryonal standpoint of psychic life in the dream,' and Havelock Ellis's remark that the dream is 'an archaic world of vast emotions and imperfect thoughts,' appear to us as happy anticipations of our own exposition, which asserts that primitive modes of operations that are suppressed during the day play a part in the formation of dreams. We can fully identify ourselves with Sully's statement, that 'our dreams bring back again our earlier and successively developed personalities, our old ways of regarding things, with impulses and modes of reaction which ruled us long ago'; and for us, as for Delage, the suppressed material becomes the mainspring of the dream.

We have fully accepted the role that Scherner ascribes to the dream-fantasy, and his own interpretations, but we have been obliged to transpose them, as it were, to another part of the problem. It is not the dream that creates the fantasy, but the activity of unconscious fantasy that plays the leading part in the formation of the dream-thoughts. We remain indebted to Scherner for directing us to the source of the dream-thoughts, but almost everything that he ascribes to the dream-work is attributable to the activity of the unconscious during the day, which instigates dreams no less than neurotic symptoms. The dream-work we had to separate from this activity as something quite different and far more closely controlled. Finally, we have by no means renounced the relation of the dream to psychic disturbances, but have given it, on new ground, a more solid foundation.

Held together by the new features in our theory as by a superior unity, we find the most varied and most contradictory conclusions of other writers fitting into our structure; many of them are given a different turn, but only a few of them are wholly rejected. But our own structure is still unfinished. For apart from the many obscure questions in which we have involved ourselves by our advance into the dark regions of psychology, we are now, it would seem, embarrassed by a new contradiction. On the one hand, we have made it appear that the dream-thoughts proceed from perfectly normal psychic activities, but on the other hand we have found among the dream-thoughts a number of entirely abnormal mental processes, which extend also to the dream-content, and which we reproduce in the interpretation of the dream. All that we have termed the 'dream-work' seems to depart so completely from the psychic processes which we recognise as correct and appropriate that the severest judgments expressed by the writers mentioned as to the low level of psychic achievement of dreams must appear well founded.

Here, perhaps, only further investigations can provide an explanation and set us on the right path. Let me pick out for renewed attention one of the constellations which lead to dream-formation.

We have learned that the dream serves as a substitute for a number of thoughts derived from our daily life, and which fit together with perfect logic. We cannot, therefore, doubt that these thoughts have their own origin in our normal mental life. All the qualities which we value in our thought-processes, and which mark them out as complicated performances of a high order, we shall find repeated in the dream-thoughts. There is, however, no need to assume that this mental work is performed during sleep; such an assumption would badly confuse the conception of the psychic state of sleep to which we have hitherto adhered. On the contrary, these thoughts may very well have their origin in the daytime, and, unremarked by our consciousness, may have gone on from their first stimulus until, at the onset of sleep, they have reached completion. If we are to conclude anything from this state of affairs, it can only be that it proves that the most complex mental operations are possible without the co-operation of consciousness -- a truth which we have had to learn anyhow from every psychoanalysis of a patient suffering from hysteria or obsessions. These dream-thoughts are certainly not in themselves incapable of consciousness; if we have not become conscious of them during the day, this may have been due to various reasons. The act of becoming conscious depends upon a definite psychic function -- attention -- being brought to bear. This seems to be available only in a determinate quantity, which may have been diverted from the train of thought in question by other aims. Another way in which such trains of thought may be withheld from consciousness is the following: From our conscious reflection we know that, when applying our attention, we follow a particular course. But if that course leads us to an idea which cannot withstand criticism, we break off and allow the cathexis of attention to drop. Now, it would seem that the train of thought thus started and abandoned may continue to develop without our attention returning to it, unless at some point it attains a specially high intensity which compels attention. An initial conscious rejection by our judgment, on the ground of incorrectness or uselessness for the immediate purpose of the act of thought, may, therefore, be the cause of a thought-process going on unnoticed by consciousness until the onset of sleep.

Let us now recapitulate: We call such a train of thought a preconscious train, and we believe it to be perfectly correct, and that it may equally well be a merely neglected train or one that has been interrupted and suppressed. Let us also state in plain terms how we visualise the movement of our thought. We believe that a certain quantity of excitation, which we call 'cathectic energy', is displaced from a purposive idea along the association paths selected by this directing idea. A 'neglected' train of thought has received no such cathexis, and the cathexis has been withdrawn from one that was 'suppressed' 'or rejected'; both have thus been left to their own excitations. The train of thought cathected by some aim becomes able under certain conditions to attract the attention of consciousness, and by the mediation of consciousness it then receives 'hypercathexis'. We shall be obliged presently to elucidate our assumptions as to the nature and function of consciousness.

A train of thought thus incited in the Pcs. may either disappear spontaneously, or it may continue. The former eventuality we conceive as follows: it diffuses its energy through all the association paths emanating from it, and throws the entire chain of thoughts into a state of excitation, which continues for a while, and then subsides, through the excitation which had called for discharge being transformed into dormant cathexis. If this first eventuality occurs, the process has no further significance for dream-formation. But other directing ideas are lurking in our preconscious, which have their source in our unconscious and ever-active wishes. These may gain control of the excitation in the circle of thoughts thus left to itself, establish a connection between it and the unconscious wish, and transfer to it the energy inherent in the unconscious wish. Henceforth the neglected or suppressed train of thought is in a position to maintain itself, although this reinforcement gives it no claim to access to consciousness. We may say, then, that the hitherto preconscious train of thought has been drawn into the unconscious.

Other constellations leading to dream-formation might be as follows: The preconscious train of thought might have been connected from the beginning with the unconscious wish, and for that reason might have met with rejection by the dominating aim-cathexis. Or an unconscious wish might become active for other (possibly somatic) reasons, and of its own accord seek a transference to the psychic residues not cathected by the Pcs. All three cases have the same result: there is established in the preconscious a train of thought which, having been abandoned by the preconscious cathexis, has acquired cathexis from the unconscious wish.

From this point onward the train of thought is subjected to a series of transformations which we no longer recognise as normal psychic processes, and which give a result that we find strange, a psychopathological formation. Let us now emphasise and bring together these transformations:

1. The intensities of the individual ideas become capable of discharge in their entirety, and pass from one idea to another, so that individual ideas are formed which are endowed with great intensity. Through the repeated occurrence of this process, the intensity of an entire train of thought may ultimately be concentrated in a single conceptual unit. This is the fact of compression or condensation with which we became acquainted when investigating the dream-work. It is condensation that is mainly responsible for the strange impression produced by dreams, for we know of nothing analogous to it in the normal psychic life that is accessible to consciousness. We get here, too, ideas which are of great psychic significance as nodal points or as end-results of whole chains of thought, but this value is not expressed by any character actually manifest for our internal perception; what is represented in it is not in any way made more intensive. In the process of condensation the whole set of psychic connections becomes transformed into the intensity of the idea-content. The situation is the same as when in the case of a book I italicise or print in heavy type any word to which I attach outstanding value for the understanding of the text. In speech I should pronounce the same word loudly and deliberately and with emphasis. The first simile points immediately to one of the examples which were given of the dream-work (trimethylamine in the dream of Irma's injection). Historians of art call our attention to the fact that the most ancient sculptures known to history follow a similar principle, in expressing the rank of the persons represented by the size of the statues. The king is made two or three times as tall as his retinue or his vanquished enemies. But a work of art of the Roman period makes use of more subtle means to accomplish the same end. The figure of the Emperor is placed in the centre, erect and in his full height, and special care is bestowed on the modelling of this figure; his enemies are seen cowering at his feet; but he is no longer made to seem a giant among dwarfs. At the same time, in the bowing of the subordinate to his superior, even in our own day, we have an echo of this ancient principle of representation.

The direction followed by the condensations of the dream is prescribed on the one hand by the true preconscious relations of the dream-thoughts, and on the other hand by the attraction of the visual memories in the unconscious. The success of the condensation-work produces those intensities which are required for penetration to the perception-system.

2. By the free transference of intensities, and in the service of the condensation, intermediary ideas -- compromises, as it were -- are formed (cf. the numerous examples). This, also, is something unheard of in the normal movement of our ideas, where what is of most importance is the selection and the retention of the right conceptual material. On the other hand, composite and compromise formations occur with extraordinary frequency when we are trying to find verbal expression for preconscious thoughts; these are considered 'slips of the tongue'.

3. The ideas which transfer their intensities to one another are very loosely connected, and are joined together by such forms of association as are disdained by our serious thinking, and left to be exploited solely by wit. In particular, assonances and punning associations are treated as equal in value to any other associations.

4. Contradictory thoughts do not try to eliminate one another, but continue side by side, and often combine to form condensation-products, as though no contradiction existed; or they form compromises for which we should never forgive our thought, but which we frequently sanction in our action.

These are some of the most conspicuous abnormal processes to which the dream-thoughts which have previously been rationally formed are subjected in the course of the dream-work. As the main feature of these processes, we may see that the greatest importance is attached to rendering the cathecting energy mobile and capable of discharge; the content and the intrinsic significance of the psychic elements to which these cathexes adhere become matters of secondary importance. One might perhaps assume that condensation and compromise-formation are effected only in the service of regression, when the occasion arises for changing thoughts into images. But the analysis -- and still more plainly the synthesis -- of such dreams as show no regression towards images, e.g. the dream 'Autodidasker: Conversation with Professor N.', reveals the same processes of displacement and condensation as do the rest.

We cannot, therefore, avoid the conclusion that two kinds of essentially different psychic processes participate in dream-formation; one forms perfectly correct and fitting dream-thoughts, equivalent to the results of normal thinking, while the other deals with these thoughts in a most astonishing and, as it seems, incorrect way. The latter process we have already set apart in Chapter Six as the dream-work proper. What can we say now as to the derivation of this psychic process?

It would be impossible to answer this question here if we had not penetrated a considerable way into the psychology of the neuroses, and especially of hysteria. From this, however, we learn that the same 'incorrect' psychic processes -- as well as others not enumerated -- control the production of hysterical symptoms. In hysteria, too, we find at first a series of perfectly correct and fitting thoughts, equivalent to our conscious ones, of whose existence in this form we can, however, learn nothing, i.e. which we can only subsequently reconstruct. If they have forced their way anywhere to perception, we discover from the analysis of the symptom formed that these normal thoughts have been subjected to abnormal treatment, and that by means of condensation and compromise-formation, through superficial associations which cover up contradictions, and eventually along the path of regression, they have been conveyed into the symptom. In view of the complete identity between the peculiarities of the dream-work and those of the psychic activity which issues in psychoneurotic symptoms, we shall feel justified in transferring to the dream the conclusions urged upon us by hysteria.

From the theory of hysteria we borrow the proposition that such an abnormal psychic elaboration of a normal train of thought takes place only when the latter has been used for the transference of an unconscious wish which dates from the infantile life and is in a state of repression. Complying with this proposition, we have built up the theory of the dream on the assumption that the actuating dream-wish invariably originates in the unconscious; which, as we have ourselves admitted, cannot be universally demonstrated, even though it cannot be refuted. But in order to enable us to say just what repression is, after employing this term so freely, we shall be obliged to make a further addition to our psychological scaffolding.

We had elaborated the fiction of a primitive psychic apparatus, the work of which is regulated by the effort to avoid accumulation of excitation, and as far as possible to maintain itself free from excitation. For this reason it was constructed after the plan of a reflex apparatus; motility, in the first place as the path to changes within the body, was the channel of discharge at its disposal. We then discussed the psychic results of experiences of gratification, and were able at this point to introduce a second assumption, namely, that the accumulation of excitation -- by processes that do not concern us here -- is felt as pain, and sets the apparatus in operation in order to bring about again a state of gratification, in which the diminution of excitation is perceived as pleasure. Such a current in the apparatus, issuing from pain and striving for pleasure, we call a wish. We have said that nothing but a wish is capable of setting the apparatus in motion and that the course of any excitation in the apparatus is regulated automatically by the perception of pleasure and pain. The first occurrence of wishing may well have taken the form of a hallucinatory cathexis of the memory of gratification. But this hallucination, unless it could be maintained to the point of exhaustion, proved incapable of bringing about a cessation of the need, and consequently of securing the pleasure connected with gratification.

Thus, there was required a second activity -- in our terminology the activity of a second system -- which would not allow the memory-cathexis to force its way to perception and thence to bind the psychic forces, but would lead the excitation emanating from the need-stimulus by a detour, which by means of voluntary motility would ultimately so change the outer world as to permit the real perception of the gratifying object. Thus far we have already elaborated the scheme of the psychic apparatus; these two systems are the germ of what we set up in the fully developed apparatus as the Ucs. and the Pcs.

To change the outer world appropriately by means of motility requires the accumulation of a large total of experiences in the memory-systems, as well as a manifold consolidation of the relations which are evoked in this memory-material by various directing ideas. We will now proceed further with our assumptions. The activity of the second system, groping in many directions, tentatively sending forth cathexes and retracting them, needs on the one hand full command over all memory-material, but on the other hand it would be a superfluous expenditure of energy were it to send along the individual thought-paths large quantities of cathexis, which would then flow away to no purpose and thus diminish the quantity needed for changing the outer world. Out of a regard for purposiveness, therefore, I postulate that the second system succeeds in maintaining the greater part of the energic cathexes in a state of rest, and in using only a small portion for its operations of displacement. The mechanics of these processes is entirely unknown to me; anyone who seriously wishes to follow up these ideas must address himself to the physical analogies, and find some way of getting a picture of the sequence of motions which ensues on the excitation of the neurones. Here I do no more than hold fast to the idea that the activity of the first y-system aims at the free outflow of the quantities of excitation, and that the second system, by means of the cathexes emanating from it, effects an inhibition of this outflow, a transformation into dormant cathexis, probably with a rise of potential. I therefore assume that the course taken by any excitation under the control of the second system is bound to quite different mechanical conditions from those which obtain under the control of the first system. After the second system has completed its work of experimental thought, it removes the inhibition and damming up of the excitations and allows them to flow off into motility.

An interesting train of thought now presents itself if we consider the relations of this inhibition of discharge by the second system to the process of regulation by the pain-principle. Let us now seek out the counterpart of the primary experience of gratification, namely, the objective experience of fear. Let a perception-stimulus act on the primitive apparatus and be the source of a pain-excitation. There will then ensue uncoordinated motor manifestations, which will go on until one of these withdraws the apparatus from perception, and at the same time from the pain. On the reappearance of the percept this manifestation will immediately be repeated (perhaps as a movement of flight), until the percept has again disappeared. But in this case no tendency will remain to recathect the perception of the source of pain by hallucination or otherwise. On the contrary, there will be a tendency in the primary apparatus to turn away again from this painful memory-image immediately if it is in any way awakened, since the overflow of its excitation into perception would, of course, evoke (or more precisely, begin to evoke) pain. This turning away from a recollection, which is merely a repetition of the former flight from perception, is also facilitated by the fact that, unlike the perception, the recollection has not enough quality to arouse consciousness, and thereby to attract fresh cathexis. This effortless and regular turning away of the psychic process from the memory of anything that had once been painful gives us the prototype and the first example of psychic repression. We all know how much of this turning away from the painful, the tactics of the ostrich, may still be shown as present even in the normal psychic life of adults.

In obedience to the pain-principle, therefore, the first y-system is quite incapable of introducing anything unpleasant into the thought-nexus. The system cannot do anything but wish. If this were to remain so, the activity of thought of the second system, which needs to have at its disposal all the memories stored up by experience, would be obstructed. But two paths are now open: either the work of the second system frees itself completely from the pain-principle, and continues its course, paying no heed to the pain attached to given memories, or it contrives to cathect the memory of the pain in such a manner as to preclude the liberation of pain. We can reject the first possibility, as the pain-principle also proves to act as a regulator of the cycle of excitation in the second system; we are therefore thrown back upon the second possibility, namely, that this system cathects a memory in such a manner as to inhibit any outflow of excitation from it, and hence, also, the outflow, comparable to a motor-innervation, needed for the development of pain. And thus, setting out from two different starting-points, i.e. from regard for the pain-principle, and from the principle of the least expenditure of innervation, we are led to the hypothesis that cathexis through the second system is at the same time an inhibition of the discharge of excitation. Let us, however, keep a close hold on the fact -- for this is the key to the theory of repression -- that the second system can only cathect an idea when it is in a position to inhibit any pain emanating from this idea. Anything that withdrew itself from this inhibition would also remain inaccessible for the second system, i.e. would immediately be given up by virtue of the pain-principle. The inhibition of pain, however, need not be complete; it must be permitted to begin, since this indicates to the second system the nature of the memory, and possibly its lack of fitness for the purpose sought by the process of thought.

The psychic process which is alone tolerated by the first system I shall now call the primary process; and that which results under the inhibiting action of the second system I shall call the secondary process. I can also show at another point for what purpose the second system is obliged to correct the primary process. The primary process strives for discharge of the excitation in order to establish with the quantity of excitation thus collected an identity of perception; the secondary process has abandoned this intention, and has adopted instead the aim of an identity of thought. All thinking is merely a detour from the memory of gratification (taken as a purposive idea) to the identical cathexis of the same memory, which is to be reached once more by the path of motor experiences. Thought must concern itself with the connecting-paths between ideas without allowing itself to be misled by their intensities. But it is obvious that condensations of ideas and intermediate or compromise-formations are obstacles to the attainment of the identity which is aimed at; by substituting one idea for another they swerve away from the path which would have led onward from the first idea. Such procedures are, therefore, carefully avoided in our secondary thinking. It will readily be seen, moreover, that the pain-principle, although at other times it provides the thought-process with its most important clues, may also put difficulties in its way in the pursuit of identity of thought. Hence, the tendency of the thinking process must always be to free itself more and more from exclusive regulation by the pain-principle, and to restrict the development of affect through the work of thought to the very minimum which remains effective as a signal. This refinement in functioning is to be achieved by a fresh hyper-cathexis, effected with the help of consciousness. But we are aware that this refinement is seldom completely successful, even in normal psychic life, and that our thinking always remains liable to falsification by the intervention of the pain-principle.

This, however, is not the breach in the functional efficiency of our psychic apparatus which makes it possible for thoughts representing the result of the secondary thought-work to fall into the power of the primary psychic process; by which formula we may now describe the operations resulting in dreams and the symptoms of hysteria. This inadequacy results from the converging of two factors in our development, one of which pertains solely to the psychic apparatus, and has exercised a determining influence on the relation of the two systems, while the other operates fluctuatingly, and introduces motive forces of organic origin into the psychic life. Both originate in the infantile life, and are a precipitate of the alteration which our psychic and somatic organism has undergone since our infantile years.

When I termed one of the psychic processes in the psychic apparatus the primary process, I did so not only in consideration of its status and function, but was also able to take account of the temporal relationship actually involved. So far as we know, a psychic apparatus possessing only the primary process does not exist, and is to that extent a theoretical fiction; but this at least is a fact: that the primary processes are present in the apparatus from the beginning, while the secondary processes only take shape gradually during the course of life, inhibiting and overlaying the primary, whilst gaining complete control over them perhaps only in the prime of life. Owing to this belated arrival of the secondary processes, the essence of our being, consisting of unconscious wish-impulses, remains something which cannot be grasped or inhibited by the preconscious; and its part is once and for all restricted to indicating the most appropriate paths for the wish-impulses originating in the unconscious. These unconscious wishes represent for all subsequent psychic strivings a compulsion to which they must submit themselves, although they may perhaps endeavour to divert them and to guide them to superior aims. In consequence of this retardation, an extensive region of the memory-material remains in fact inaccessible to preconscious cathexis.

Now among these wish-impulses originating in the infantile life, indestructible and incapable of inhibition, there are some the fulfilments of which have come to be in contradiction with the purposive ideas of our secondary thinking. The fulfilment of these wishes would no longer produce an affect of pleasure, but one of pain; and it is just this conversion of affect that constitutes the essence of what we call 'repression'. In what manner and by what motive forces such a conversion can take place constitutes the problem of repression, which we need here only touch upon in passing. It will suffice to note the fact that such a conversion of affect occurs in the course of development (one need only think of the emergence of disgust, originally absent in infantile life), and that it is connected with the activity of the secondary system. The memories from which the unconscious wish evokes a liberation of affect have never been accessible to the Pcs., and for that reason this liberation cannot be inhibited. It is precisely on account of this generation of affect that these ideas are not now accessible even by way of the preconscious thoughts to which they have transferred the energy of the wishes connected with them. On the contrary, the pain-principle comes into play, and causes the Pcs. to turn away from these transference-thoughts. These latter are left to themselves, are 'repressed', and thus the existence of a store of infantile memories, withdrawn from the beginning from the Pcs., becomes the preliminary condition of repression.

In the most favourable case, the generation of pain terminates so soon as the cathexis is withdrawn from the transference thoughts in the Pcs., and this result shows that the intervention of the pain-principle is appropriate. It is otherwise, however, if the repressed unconscious wish receives an organic reinforcement which it can put at the service of its transference-thoughts, and by which it can enable them to attempt to break through with their excitation, even if the cathexis of the Pcs. has been taken away from them. A defensive struggle then ensues, inasmuch as the Pcs. reinforces the opposite to the repressed thoughts (counter-cathexis), and the eventual outcome is that the transference-thoughts (the carriers of the unconscious wish) break through in some form of compromise through symptom-formation. But from the moment that the repressed thoughts are powerfully cathected by the unconscious wish-impulse, but forsaken by the preconscious cathexis, they succumb to the primary psychic process, and aim only at motor discharge; or, if the way is clear, at hallucinatory revival of the desired identity of perception. We have already found, empirically, that the 'incorrect' processes described are enacted only with thoughts which are in a state of repression. We are now in a position to grasp yet another part of the total scheme of the facts. These 'incorrect' processes are the primary processes of the psychic apparatus; they occur wherever ideas abandoned by the preconscious cathexis are left to themselves and can become filled with the uninhibited energy which flows from the unconscious and strives for discharge. There are further facts which go to show that the processes described as 'incorrect' are not really falsifications of our normal procedure, or defective thinking, but the modes of operation of the psychic apparatus when freed from inhibition. Thus we see that the process of conveyance of the preconscious excitation to motility occurs in accordance with the same procedure, and that in the linkage of preconscious ideas with words we may easily find manifested the same displacements and confusions (which we ascribe to inattention). Finally, a proof of the increased work made necessary by the inhibition of these primary modes of procedure might be found in the fact that we achieve a comical effect, a surplus to be discharged through laughter, if we allow these modes of thought to come to consciousness.

The theory of the psychoneuroses asserts with absolute certainty that it can only be sexual wish-impulses from the infantile life, which have undergone repression (affect-conversion) during the developmental period of childhood, which are capable of renewal at later periods of development (whether as a result of our sexual constitution, which has, of course, grown out of an original bisexuality, or in consequence of unfavourable influences in our sexual life); and which therefore supply the motive power for all psychoneurotic symptom-formation. It is only by the introduction of these sexual forces that the gaps still demonstrable in the theory of repression can be filled. Here, I will leave it undecided whether the postulate of the sexual and infantile holds good for the theory of dreams as well; I am not completing the latter, because in assuming that the dream-wish invariably originates in the unconscious I have already gone a step beyond the demonstrable.[1] Nor will I inquire further into the nature of the difference between the play of psychic forces in dream-formation and in the formation of hysterical symptoms, since there is missing here the needed fuller knowledge of one of the two things to be compared. But there is another point which I regard as important, and I will confess at once that it was only on account of this point that I entered upon all the discussions concerning the two psychic systems, their modes of operation, and the fact of repression. It does not greatly matter whether I have conceived the psychological relations at issue with approximate correctness, or, as is easily possible in such a difficult matter, wrongly and imperfectly. However our views may change about the interpretation of the psychic censorship or the correct and the abnormal elaboration of the dream-content, it remains certain that such processes are active in dream-formation, and that in their essentials they reveal the closest analogy with the processes observed in the formation of hysterical symptoms. Now the dream is not a pathological phenomenon; it does not presuppose any disturbance of our psychic equilibrium; and it does not leave behind it any weakening of our efficiency or capacities. The objection that no conclusions can be drawn about the dreams of healthy persons from my own dreams and from those of my neurotic patients may be rejected without comment. If, then, from the nature of the given phenomena we infer the nature of their motive forces, we find that the psychic mechanism utilised by the neuroses is not newly-created by a morbid disturbance that lays hold of the psychic life, but lies in readiness in the normal structure of our psychic apparatus. The two psychic systems, the frontiercensorship between them, the inhibition and overlaying of the one activity by the other, the relations of both to consciousness -- or whatever may take the place of these concepts on a juster interpretation of the actual relations -- all these belong to the normal structure of our psychic instrument, and the dream shows us one of the paths which lead to a knowledge of this structure. If we wish to be content with a minimum of perfectly assured additions to our knowledge, we shall say that the dream affords proof that the suppressed material continues to exist even in the normal person and remains capable of psychic activity. Dreams are one of the manifestations of this suppressed material; theoretically this is true in all cases; and in tangible experience, it has been found true in at least a great number of cases, which happen to display most plainly the more striking features of the dream-life. The suppressed psychic material, which in the waking state has been prevented from expression and cut off from internal perception by the mutual neutralisation of contradictory attitudes, finds ways and means, under the sway of compromise-formations, of obtruding itself on consciousness during the night.

Flectere si nequeo Superos, Acheronta movebo.

At any rate, the interpretation of dreams is the via regia to a knowledge of the unconscious element in our psychic life.

By the analysis of dreams we obtain some insight into the composition of this most marvellous and most mysterious of instruments; it is true that this only takes us a little way, but it gives us a start which enables us, setting out from the angle of other (properly pathological) formations, to penetrate further in our disjoining of the instrument. For disease -- at all events that which is rightly called functional -- does not necessarily presuppose the destruction of this apparatus, or the establishment of new cleavages in its interior; it can be explained dynamically by the strengthening and weakening of the components of the play of forces, so many of the activities of which are covered up in normal functioning. It might be shown elsewhere how the fact that the apparatus is a combination of two instances also permits of a refinement of its normal functioning which would have been impossible to a single system.[2]

[1]Here, as elsewhere, there are gaps in the treatment of the subject, which I have deliberately left, because to fill them up would, on the one hand, require excessive labour, and, on the other hand, I should have to depend on material which is foreign to the dream. Thus, for example, I have avoided stating whether I give the word 'suppressed' a different meaning from that of the word 'repressed'. No doubt, however, it will have become clear that the latter emphasises more than the former the relation to the unconscious. I have not gone into the problem which obviously arises, of why the dream-thoughts undergo distortion by the censorship even when they abandon the progressive path to consciousness, and choose the path of regression. And so with other similar omissions. I have, above all, sought to give some idea of the problems to which the further dissection of the dream-work leads and to indicate the other themes with which these are connected. It was, however, not always easy to decide just where the pursuit should be discontinued. -- That I have not treated exhaustively the part which the psycho-sexual life plays in the dream, and have avoided the interpretation of dreams of an obviously sexual content, is due to a special reason -- which may not perhaps be that which the reader would expect. It is absolutely alien to my views and my neuropathological doctrines to regard the sexual life as a pudendum with which neither the physician nor the scientific investigator should concern himself. To me, the moral indignation which prompted the translator of Artemidorus of Daldis to keep from the reader's knowledge the chapter on sexual dreams contained in the Symbolism of Dreams is merely ludicrous. For my own part, what decided my procedure was solely the knowledge that in the explanation of sexual dreams I should be bound to get deeply involved in the still unexplained problems of perversion and bisexuality; it was for this reason that I reserved this material for treatment elsewhere.

[2]The dream is not the only phenomenon that permits us to base our psychopathology on psychology. In a short unfinished series of articles in the Monatsschrift für Psychiatrie und Neurologie (Über den psychischen Mechanismus der Vergesslichkeit, 1898, and Über Deckerinnerungen, 1899) I attempted to interpret a number of psychic manifestations from everyday life in support of the same conception. (These and other articles on 'Forgetting', 'Lapses of Speech', etc., have now been published in the Psychopathology of Everyday Life.)


Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

 

Personal tools