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On the Interpretation of Dreams1
By Alfred Adler 
Chapter XXI in The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler: Volume 7
Almost every human being dreams, but very few understand their dreams. A common activity of the human mind, dreams are usually dismissed as “rubbish.” Nevertheless, our interest in them dates back to the earliest periods of history. Human activity and interests provide the grist for the psychologist’s mill. Therefore, no psychologist or school of psychology can ignore the subject of dreams and their interpretation without at the same time admitting inadequacy, because the process of dreaming is part of life for all of us.
THE PROPHETIC VIEW OF DREAMS IN HISTORY
The one important contribution of antiquity to the subject of dreams is that they are of a prophetic nature. Although any scientific psychology must reject this point of view, the consideration of some historic dreams and their interpretation casts light on the problems involved. For example, the dreams of Joseph, reported in the Bible, where the sun, moon, stars, and sheaves of wheat bowed to him were understood quite correctly by his brothers. Ancient dream books explained what a dream meant with regard to the future fortunes of the man who dreamed it. Primitive peoples looked for omens and prophecies in their dreams. The Greeks and the Egyptians went to their temples in the hope of obtaining a sacred dream that would influence their future lives. Such dreams were looked on as curative, as means for removing physical or mental difficulties. The American Indians took great pains to induce dreams by purification, fasting, and sweat baths, and based their conduct on how they interpreted their dreams. Even today, some individuals insist they have had dreams which later came true.
Ever since I first attempted to understand dreams, it has seemed clear to me that a man who is dreaming is in a worse position to foretell the future than a man who is awake. When awake, a man has more complete possession of his faculties and is more likely to be able to comprehend the whole situation with all its implications. Yet, we must take note of the traditional view of the prophetic nature of dreams, which may provide some understanding. One fact stands out: all historic interpretations of dreams sought to solve problems, to seek guidance for the future. We recognize the significance of this approach though, of course, we do not regard dreams as prophecy. We have to consider what sort of solutions
1 Published in English in the Int. J. Indiv. Psychol., Vol. 2, No. 1, pages 3-16, 1936.
are sought and where the hope for these solutions comes from. At this point we can say: In dreaming, an individual attempts to solve his problems in his sleep.
We find in science, general literature, and belles-lettres, many worthwhile views regarding dreams and their meaning. For example, as early as about 1850 the German poet, Hebbel, in his memories of childhood, says about dreams, “If a man collects his dreams and examines them, and adds to the dreams he is now having all the thoughts he has in association with them, all the remembrances, all the pictures he can grasp from them, and if he combines these with the dreams he has had in the past, he will be able to understand himself much better than by means of any other kind of psychology.” About fifty years later, we find Freud coming forth as the first to have the courage to follow Hebbel’s recommendation. Although much of Freud’s interpretation of dreams is no longer tenable today, we must honor him for laying the foundation of the science of dream interpretation.
Freud’s theory of dream interpretation is too well known to necessitate a detailed exposition. From the standpoint of Individual Psychology, his valid contribution may be summarized as follows:
- The affective or emotional attitudes in a dream indicate its real meaning more than the purely picturesque or verbal elements.
- Closely allied to the above, the manifest and latent contents of the dream differ. The manifest content is the way the dream appears to the dreamer. The latent content consists of the associated thoughts, memories, and emotional attitudes. The latter is the dream interpretation.
- Dreams are not isolated mental phenomena. They employ the same mental dynamics as those used in slips of the tongue, day-dreams, fantasies, and other waking behavior.
- The method of verbal association is valid for obtaining the latent content of the dream.
Although Freud’s theories represented a distinct advance in the interpretation of dreams, Individual Psychology cannot accept his point of view as final. Freud has claimed from the first that dreams represent fulfillments of infantile sexual wishes. Later, he found death wishes also involved in dreams. On the basis of actual experience, this view appears to assign to dreams a too-limited scope. Why is it that for ages most people have dreamed nearly every night and still do so? Surely dreams serve more than that one narrow function.
The findings of Individual Psychology confirm that all the behavior of a human being fits into a unit and the individual’s style of life. Because dreams are a form of human behavior, they cannot be considered an exception. They are a part of the unity.
The Freudians themselves found a sexual interpretation of dreams insufficient. Freud then suggested that he could also see in dreams the expression of an unconscious desire to die. Perhaps in some sense this is true. Certain dreams, especially of neurotic persons, show an individual’s lack of courage to meet his problems. This might be interpreted as the desire to die, but we would be using terms in a highly figurative sense. We would not be any closer to finding how dreams reflect the whole personality. The striving for successful achievement, the successful solution of problems, inherently connects with the structure of life. In cases where achievement is interrupted, the dreams of the individual often concern death.
Freud places the “conscious” and “unconscious” in contradiction to each other. In so doing, he gives dreams their own special laws which contradict the laws of everyday thinking. In primitive peoples, as well as ancient philosophers, we often meet this desire to put concepts in strong antithesis to each other, to treat them as opposites. Neurotics illustrate the antithetical attitude very clearly. People often believe that left and right are contradictions, that man and woman, hot and cold, light and heavy, strong and weak are contradictions. From a scientific standpoint, they are not contradictions, but varieties. They represent degrees of a scale, arranged in accordance with their approximation to some fictive ideal. Also, good and bad, normal and abnormal, are not contradictions but varieties. Therefore, any theory which treats dream thoughts and day thoughts, conscious and unconscious, as contradictions is unscientific.
Without understanding it, Psychoanalysis appears to start with the premises of a pampered child who feels his wishes must never be denied. Psychoanalysis works out these premises in the most thorough detail. But the striving for gratification (the basic assumption of Psychoanalysis) is only one of the countless varieties of the striving for superiority; we cannot take it as the central motive of all expressions of personality.
To really discover the purpose of dreams, we must find what purpose is served by forgetting or not understanding them. This was the most vexing problem before me when I started, some quarter of a century ago, to try to find the meaning of dreams. It occurred to me one day that perhaps the real significance of a dream is that it is not to be understood; perhaps a dynamic of the mind works to baffle us. This idea furnished me with the first real clue to an adequate dream interpretation. Searching further, I asked myself, “For what purpose are we “fooling” ourselves?” In answer, another clue then came to me from ordinary social interaction. We all know people, including ourselves, who purposely speak so as not to be understood for the purpose of concealing the truth, or they speak to themselves in a way which common sense would not allow. Here, then, is a very close analogy to dreams, in fact more than an analogy since the same mental dynamic produces both of them. We do not “fool” ourselves in the thoughts, but in the emotions and feelings aroused by the thoughts and pictures of a dream. Emotion and mood achieve the purpose of the dream, rather than reason and judgment. Reasoning alone could not purposely deceive us. Thoughts may lead to errors in judgment, but those errors would be due to inadequate factual data. When our style of life clashes with reality and common sense, in order to preserve the style, we need to arouse feelings and emotions with the ideas and pictures of a dream we do not understand.
Before going into a detailed explanation of the interpretation of dreams, we must understand the nature of sleep. Everybody knows what sleep is, but few understand it. Sleep cannot be merely the result of fatigue, because we often find very tired people who cannot sleep. One view is that lactic acid induces sleep. Undoubtedly, physiologists find an increased quantity of lactic acid in the body during sleep, but if lactic acid is taken by mouth or injected, the individual does not necessarily sleep. It might be better considered a by-product of sleep, rather than the cause of sleep. Recently, Zondek announced that he has found in the lowest part of the pituitary gland a certain quantity of bromide and that this bromide wanders to the medulla oblongata causing sleep. Individual Psychology has a more useful idea. Sleep is a part of life. One aspect of evolution is the change from being awake to being asleep. If we have a specific reason for sleeping, then we also have a reason for being awake. We can say little more about sleep than that it is a part of life and we do not know if sleep is a variety of being awake or if being awake is a variety of being asleep.
Sleep is not a “brother of death” as many poets would have us believe. It is not an antithesis of being awake. If this were so, then nobody could be awakened by noise, touch, light, or automatically. Although related to his environment, a sleeper may exclude many of the elements by which he can be awakened. Sleep involves something like a decision, an act of will, a “fiat” as James would say. Sleepless persons constantly trying to hear noises or looking for light, etc. confirm this idea. These persons do not remove the disturbing elements, but on the contrary try to find them.
DREAMS AS AN EXPRESSION OF THE STYLE OF LIFE
Individual Psychology maintains that the so-called conscious and unconscious do not contradict each other, but form a single unity. The methods used in interpreting the “conscious” life may be used in interpreting the “unconscious” or “semi-conscious” life, the life of our dreams. The justification for this method is that our dream life is just as much a part of the whole as our waking life, no more, no less. We will find an adequate interpretation of dreams only by considering them as one of the expressions of the style of life.
DREAMS AS AN ATTEMPT TO SOLVE PROBLEMS OF LIFE
Dreams attempt to solve problems according to the individual style of life and are not to be interpreted as common sense. The ancients considered dreams in connection with a problem of life. The correctness of their view is confirmed by the fact that the more satisfied a person becomes, that is, the less his problem disturbs him, the less he will dream. Individual Psychology shows us that in dreams we attempt to “fool” ourselves. The two ideas are not contradictory. We fool ourselves into an inadequate solution of a problem, inadequate from the standpoint of common sense but adequate from the standpoint of the style of life. We achieve this deception by dismissing important facts, leaving merely a small part of the problem which can, if put into figurative form, be solved easily. This dream process differs little from waking life. For example: A young man wants to get married, but he hesitates and expresses contradictory views regarding the important step he is considering. A friend may say, “Don’t be a jackass!” The friend thus reduces the whole complicated problem to being a jackass or not, thus enabling the young man to find an easy solution.
Perhaps another comparison will help explain dreams. But let us be careful not to let comparisons, which like a dream simplifying a problem, lead us astray. Dreaming is like stepping on the gas in the process of driving a car. The driver knows his objective; he is in the car, already on the way. For some reason he may become uncertain about reaching his objective, then he steps on the gas, giving himself a spurt forward in the same direction in which he was already headed. He has changed neither his goal nor his direction; he has merely given himself added impetus in a time of uncertainty to help him reach his objective. So in a dream, the individual’s goal of achievement remains the same, but a dream impels him toward that goal with increased emotional power. A man who wants to jump over a stream will perhaps count three before he jumps. Is counting three a necessary requirement before jumping? Not at all! However, he counts to stir up his feelings and elicit all his powers. We have the means ready in our minds to elaborate a style of life, to fix and reinforce it; one of the most important means of establishing that style is the ability to stir up feelings. We engage in this work every night and day. Waking or sleeping, we probably never see a picture without having an emotional reaction. In dreams, we produce those pictures which arouse the feelings and emotions we need for our purposes, i.e., for solving the problems confronting us at the time of the dream, in accordance with our particular style of life.
SELECTION OF DREAM MATERIAL
A well-known dream is that of the Greek poet Simonides who was invited to go on a lecture tour in Asia Minor. He hesitated, continually postponing the trip even though the ship waited for him in the harbor. His friends tried in vain to make him go. Then he had a dream. A dead man he had once found in a forest and piously buried appeared to him and said, “Because you were so pious and cared for me in the forest, I now warn you not to go to Asia Minor.” Simonides arose and said, “I will not go.” But he had already been inclined not to go before he ever had the dream. This dream illustrates the points discussed so far. Obviously, Simonides was trying to solve a very real problem because in those days a sea voyage represented great hazards. But we can see in the dream an expression of his style of life, the tendency to hesitate. He could not solve his problem by conscious thought alone, so he had to trick or fool himself into a solution with the metaphorical expression of a dream. This added impetus gave him the emotional stimulus necessary to definitely say, “I will not go.” But notice how the problem was solved. The dream narrowed it down to merely the question of death; no consideration was given to the possible enhancement of his fame, to his social obligation to meet a reasonable request, to the good he might do in spreading Greek culture and numerous other possibilities to be considered.
This example also helps us in pushing dream interpretation a step further. Out of all his experiences, why should Simonides pick the dead man for the dream? Apparently, he was preoccupied with thoughts of death. He was probably afraid not only of seasickness, but also that the ship might sink. As a result of this preoccupation with the thought of death, his dream selected the episode concerning a dead man. But the dream was not an actual reproduction of an experience. The dead man was made to talk, illustrating the creative power of the human mind. That creativeness built a dream serving the purposes of the dreamer.
DREAMS BASED ON INFERIORITY FEELINGS, STRIVING FOR ACHIEVEMENT, AND SOCIAL INTEREST
In Individual Psychology, we cannot accept any laws or rules as binding. We can accept mere probabilities. Thus, in regard to dream interpretation, the elements pointed out here are merely probable. Furthermore, they are not discrete elements; each is related to the other. So with this in mind, let us consider another common feature of dreams. Although sometimes difficult to find, a dream often expresses an individual’s striving for superiority. As we know, this striving is based on inferiority feelings. Children’s fantasies and day-dreams most clearly illustrate this point. In these, we often find children seeing themselves as the “strongest,” “the savior,” “a conqueror,” “the richest,” etc. But the meanings of these creations differ greatly from child to child. A child who fancies himself the richest person in order to have everything he wants is not the same as the child who fancies himself the richest person to help the poor. In the latter case, we see an expression of social interest. I am not sure that he would really help the poor if he were the richest person; but at least, he does not think of being rich without also thinking of helping others.
An actual example from my case histories makes this point clearer. A child dreamed: “A giant chased us. We jumped into a tree and when he passed us, we killed him with a sword we took from him.” Here is the dream of a boy afraid of difficulties (inferiority feeling). In the dream, he conquers (striving for superiority), but he conquers with others (“we”: a slight expression of social interest).
SUMMARY OF INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY’S THEORY OF DREAM INTERPRETATION
A dream strives to pave the way toward solving a problem by means of a metaphorical expression of it, by a comparison, “as if”; in itself it is a sign that the dreamer feels inadequate to solve his problems with common sense alone. A metaphorical conception of one’s situation is a way to escape from it. A metaphor may be used to support almost any kind of practical action. This use of metaphor is best exemplified in those dreams which create feelings and emotions of success or fear, as they produce a kind of intoxication which perfectly resists the logic of communal life. Naturally, the dreamer does not recognize the purpose of his own metaphor. If he understood it, it would be ineffective for its purpose. It is essentially a self-deception in the interest of his goal. We should expect, therefore, that the more the individual goal agrees with reality the less a person dreams, and we find that it is so. Very courageous people rarely dream, for they deal adequately with their situation in the day-time.
DREAMS OF TWO GIRLS
We can now examine more critically certain types of dreams. A girl of about twenty-four had the following dream: “I had gone to a swimming pool where there were a lot of people,” she says. “Somebody noticed that I was standing on the heads of the people there. I felt that someone screamed on seeing me and I was in great danger of falling down.” If I were a sculptor, I would carve her in just that way, standing on the heads of others. This was her style of life; these were the feelings she liked to arouse in herself. However, she saw her position as precarious, she thought that others should realize her danger, too. From other sources, I found that she had fixed as her goal, “To be a man in spite of being a girl.” This dream contains another expression of the same goal, the “masculine protest,” as I have called it. She wants to seem superior, as men seem to her, rather than to deal adequately with her situation. Yet, the fear of defeat pursues her relentlessly. To help her, we must find the way to reconcile her to her feminine role, to take away her fear and over-valuation of the other sex, and to make her feel friendly and equal among her fellow beings.
Another girl relates, “My most frequent dream is very odd. I am usually walking along a street where there is a hole that I do not see. Walking alone, I fall into the hole. It is filled with water, and as I touch the water I awake with a jump, with my heart beating terribly fast.” The dream says to her, emotionally, “Be cautious, dangers exist that you know nothing of.” It tells us more than this, however. If she is in danger of falling, she must imagine she is above others since she cannot fall if she is down. As in the preceding example, she is saying, “I am superior, but I must always take care not to fall.”
A DREAM OF A PROBLEM BOY
A ten-year-old boy was brought to the clinic with the complaint that he was mean and vicious to other children, that he stole things at school and put them in the desks of other boys. One of the dreams he told at the clinic was, “I was a cowboy in the West. They sent me to Mexico and I had to fight my way through the United States. When one Mexican came against me, I kicked him in the stomach.” The feeling of the dream is, “I am surrounded by enemies. I must struggle and fight.” He thinks that being a cowboy and kicking people in the stomach is heroic. The stomach has played a large role in his life. He himself suffered from stomach weakness and his father has nervous stomach trouble he constantly complains about. The boy’s aim is to hit people at their weakest point.
His dream and actions show exactly the same style of life; a lack of social interest coupled with a high degree of activity. DREAM OF A PAMPERED CHILD
A boy whom we know was pampered and over-protected by his mother had the following dream, “Two crooks scared me.” Here he expresses again his feeling of the enmity of life outside his favorable situation. He feels, “I have to stay with my mother.” We can easily see that this child would not fit well in school where he is not pampered.
A DREAM OF A MARRIED WOMAN
A woman remembered this dream as taking place in a period when there had been great dissension between her and her husband; she constantly quarreled with him: “There was a narrow canal and I saw trees and fields along its banks. We rowed around in the water and the water was very clear. We rowed in front of a bungalow that my sister lives in. My sister was waiting at the door. I was with someone but did not know who it was. I feel often in my dreams that I am with someone but do not know who it is.” Obviously this man in the dream was not her husband. In the dream, she is unfaithful. Not prepared to be unfaithful in reality, she tries to prepare herself in dreams. She feels how pleasant it would be. The sister has a bungalow near a little river; she and her hypothetical lover could go fishing and rowing; she could have a life as pleasant as her sister. A relationship with someone else would be clear water, not dirty water, as in her marriage. Notice how she prepares; how she “steps on the gas” to arrive at this goal: to go away from her husband to another man; to have a nice life; to rise to where her sister is. This interpretation enables us to see how her dream agrees wholly with her style of life, her activity, her striving to be ahead, to rise, and not be subjugated.
A DREAM OF A MARRIED MAN
One of my male patients became very distrustful of his wife and lost all faith in women. One night he dreamed, “I was in a battle in the streets of a city, and in the midst of the shooting and burning many women were thrown into the air as if by an explosion.” Afterward he suffered greatly from remorse in remembering this picture, mistakenly believing he had an inherited sadistic drive, until treatment enabled him to understand his dream. It agreed with his attitude to his marriage problem; for in this dream he shows his rage by picturing a general extermination of women, which he felt compelled to repudiate because he was not without social feeling and compassion. This remorseful after-thought enabled him to maintain the daily attitude he assumed toward his wife, that he was not at all angry with her, but merely solicitous for the children. I analyze the structure of the dream as follows: He selected some terrible pictures from his memories of the war (I call this the “tendentious selection of adapted images”) and then compared the relations between the sexes to the warfare presented by these pictures. In this way he reduced the whole problem of the relation between the sexes to a small part of it, a battle, leaving out the other more important factors, thus seeking a way out of sexuality in a trial solution rejected by common sense. Common sense as the highest expression of understanding up to date always contains the highest expression of social interest up to date.
DREAMS OF AN ANXIOUS NEUROTIC
One of my women patients came to me suffering from an anxiety neurosis. Thirty-seven year old, she was the youngest of seven children. She had suffered from anxiety for many years and always felt tired. Interestingly, she came to me after she had been treated by many doctors, by psychiatrists of various schools, including psychoanalysts, and after each treatment, she had become worse instead of better. We can almost guess her dreams. They must help her find a good alibi for retreat to gain a sense of security. Of course, we cannot foretell the actual content of the dream because this will be taken out of her own experiences which we do no know. But we can be sure that it will be a dream protecting her from the hazard of going ahead. She has the style of life of the pampered child. Furthermore, she must find a person on whom she can lean; a person who will go ahead for her; a person who will protect her and do everything for her. In the period when she was under my care, her first dream was: “My father had a little store and it was light and newly painted.” She had dreamed about her father’s store before, but it had been dark, now it was light. Now the interpretation becomes clear. Her first consultation with me was like a new store. I became the father on whom she could lean and who owned a store from which she could draw. She was flattering me and expecting to find in me a person on whom she could lean. This show of affection is common among neurotics. On this point we need to beware of what is usually called “transference.” It is not really transference, but an attempt to trick the therapist in order to be pampered by him. This does not mean that the patient is in love with the doctor. In such a case the first concern of the doctor is to head off this attempted control.
DREAMS OF FALLING
Dreams of falling are very common, especially among neurotic and psychotic persons. Why? Because fear of falling is always in their minds. It represents the fear of loss of prestige, as if the person said, “Yes, but.” Falling is one of the most clear-cut symbols in dreams. On the one hand, it shows the person’s ambition to be ahead, but on the other hand, it acts as a warning signal effectively producing an attitude of inaction. It often gives the impression of a tight-rope walker.
DREAMS OF FLYING
Flying is another common and clear-cut dream symbol. The key to dreams of flying is the feelings they arouse. They leave behind a mood of buoyancy and courage. They lead from below to above. They picture the overcoming of difficulties and the striving for the goal of superiority as easy; and the allow us to infer, therefore, an active individual, forward looking, and ambitious, who cannot get rid of his ambition even when he sleeps. They involve the problem: “Should I go on or not?” And the answer suggested is: “No obstacles block my way. I can do what others cannot do.”
DREAMS OF PARALYSIS
Frequent dreams of paralysis often symbolize a warning that a current problem is insoluble. Failing to catch a train in a dream, may mean, “I would be glad if this problem passed without any need for interference on my part. I must make a detour; I must arrive too late, to avoid being confronted. I must let the train go by.”
DREAMS OF EXAMINATIONS
Many people dream of examinations. Sometimes they are astonished to find themselves taking an examination so late in life, or having to pass an examination on a subject which they had already passed long ago. With some individuals the meaning would be: “You are not prepared to face the problem.” With others it would mean: “You have passed this examination before and you will pass the test before you at present.” One individual’s symbols are never the same as another’s. In the dream, we must focus primarily on the residue of mood and its coherence with the whole style of life.
Why do some people have the same dream repeatedly, in such dreams we find the style of life expressed with great clarity. A repeated dream gives us a definite, unmistakable indication of the individual’s goal of superiority. A repeated dream is a repeated answer to a recurring problem.
LONG AND SHORT DREAMS
Short dreams indicate that his current problems are such that the dreamer can find a “short cut” between them and his life style. Short dreams are, by the way, much easier to analyze. Long or very complicated dreams indicate that patients seek excessive security in their lives by circumventing-detours, or they are considering various solutions for their problems. These dreams generally reveal hesitation and a desire to postpone even a self-deceptive solution in case it does not work out correctly. Often repeated dreams, or those which have remained in memory for many years best show the style of life.
ABSENCE OF DREAMS
The more an individual’s life style agrees with reality, the less he dreams. In other words, the more courageously and realistically we meet the problems of life, the less need we feel for dreaming. But an absence of dreams does not necessarily mean an adjusted individual. An absence of dreams may mean that the contents are easily forgotten and merely the emotion remains. This forgetting is but a further step in the self-deception which is one of the functions of dreams. The purpose of forgetting his dreams is to prevent the individual from getting insight into them. Or the absence of dreams may be a sign that an individual has come to a point or rest in his neurosis and has established a neurotic situation which he does not wish to change. This resting point would be an adjustment to his style, but not an adjustment to society. A dream is a creation and feebleminded persons cannot create. A lack of imagination, as found among feebleminded persons, is often the reason for the rarity or absence of dreams.
THE DREAM AS ONLY A PART OF THE WHOLE
We need to warn ourselves that we cannot explain everything from a dream without knowing its relationship to the other parts of the personality. Neither can we lay down any fixed and rigid rules of dream interpretation. The golden rule of Individual Psychology is: “Everything can be different.” So it is in dream interpretation. We must modify each dream interpretation to fit the individual concern. If we are not careful, we will look merely for a type or for universal symbols and that is not enough. To say only that a dream is one of falling, flying, paralysis, or examination; that it is a repeated dream, long, short, or any one of the numerous types, often misses its vital connection with the whole personality. Likewise, to classify the person on the basis of a dream, as visual, acoustic, active, timid, courageous, social, pampered, etc., oversimplifies what is sometimes useful for teaching purposes, but may be a gross injustice to the individual analyzed. Each person is different. The only valid dream interpretation fits with an individual’s general behavior, early memories, problems, etc.
USE OF DREAMS IN DIAGNOSIS
In an actual examination we do not start with dreams; we start with the complaints. From these complaints, we try to deduce the type of problem the individual faces: a problem of society, occupation, or love. Many factors can help us: age, social and economic status, position in the family. For example, if a patient is eight years old, then probably it is a school problem; if he is eighteen, it is likely to be a love problem; if he is fifty, an age problem. But the nature of the problem must always be confirmed. We must first find proofs for everything in Individual Psychology. The next step is to find the situation in which the problem arose. This situation will affirm or disprove our original supposition. After that we may use early memories, dreams, etc., to complete the picture of the style of life. But I must emphasize that even the order of procedure suggested here is not essential, or always desirable.
The actual dream analysis may begin by having the patient relate the dream. Sometimes the patient may prefer to write out his dreams before a consultation. But in each case, we should go over the contents of the dream with the patient, and elicit from him as many explanations as possible on each point.
MISUSE OF DREAM INTERPRETATION
The interpretation of dreams is not an end in itself. It is merely one of the means of revealing an individual’s style of life. It should certainly not be used as a social game, a practice which seems to be part of the present psycho-analytic vogue. This charade can be characterized only as bad taste. Nor should this knowledge be used to “see through” people, usually done in an attempt to attain a sense of superiority in disturbed, close human relationships. Dream interpretation, or for that matter, all psychological knowledge, should rightfully be used by a person solely in his capacity as therapist or educator.
AIM TO INCREASE COURAGE
Individual Psychological treatment aims to increase the individual’s courage to meet the problems of life. If we succeed, dreams can be expected to change in the course of treatment. The following dream from a depressed patient just before her cure serves as a good example (also, as a fitting symbol for the closing of this article): “I was sitting all alone on a bench. Suddenly a heavy snowstorm came on. Fortunately I escaped it, since I hurried indoors to my husband. Then I helped him look for a suitable position in the advertisement columns of a newspaper.” The patient was able to interpret the dream for herself. It shows clearly her feeling of reconciliation with her husband. At first, she hated him and complained bitterly of his weakness and lack of enterprise in failing to earn a good living. The meaning of the dream is: “It is better to stay by my husband than to expose myself to danger alone.” Though we may agree with the patient in her view of the circumstances, the way in which she reconciles herself to her husband and her marriage still suggests too much the sort of advice which anxious relatives are accustomed to give. The dangers of being alone are overemphasized and she is still not quite ready to cooperate with courage and independence.
THE NEED FOR UNDERSTANDING DREAMS
This “fooling” power of dreams needs to be understood so that we no longer emotionally intoxicate ourselves. The emotional intoxification provided by dreams offers, curiously enough, a method for preventing the effects of dreams. If a person understands what he has been dreaming and realizes that he has been intoxicating himself, then dreams will have no further danger for him. At least, this proved to be the case with the writer. Incidentally, to be effective, this realization must be in the nature of a thorough-going emotional conversion. His last dream led to such a change. It occurred during the World War in connection with his duties in the army. He was making a great effort to keep a certain man from being sent to the front in a place of danger. In the dream, the idea came to him that he had murdered someone, but he did not know whom. He got himself into a bad state, wondering, “Whom had I murdered?” The fact is he was simply intoxicated with the idea of making the greatest possible effort to put the soldier in the most favorable position to avoid death. The dream emotion was meant to be conducive to the strengthening of this idea, but when he understood the subterfuge of the dream, he gave up dreaming altogether, since he did not need to deceive himself in order to do the things that for reasons of logic he might want either to do or to leave undone.
When we think about improving the general status of mankind, we must concern ourselves with the problem of eliminating this self-deceiving power of dreams. We have to learn to understand dreams in order to rid them of this power. Many try to interpret dreams, but their efforts soon reveal glaring inconsistencies and inadequacies. We do not claim that we have command of the whole truth, but to my knowledge Individual Psychology’s interpretation of dreams best fits the facts and offers the most help. Imagination, as in a dream, is exceedingly worthwhile as long as it supports life in a useful direction. Otherwise, with a lack of social interest, such manifestations of the imagination as dreams are dangerous training places for unsocial actions.