Importance of Dreams Essay | The Role of Dreams in Our Life

Dreams are something that we all experience in our lives. My inspiration for writing an essay on this topic came from an article I read called “Dreaming – motivated or meaningless” by Mark Blagrove. The topic of dreams appealed to me immediately. Although I chose a slightly different approach to the topic it is also in the area of dreams. It is an area of psychology of which I had very little knowledge of and the essay gave me an opportunity to explore it more. This topic is significant, because it shows the importance of dreams. They are part of our mind, just like our feelings, thoughts, or intentions. Just the fact of how influential dreams are on our everyday feeling, shows their great importance in our life. When we have a good and enjoyable dream, then we wake up happy and willing. When we have a bad dream, we wake up already with a feeling that this day is not gone be good and the day seems to be darker than in reality.

Everybody experiences dreams for about two hours a day, whether we remember them or not is dictated by our ability to memorize dreams. That is due to the fact that, while sleeping the part of brain responsible for withholding memories is deactivated. It is also the reason for why people even, when having memory of dreaming have a hard time remembering exactly what they dreamt about. It has been proven by a series of experiments that people who claim that never or very often dream, when woken up from the REM [1] stage of sleep almost 50% of them did have some retention of dreams. This proves that we all have dreams.

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In the XX century we had a great development of theories concerning the meaning and usefulness of dreams in studying of human behaviour. There is a group of psychologists, which believe that dreams are meaningless. In this approach to dreams they are considered to be ineffective and vain for studying human behaviour. There is also a second approach to dreams, which takes dreams as something useful in exploring human behaviour and this is the approach I will concentrate on. They are considered meaningful and packed with information relevant to reality and personality. The main streams of this approach have been developed in psychoanalytical approach to psychology. In psychoanalysis the pioneers in development of theories of interpretation of meaning and usefulness of dreams were Freud and Jung.

My research question for this essay is to what extent are dreams significant in studying psychosis? To answer this question we need to look at different approaches to dreams individually and that is why we have the division introduced above. Different approaches show different levels of importance of the dreams in studying psychosis and overall human behaviour. Further on in the essay I will discuss deeper the theories of psychoanalytical approach put forward mainly by Freud and Jung, but also supported by other psychologists. I will show how the theories explain different aspects of psychosis like schizophrenia and depression.


Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in an Austrian city called Freiberg and died in London, 23 September 1939. He is mainly know as the founder of the psychoanalytical approach to psychology. Although most of his theories are regarded as erroneous by modern psychologists, he contributed greatly to the development of psychology. Today, his methods of investigating the source of maladaptive behaviour are only used by some of the psychotherapists, which keep his theories still useful and alive. He was the first one ever to interpret dreams and create the whole system for interpreting dreams.

In the mid 1890’s Freud already had a couple years of work behind him with people who were suffering from hysteria and obsessive-compulsive disorder. While working with those people he was able to come to conclusion that if we can trace the symptoms of the obsessive-compulsive disorder back to the situations in the patients life which caused it, then we can work out the problem and thus liberate the person of the maladaptive behaviour shown previously.

Freud’s main source of information and data were case studies. When studying dreams and formulating his theories he asked his patients to state all associated thoughts and ideas with the dreams or disorders that they were suffering from. While listening to the confessions of the studied people, Freud formulated his theory that dreams form a complex image, which leads to the maladaptive behaviour and its origin in early childhood. In 1899 his book “Die Traumdeutung” was published. In it Freud discussed his complete explanation and analysis of dreams and the main fundamental assumptions of his psychological theory, which later have been slightly altered. Before we can go it exploring Freud’s theories on dreams we need to merely understand some basic ideas of his theory. Firstly it is important to mention the division that Freud made between conscious and unconscious. Conscious is the real and known part of us that we know and are aware of. This part of our personality is able to think rationally and logically. It is able to differ between real and imaginary worlds. It adapts and modifies under the pressure of culture. Between those two parts of our mind is one that filters and disguises the information leaving from the unconscious and entering the conscious. So basically our personality consists of id, ego and superego. Id stands for the unconscious, undiscovered by us and demanding part of our personality which is controlled by out basic drives. Superego on the other hand is the one that demands from us to follow our rules, ethics and give into the things that culture demands from us. Lastly ego is the part that has to combine superego and id, its job is to satisfy both superego and id.

According to Freud dreams are very crucial in studying human behaviour. He believed they were of great help for the sleeping people, because they were a form of fulfilment for the unfulfilled desires. Dreams start as rational thoughts, but what happens is that they become disguised, that is why a lot of times we ourselves can not understand the dreams we had. The reason the dreams are masked is that otherwise our superego would not be able to accept them, this leads a lot of people to wrongful thinking that dreams are revelling our unconscious, where contrarily to the popular believe they would be conscious thoughts if ego would not block them. Also Freud considered unfulfilled carnal desires to be the driving force behind the dreams.

Even though unfulfilled carnal desires were the driving force behind all dreams according to Freud, dreams have mainly three sources. First source is the somatic, which is physical causes like the way we lie, fever, pain and other physical stimulus. Second source for dreams can be some previous day situation. Thirdly some repressed memories from childhood. Although he recognized the three sources for dreams he was mainly concentrated on the third one which was according to him the true source of dreams.

Freud in his book also described the whole mechanism of the dreams and in this mechanism dreams are considered a psychological process in which the hidden original ideas (latent content) are converted into a dream that we sometimes do or sometimes don’t remember when wake up in the morning (manifest content). This process consists of a few steps, which are: condensation, displacement, symbolism and second revision. The first described, condensation, is where two or more of the original thoughts, ideas, memories, desires are condensed into one dream image. Second step is displacement, which is where the desire is directed at an meaningless person or object at the same time masking to whom or what the desire is actually directed. Thirdly there is the symbolism and this is where the condensed ideas are converted into “dream form”. Things are replaced by other things which are to be symbolising the original idea. For example Freud believed that tree-trunks in the dream can symbolise the erection of the male organ. Lastly there is the secondary revision. In this last stage the dream is reorganized into such a blueprint that it does not appeal to the person as imaginary and illogical and sometimes shows some relevance to situations from earlier on in the day to cover up the true meaning.

As mentioned before in Freudian theory of personality we have id, ego and superego. Ego is the part of personality that mediates between id and superego, that is why it is all the time suffering from anxiety. To deal with the anxiety ego uses such things as defence mechanism to defend itself. Defence mechanism change, get stronger and become more automatic with time. This is important to know because it explains why the older we get the bigger the difference between the latent content and manifest content. For example Charles Brenner has put forward a case study of a two year old baby which described its dream “See baby go away”. This dream appeared when the two year old babe’s mother had another child. This dream was interpreted in a way that the two year old babe wants to see the babe go away, because it is jealous of it. In an adult’s dream such a situation would have been disguised much more. The desire would have been displaced and symbolism would have been introduced. In dreams, it is the compromise between the id and the defence mechanism that produces the manifest content that is reasonable to see for the superego. There is a numerous number of defence mechanisms that can be used while production of the dream. That is why it was clear that the masking of dreams does not happen in everyone the same and in order to interpret the dreams you need to know the past of the patient, all his dreams and current life situations.


Carl Gustav Jung was born on 26th July 1875 in Kesswil, Switzerland and died on 6th of April 1961 in Kusnacht, Switzerland. Second besides Freud pioneer in the are of dreams in psychoanalytical approach to psychology. Some people think that now one gave more time and credit to the dreams as he did. Unlike Freud, Jung believed that dreams are the most important factor in transfer of information from the unconscious to the conscious.

The first thing to mention is that although Jung considered dreams to be the most important aspect in the transfer of information between unconscious part of our mind to the conscious one, he had a slightly different view on the whole idea of unconscious and it is relation with conscious than Freud. As discussed earlier unconscious for Freud was just a disorganized, whole lot of sexual drives struggling to fulfil them selves. In Jung’s model of personality it played an active, independent and creative part in us and culture. He proposed that our unconscious consists of two: personal unconscious and collective unconscious. The individual unconscious is the part of mind that consists of individual complexes and childhood memories repressed from our memory, because they did not fit the moral expectations of the environment. Under this is the collective unconscious which consists of archetypes [2] . This part of the unconscious is much older and does not include any personal memories or stories. It is a collection of past experience of the whole population working in a person.

The mechanism of dreams is similar between Freud and Jung, but something that is very important and has to be stressed is the different approach to symbolism in dreams. Freud used same interpretations of symbols for every dream, where as Jung was in favour of individualism. Although some of the symbols where generalised by him, he said that they should always be investigated whether in special cases they don’t symbolise something different. For him symbols where much more complex then just representations for other masked information.

Another thing that Jung proposed is that dreams are sort of an inner spokesperson of the inner person. This meant that we could meet the inner person, which consisted of collective unconscious, which had the information about all the motives for the actions of people. As mentioned before Freud recognized three main sources of dreams. Jung agreed with Freud all three but he believed they were minor and not as important. According to his theory there were two more sources of dreams which were much more crucial. The first one was subliminal stimuli, which is stimulus which our conscious does not register. Out unconscious records it and transfers it to the conscious under the cover of dreams. Second mentioned by him sources of dreams and the most important for him was the collective unconscious and its aforementioned archetypes.

Something else that Jung has put forward was a sort of hierarchy of dreams [3] :

dreams showing unconscious reaction to a conscious situation
dreams showing a situation resulting from the conflict between conscious and unconscious parts of mind
dreams showing tendency in the unconscious intending to alter the conscious behaviour
dreams showing processes in the unconscious which are in now way related to the conscious.

The dreams are ordered in the order of relevance to the conscious, which means that the further down the hierarchy the more unusual and archetypical the dreams are. This hierarchy shows the basic ideas that are put forward by dreams but the questions was what is there function? Jung outlined to main functions, which were either compensational or complementary. Compensational function of the dream is where the conscious is deliberately altered. Where as complementary function is where dreams widen and complete the unacknowledged areas of our conscious.


Before discussing application of dream theories it needs to be recognized, that although as H. Levitan believes all abnormal behaviour is connected with certain type of characteristics of dreams, a number of experiments like Shafton (1995) shows that even experienced psychiatrists are unable to recognize only on the basis of dreams whether they belong to people who experiences mental disorders or who are healthy. So dreams with the support of other data about clients are very useful in diagnosing, but on there own don’t give out enough data.

Psychosis is a group of serious mental disorders. The most important of the them are schizophrenia and paranoia. According to DSM-IV [4] brief psychotic disorders can be diagnose if a patient has one or more of the symptoms:

disorganized speech
grossly disorganized or catatonic behaviour

those are the main symptoms described for brief psychotic disorders. In DSM-IV we have the information on the symptoms and on how to treat it. Like giving antipsychotic drugs, ex. chlorpromazine. The thing is that it gives no explanation of how the disorder may have started. Freud and Jung were the first psychoanalytics to describe psychosis in the light of psychoanalysis and dreams. Although dreams where not the reason for psychosis, they believed that through dreams they can reach the core of the problem and reason for the psychotic maladaptive behaviour appearing.

Freud worked with patients who suffered from psychosis and put his theories forward. He concluded that psychosis is an effect of defence mechanism, which are weakened thus letting information from the unconscious to flood the conscious part of our mind. He differed between psychosis and neurosis saying that Oedipal conflict is the centre of problem in neurosis and narcissism conflicts in psychosis. However later on he reviewed his theory and concluded that both phases can be present in the psychotic disorders.

Although Jung agreed with Freud on the idea that psychosis can be caused by events from early childhood, he also concluded that the information from the collective unconscious were crucial to understand psychosis. This means that the more archetypes are present in the collective unconscious the bigger the chance for development of psychosis.

In my work I will present how the theories and ideas of Freud and Jung can be applied while diagnosing cases of schizophrenia, depression, and borderline personality disorder.

In case of schizophrenia using dreams, psychologists are able to recognize between three types of schizophrenia based on the content of the dreams. The three types of schizophrenia are disorganized schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia and paranoid schizophrenia. In case of disorganized schizophrenia the dreams have rough sexual situations, catatonic schizophrenia shows its self in dreams through aggressive behaviour of the people in the dream and paranoid schizophrenia dreams consist of a combination between homosexual and narcissistic images. The main contribution in the area of studying schizophrenia in the light of dream was done by Medard Boss. In the 1930’s he gathered more than 800 dreams from schizophrenic people and compared them to 3000 dreams from mentally well people. This produced some support for the theory put forward by Freud and Jung which said that psychosis is a mental disorder that occurs when the ego is weakening. This was shown in a case of study twenty year old man. First he man was dreaming of a beautiful house which he sells to a rich businessmen for one million. A year after the patient suffered from catatonic schizophrenia the house came back to him in a dream except this time there was a breaking in and the house was set on fire. Two years later when he suffered from another attack of schizophrenia he dreamt that he was at war and he hid behind the exact house and murdered all his enemies. The last dream described by Boss was three years after patient suffered from schizophrenia:

“I am laying in bed with a beautiful woman. Her husband comes in and he wants to kill me, I strangle him and through him out the window. I do the same thing with a lot of policemen, which want to kill me. Finally I walk out the door and cut off all limbs and heads of the dead. It turns me on.”

Boss interpreted the dreams in a way that shows the decay of the ego from dream to dream. At the beginning it was still strong and able to mask the unconscious desires into right for the superego form where as at the end the chaotic drives break completely through the defence mechanism illustrating a human that is driven by anger, aggression and sexual drives.

A series of experiments carried out by Maharaj (1997) has shown that schizophrenics the dreams very often of ontological content. The conflicts that appear are quite contrary to the healthy person dreams. Healthy persons dreams are mostly in the structure “me”, where as schizophrenics dreams show the problem of discovering themselves and stating who are they. It is very characteristic for the schizophrenics to constantly try to answer themselves the question of their role in universe. Schizophrenics are closed in a circle of reconstructing of the same conflict through out their dreams. This is due to the fact that the schizophrenics have ideas to solve their problem, but due to no advance in solving the problem they have to reconsider it over, over again.

It has been proven that diagnosis of schizophrenia can be done only on the bases of the manifest content dreams if the psychologist are specialised in interpretation of dreams. Also they can recognize when the person is suffering from constant attacks of schizophrenia and when the disorder is mildly appearing. This is due to the type of dreams. People who are suffering from attacks of schizophrenia have more aggressive, sexual, drives centred dreams, where as people whose schizophrenia is the calm stage have calm dreams with only one image in them.

In cases of depression it has been shown by statistical experiments that people suffering from depression mostly have dreams which are contradictory to there moods. In Neo-Freudian psychology theories like Melanii Klein, depression is considered to be a result of a sadistic superego’s influence on our behaviour. The manic phase of depression is considered to be the revenge taken upon the superego by the ego. An American psychiatrist Jean B. Miller has carried out a number of experiments in this area. She compared dreams of the people suffering from depression to the dreams of mentally stable people, schizophrenics and people suffering from neurosis. The results were just as expected. The people who suffered from advanced depression had dreams which were pleasant and the mood in it was happy. The better the mental stability of patients became the more aggressive and conflicted situations appeared in their dreams.

A significant difference between the dreams of a healthy person and a person suffering from depression stated by Cartwright (1992) is that dreams lose on their length. People who are healthy remember dreams as much longer in contradiction to people suffering from depression. Also the shorter the dreams the deeper state of depression the client is suffering from. It has been shown by Shafton (1995) that, when a patients suffering from depression lose the ability of remembering dreams it correlates to an increase in the number of trials of committing suicide.

Last maladaptive behaviour that I would like to discuss is the borderline personality disorder. In classification systems also referred to as “emotionally unstable personality disorder [5] “. This disorder is also sometimes referred to as being in between psychosis and neurosis. The patients have very low level of defence mechanisms and no ability of repressing memories. Olaf Vedfelt has put forward a sort of explanation and idea for diagnosis of borderline personality disorder through dreams. Due to the fact that people affected by this disorder are unable to repress memories the first thing is that people who have borderline personality disorder remember about six or more dreams every morning. This is completely opposite to the case of schizophrenics who suffer from very short dreams. Those dreams do not show same type of situations. In one dream the scene and action are pleasant for the viewers. Positive archetypes are present. However, the second next dream will be close to the schizophrenic dreams, full of desires, aggression, violence and other factors turning the dream into a nightmare. The dreams are very often long and complicated. Olaf Vedfelt even referred to them as labyrinths [6] . They can also so be sort of science fiction, surreal and irregular [7] , ex. a house can be made of cards, or the earth is pink. This is consistent with the symptoms seen, when a person suffers from borderline personality disorder. They are suffering from a “pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships [8] “, identity disturbance, and they act impulsively in areas which endanger their safety. The context of the dreams of people suffering of borderline personality disorder can be connected to the role of dreams which is also to deal with and work out daily problems. Experiments carried out by Cartwright (1992) shows that it is especially in the period when patients struggle with large emotional tensions that there dreams are much more vivid, emotional and intensive.


Through out the essay the aim was to answer my research question, which I have stated in the beginning. The question was to what extent are dreams significant in studying abnormal behaviour? I have presented the theories that were put forward by Freud and Jung and their followers. Also showed how their theories can be used to diagnose and in some cases also treat maladaptive behaviour, mainly psychosis. Although most of the information and data that Freud and Jung used to form their theories came from case studies or statistical experiments, they showed strong fundaments for their theories. Case studies presented by them in psychosis diagnosis through dreams proved to be crucial and turned out to be very accurate. So we can conclude that to some extent dreams are significant in studying abnormal behaviour and helpful in reaching the core of the maladaptive behaviour. Studies that were conducted by psychologists and not only in the area of psychosis did not change the actual view of people at the whole idea of dreams, but they showed how significant they are for our psychological well being. On the other hand it is important to remember that dreams do not provide us with enough information for the diagnosis to be done sole on them. Thus dreams are used complementary with the whole case study of the patient.

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