Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Chapter 6, Section H

By Sigmund Freud

Chapter 6, Section H

Affects in Dreams

  • In this section, Freud discusses the significance of "affects" in dreams—feelings like fear, happiness, sadness, rage, jealousy, envy, disgust, and many more.
  • Freud notes that dreamers can feel affects as intensely as they do in waking life, but we sometimes find it difficult to understand why certain events and ideas in our dreams inspire the feelings they do.
  • Freud writes: "In a dream I may be in a horrible, dangerous, and disgusting situation without feeling any fear or repulsion; while another time, on the contrary, I may be terrified at something harmless and delighted at something childish" (6.9.2).
  • Freud repeats his argument that the apparent strangeness of incompatible emotions and events in dreams can be explained if we recognize that affects in dreams correspond to the "latent," not the "manifest," contents of dreams.
  • As Freud says: even if the dream-thoughts have "undergone displacements and substitutions," "the affects have remained unaltered" (6.9.3).
  • Among other things, this means that the affects we experience in dreams can also give us clues to the dreams' "latent" meanings.
  • To illustrate this point, Freud provides a number of examples from his patients' records.
  • In one example, a woman encounters a group of lions but is not afraid of them. Freud's dream-interpretation suggests that the lions were simply representations of authority figures in the woman's life (6.9.6-7).
  • In another example, Freud shows that "[i]f an important conclusion is drawn in the dream-thoughts, the dream also contains one; but the conclusion in the dream may be displaced onto quite different material" (6.9.9).
  • In one of his own dreams Freud was in a castle by the sea, where he seemed to be a "volunteer naval officer." The castle was preparing to defend against an attack. The Governor fell down dead in front of him, and Freud felt that he had overburdened the Governor with his questions. Soon, Freud's brother was standing beside him. The two of them looked out the window and saw warships coming. One of the ships seemed strange to them, and they "call[ed] out with one voice: 'That's the breakfast-ship!'" (6.9.11).
  • In his detailed interpretation of this dream, Freud argues that the dream-thoughts were inspired by his fears of a premature death. In the dream, the death of the Governor made "no impression" on him, but the sight of the warships caused fear. Freud interprets this as a displacement of his fear from the "latent" content of the dream to its "manifest" content.
  • As Freud moves on with his commentary on affects in dreams, he notes that the emotions that emerge in dreams are often less intense than the psychical materials that give rise to them (6.9.16).
  • With this in mind, Freud argues that "[i]t might be said that the dream-work brings about a suppression of affects" (6.9.16). He attributes this suppression to censorship (6.9.18).
  • As an example, Freud presents another of his dreams—we'll call it his Dream of the "Aegean Stables"—in which he urinates on a long bench that is covered in feces and, by doing so, washes all of the feces away (6.9.20). Nasty.
  • After relating this dream, Freud asks why its contents didn't fill him with disgust.
  • Freud argues that he felt no disgust during the dream because the dream's "latent" content was actually full of "agreeable and satisfying thoughts" (6.9.22-25). As he notes, all of these thoughts were related to his potency, power, and professional ambition.
  • Once again, Freud reminds readers that the affects we feel (or don't feel) in dreams correspond to the dream-thoughts themselves and not to the "manifest" content of dreams.
  • Freud also reminds readers that dream-work can disguise the "latent" content of dreams by turning affects into their opposites.
  • For example, in his Dream of Uncle Josef, Freud felt "the greatest affection" for his friend "R.," despite the fact that the dream was really calling "R." a simpleton. In his interpretation of that dream, Freud concluded that his feelings of affection were meant to disguise the real content of the dream, which included feelings of hostility to "R." (6.9.27).
  • Freud offers another example of this kind of affect-switching—one in which an elderly man is made to laugh and laugh and laugh in a dream, despite the fact that the dream's "latent" contents were related to his fear of death. In this dream, intense amusement replaced intense sorrow (6.9.29).
  • Next, Freud turns to a dream that was recorded in a short story by an author who wrote of dreaming regularly—night after night, for many years—of working as a tailor. The dreams finally stopped after he dreamed of being fired (6.9.31-36).
  • Freud says that he has had dreams that were very much like this one. In them, he is haunted by his early years of training in a lab. Because these dreams are reminders of an earlier time in his life "of which I have no reason to feel proud," Freud suggests that they are "punishment dreams" (6.9.37).
  • Having said this, Freud admits that it's difficult to reconcile this point with his theory that dreams are wish-fulfillments. Without offering a final answer, he speculates that such "punishment dreams" may arise from "masochistic impulses in the mind" (6.9.38). He also admits the possibility that dreams like these may work very differently (6.9.38).
  • (In a footnote that Freud didn't add until the 1930 edition of The Interpretation of Dreams, he finally associates these "punishment dreams" with the work of the "super-ego"—a psychological concept that he had not yet developed when the earlier editions of the book were published.)
  • Freud also offers one other possible interpretation here. He argues that by bringing him back to an earlier—though admittedly difficult—period of his life, the dream is fulfilling a wish for him to be young again and to have the major events of his life still ahead of him (6.9.37).
  • Freud now moves on to a kind of dream that he calls "hypocritical dreams"—dreams in which he reconciles with people whose friendships he has lost or broken.
  • Freud explains that these dreams tend to emerge when "some occasion" has prompted him "to abandon the last remnant of consideration for these former friends and to treat them as strangers or enemies" (6.9.38). Rather than depicting a clean break, the "hypocritical dream" depicts the opposite—a reconciliation.
  • Freud now returns to some of the dreams that he has already discussed and devotes more specific attention to the roles that affects played in them.
  • The first of these examples is the dream in which he dissects his own pelvis (6.9.42); the next are the two dreams "in which an expression of satisfaction was transposed to the moment after waking" (6.9.43).
  • As Freud moves forward with his commentary on affect in dreams, he argues that affects aren't necessarily attached to just one element of the dream. "During the dream-work," he writes, "sources of affect which are capable of producing the same affect come together in generating it" (6.9.45).
  • To illustrate this point, Freud returns to the dream in which he makes the "revenant" (ghost) of his friend "P." disappear. He now reveals that one of the impressions that prompted the dream was his anxiety for his friend Wilhelm Fliess, who had recently undergone surgery (6.9.47).
  • After Fliess's surgery, Freud had received reports from an acquaintance who warned him "not to discuss the matter with anyone" (6.9.47-48). With this in mind, Freud's interpretation of the dream reveals that the dream-work combined his anxiety and concern for his friend's life with his sense of frustration that someone had found it necessary to remind him to be discreet.
  • Once he puts his finger on this sense of personal injury, Freud's interpretation of the dream expands. He now feels able to unlock parts of it that had previously been obscure.
  • Freud concludes this section by discussing how dreams are affected by our waking moods. He argues that our waking moods can influence our dreams—but no more so than somatic stimuli.

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