Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Theory on Dreams

Freud maintained the notion that the dream fundamentally acts as the guardian of sleep. When we go to bed, the curtains are drawn, the lights are turned off and in effect we are attempting to disconnect from our reality by extinguishing all external stimuli. During the night, the mind protects the sleeper from being disturbed by reacting to further external stimuli (noise, temperature, light, the need to urinate, numb arm/leg, pain, etc) as well as all internal stimuli (emotions, fears, dissatisfaction, desires, previous day’s activity) by manufacturing dreams.

Freud’s work was solely concerned with internal stimuli. Essentially, for a person to continue to sleep undisturbed strong negative emotions, forbidden thoughts and unconscious desires have to be disguised or censored in some form or another. Otherwise, confronted by these, the dreamer would become distressed and they would eventually wake up. Therefore the dream, if understood correctly, could lead to a greater understanding of the dreamer’s subconscious.

Freud believed the dream to be composed of two parts. The manifest and the latent content. The manifest content can be thought of as what a person would remember as soon as they wake – what they would consciously describe to someone else when recalling the dream. Freud suggested that the manifest content possessed no meaning whatsoever because it was a disguised representation of the true thought underlying the dream.

On the other hand, the latent content holds the true meaning of the dream – the forbidden thoughts and the unconscious desires. These appear in the manifest content but will be disguised and unrecognisable. Although in rare cases the manifest and latent content can be indistinguishable (Freud referred to these as ‘Infantile dreams’).

The process by which the latent content is transformed into the manifest content is known as the “dream work”. The dream work can disguise and distort the latent thoughts in the following four ways:

1: Condensation: Two or more latent thoughts are combined to make up one manifest dream image or situation.

2: Displacement: Instead of directing the emotion or desire toward the intended person or object it is transferred onto a meaningless / unrelated object in the manifest dream.

3: Symbolism: Where complex or vague concepts are converted into a dream image. For this, the mind may use the image of a similar sounding (more recognisable) word instead or use a similar looking less intrusive object. According to Freud, dream symbols are for the most part sexual in meaning thus many dreams (but not all) have a sexual correlation.

For example, Freud suggested that objects such as tree-trunks, ties, all weapons, sticks, balloons, rockets and other elongated objects were all symbols for the male organ/an erection. Where boxes, cases, chests, cupboards, ovens, suitcases and other hollow objects represented the female genitalia. A room usually signified a woman but so could the whole house, a door or the whole dream landscape. The simple act of walking up a staircase, steps or ladders could also signify a sexual act.

Freud also had a fascination with symbols of castration, which he believed were represented in a dream by baldness, teeth falling out and the cutting of hair. In addition, the genitals could also be represented by another part of the body. For example, the male organ could be represented by a hand, the female organ represented by a mouth or an eye.

This could therefore explain the reason why the causes of ‘wet dreams’ are usually never the result of a normal sexual act within a dream.

The following is an extract from a dream I had on 16th January 2003:

I am walking through a building where I reach two large doors. I push them with all my force and they open onto playing fields. On the grass is an extremely large bookcase full of encyclopaedias. I stand still and watch two women, both of which are bare breasted. They are standing on top of the bookcase attempting to thread a balloon over some telephone wires. One of them calls out to me: “Thread the balloon for me while I put some clothes on.” I agree although it was more difficult than I envisaged. Therefore when she returns she orders me to start again. Instead of attempting it again I run around a running track, although I become tired extremely quickly. I hear the woman call out: “You need to speed it up!” I reply: “This is the pace I always run at.” Which was a blatant lie. Instead of completing a second lap of the running track, I decide to run in a straight line toward my house. The reason for which appears to be due to the size of the women’s breasts, which were overwhelmingly threatening. I am now in my house…

4: Secondary Revision: This is the final stage of the dream work. According to Freud, this is where the dream loses ‘the appearance of absurdity and incoherence.’ In essence, secondary revision can be thought of as the ways in which the dream work covers up the contradiction and attempts to reorganise the dream into a pattern in sync with the dreamer’s experience of everyday life.

Freud used the method of ‘free association’ to discover the underlying meaning behind the dream (latent content). A patient would describe a dream as accurately as possible (manifest content). The patient would then be told to focus on a specific element of the dream and form as many associations as they could. Essentially, allowing the patient to let their mind wander. This would continue until all manifest content associations (which had previously been unknown to the interpreter) had been discovered. This essentially means that the interpreter is moving in the opposite direction unravelling the ‘dream work’ until the latent content is revealed.

Freud insisted that dreams are a form of fulfilling suppressed wishes. If a wish (likely to be sexual in origin) goes unsatisfied during the dreamer’s normal day, the mind reacts to this ‘internal stimuli’ by transforming it into a visual fantasy – allowing the dreamer to satisfy his or her desire. The result of which is a peaceful night’s sleep.

Freud, S (1953). The Interpretation of Dreams and On Dreams. In the standard edition of The complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. J Strachey (ed). Hogarth Press.

How to cite this article:

Wilson, K. (2005) Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Theory on Dreams. URL: [in these brackets enter the date you visited this page i.e. 22 October 2012]


No Comments » for Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Theory on Dreams
  1. Ahmed shafeeg says:

    Very good site for “dreaming”

  2. elmo says:

    i have to write a 8 paged essay about this

  3. Millgram says:

    I have to write a 300 page term paper on this. I’m going to call it A NOVEL!

  4. IB grade 12 says:

    I am writing a 4000 word essay on this topic and this site has been the most useful site yet, very informative. Thanks.

  5. jackie long says:

    this was very interesting. i believe i’ll do my theory research paper on his theory of dreams

  6. shauna says:

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  7. Taban Namvar says:

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  8. Dre says:

    I have an essay ta write and im doin it on his dream theory. Thanx

  9. edwin says:

    i want to know more and more about Sigmund Freud’s theories

  10. muhammed rafi says:

    yea, it is very helpful and understandable, now ive got an idea about dreams, and more over iam going to write an essay about it


  11. Ana says:

    Extremely useful for my psychology homework!! Thank you!

  12. joan says:

    I’m writing a paper on sleep/ dreams and this page is great . I understood every point and until I read this page I did not know where to start. THANK YOU

  13. jRdVa142930 says:

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  14. Duckiez says:

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  15. kcmo says:

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  16. nick says:

    i got to write just a small project about this:)
    i wish u luck though with your papers and all that stuff
    thanks for the information 😛
    it’s realy helpfull

  17. cicil says:

    thankx a ton fr da info….

  18. sukriti says:

    gr8 theory…njoyed reading it…

  19. lauraokwa says:

    i want to write on transactional theory please help me out

  20. suppressedGenius says:

    He is amazingly intelligent. I can understand exactly where he's coming from

  21. Caitlin says:

    Wow, amazing man. Great information

  22. charan verala says:

    he is just awesome man

  23. NCCC says:

    I find it interesting but, on the other hand, rather strange. The reason for this is simple. Freud was obsessed with sexuality and this may have been the threshold of “sexual” dreams. However, he does prove his point quite excellently!

  24. Arvind O Chouksey says:

    What an amazing theory Sir.Keep on thinking '.Great work|

  25. Gorgeousjazzy says:

    what are the meaning of half of the words used in this essay?
    i am so lost

  26. fixer says:

    all of this and everything ive read of freuds so far is stuff ive known for years, just in more simple terms O.o and im 16.

  27. Ladydidz says:

    why do dreams are important?

  28. Tritech says:

    His theories are just theories and prove nothing more than an individual with an obsession with sex and sexual issues. Despite his great thinking mind, many of his theories have been debunked as pure nonsense.

  29. Lunapower87 says:

    wow this is very interesting1 thank you =)

  30. Courtney says:

    Freud has an odd way of thinking of things, I don't really agree that almost all dreams relate to sex or unfufilled desires. Some dreams may hint to premonitions or intuitive warnings that we may subconsciously know are there, but that we cannot recognize conciously. I do not think that Freud had been able to fathom that aspect of dreaming.

  31. Starr says:

    I am actually havin to do an oral history report on the significance of Sigmund Freud but all i ever read about him is how everything has to do with a sexual interpretation and how he himself was a little ify with his male friend im startin to think if i would’ve known about all this i wouldn’t of picked him

  32. Mjogoldsmith Ntpinc says:

    this is avery good thing to dream about in the day time when i am awake and walking about thinkdreaming .and its daylight outside ,and the dream tells me that its not the abnormal ,but o so normal?…………,…mjog

  33. JP says:


  34. Fghhhh says:

    that paragraph in this article makes freud seem like a.horny perve who only thinks of dreams as sexual thoughts in disguise

  35. ahmed says:

    frued ‘s theory is acceptable, but not all the dearms have sexaul meanings ,though most of them really do.

  36. Leduc says:

    In his book… Freud never, ever… said that all the drams have a sexual meaning… he says some of them had… he put a lot of examples of dreams that aren’t sexual at all. Even in his time a lot of critics attack him beacouse they think that he said that everything is sexual…. the thing is that people don’t read his books and then they write whatever they want abouth his theories.

    Sorry bout my english… i’m… from mexico ha….

  37. He is amazingly intelligent.

  38. zach says:

    this was informative but why does he think that almost everything in our dreams has sexual meaning????

  39. lol wut says:

    I wish he talked about dreams in dreams in dreams!

  40. nein says:

    No way, Inception sucked.

  41. Sneevley says:

    I’m writing a paper on Freud’s works and basic theories, and this helped a lot on the dream section. I’ve always loved Freud, and I love learning more and more about what he thought.

  42. monica says:

    can someone please help me here, to understand these theories, this is my first time ever hearing about this person, and im taking this psy class and im so interested no

  43. Kamagra says:

    I read all the things regarding with this book. If you start reading this book, dont stop in mid. Keep reading to the end, I am damm sure that it will take you in dreaming.

  44. belaasfata says:

    gracias gracias best site ever modafocka i NEED this for a 10,000 word essay for my enlgish IB class senior year.

  45. sharon says:

    very helpfull, especially when i have an assignment on this. thanks

  46. Tanyaradzwa Kasiyano says:

    Very informative. Thanks 4 the info. Mfana wepaFio

  47. Naomi says:

    I have to write a 1200 word research paper and I’m definitely going to use this, cited of course. Thanks so much!

  48. manasseh gladys chis says:

    I enjoyed reading dis theory

  49. sgroclkc says:

    Sigmund Freud’s Theory on Dreams is a scientific fraud.

  50. I had to do a report on this in my class the other day & I found this information verry very useful. Thank you! and goodnight!

  51. mamoona says:

    i have a craze about those aspect which are hidden in our personality now this information is so helpful for me thanks

  52. Marie says:

    Interesting. Freud really had some strange ideas.

  53. i wrote a 25 page on this and got a 100 onit

  54. It may sound crazy, many times what happens to us in the present has a lot to do with our past and especially our childhood experiences. I respect Freud’s Theory on growth.

  55. Hope says:

    I have to include this in my 10 page term paper…. EEK!!

  56. jocie says:

    i believed in dreams,and it is the time when we are sleeping,its either bad or good dreams.and when we are sleeping our souls are out of our body,we can say we are dead on that time:)thank you…

  57. sgroclkc says:

    There are three main types of nightmares(death dreams or being chased dreams ,flying or falling dreams and Incubus), that are caused by three main scary symptom {the scary sensations of palpitation make you feel as if you’re going to die at any moment[1], the scary sinking feeling in heart of palpitation and scary fainting (syncope) }. They are all different in certain ways. All three types of nightmares can lead to a scary heart palpitations-sensations. Scary Incubus or scary fainting (syncope) can lead to scary lightheaded and dizzy , a loss of strength and a loss of consciousness, perspiration, vision problems, difficulty hearing, ringing in your ears, pressure in your chest[2] and death dreams or being chased dreams and flying or falling dreams do not. [1] [2]

  58. joshua says:

    just like everybody else i have a project due on this and it was incredibly helpful an informative

  59. Marjan Gull says:

    My GOD…brilliant MAN..He have a Great knowledge.Wahooo awesome

  60. black says:

    i afraid of the dream , death dreams or being chased dreams ,flying or falling dreams and Incubus.

  61. Holly says:

    This is great information. Very organized.

  62. BreAnna Breseman says:

    i’m currently writing a 2000+ word APA paper on this topic and this website has been very helpful. thank you (:

  63. Nolan says:

    Briliant. Ive finally found a guide to help me ponder my thoughts. Freud was truely a genius, and possibly i may follow him into his field of study

  64. Alejandra says:

    Very informative website . This website has helped me a lot with my research paper.

  65. Niraj says:

    good for dreaming information

  66. shahzad says:


  67. ashley says:

    how can i cite this?? someone care to help me?

  68. ashley says:

    how did you cite this?

  69. Reginald Kessler says:

    Ummm, I just have to write a 1 page essay….

  70. Insomnium says:

    Hi Ashley,

    It would be cited as below:

    Wilson, K. (2005) Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Theory on Dreams. URL: [in these brackets enter the date you originally visited the page the article is on]

  71. Insomnium says:

    as below:

    Wilson, K. (2005) Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Theory on Dreams. URL: [in these brackets enter the date you visited the page]

  72. bailey says:

    i have to write a 6 page paper on this topic by friday. this site is very helpful (:

  73. sarah says:

    oh gosh. this is such an amazing resource… unfortunately, the head of the english department in my school seems adamant about us not using non-scholarly resources as citations…

    so even if i wanted to use this as a supplementary citation, i would probably get points off….

    Now i have to go read freud in full…

    Brain bleach is ready! 😀

  74. Scot says:

    Freud is off base about dreaming. Try this ask your dream source before you go to sleep a simple question that requires only one answer. Write it down because you might forget your question by morning. When you awake write down all the details of your dream. Fit it into your question and your dream should answer your question. Interpretation may be hard if you are a beginner with time this will become easier. Dreams are messages and by asking a question the message become more clear.

  75. brandon says:

    i have to write a 10000 page essay and this has helped me with a 1000 pages alreadythan you guys this has helped me a lot

  76. Amaya Hang says:

    This site was really really helpful for me
    It gave me a hand full of information to make my exam notes.

  77. sgroclkc says:

    For a long time, due to the ignorance of physiological knowledge of lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, heart palpitations, and so on,, psychological illusion in people’s sleep generated by such physical symptoms i.e the nightmares , flying dream and falling dream really has puzzled the psychologists,  One without flying experience in the daytime would dream of flying; One without falling experience in the daytime would dream of falling; one without terrible experience in the daytime would have terrible nightmares. Such examples are the major evidence for Freud and other oneiromancy masters to prove the causes of dreams are very complex and that dreams have special meaning. They are also the major cause why countless people believe various ridiculous oneiromancy theories with mysterious color put forward by Freud and other oneiromancy masters. But, the latest researches of Chinese scientists show these dreams are of no any special meaning and the causes of dreams are very simple, viz. they are the reactions of the objective things in the minds. As Germany’s well-known psychologist William Wundt’s view of “the most common causes of the dream are indigestion, heart pulsation(palpitations or flustered),difficulity in breathing, aswell as such symptoms.” For instance, students dreaming the examination before the pre-examination, is caused by the things about examination. The sense of urgent urination would give rise to the dream of looking for the toilet. In a cold night, thin quilt would cause one to dream the clothes are socked by water and thus make him/her feel cold. Similarly, the nightmares are mainly caused by several palpitation feelings such as the heart hanging in the air, heart dropping and seemingly being chased. The flying dream arises from the palpitation feeling that the heart hangs in the air; the falling dream arises from the palpitation feeling that the heart drops; the nightmare of being chased or running arises from fast heartbeat. In 2009, my opinions above were strongly opposed by all on the website consistently when I first published them on the website of International Association for the Study of Dreams. After several years of impassioned debate people on the website , everyone consistently approved my opinion that these dreams are of no any special meaning and the causes of dreams are very simple. Since last March, nobody has published dream-related articles on the website. In the end of last year, the website had to be closed. After knowing the reasons of nightmares, sleep paralysis, flying dream and falling dream , nobody will believe the dream theories of Freud and other oneiromancy masters. The disclosure of scientific mysteries such as the nightmare , sleep paralysis, flying dream and falling dream is equivalent to sentencing the dream theories of Freud and other oneiromancy masters to death. 

  78. Les Joseph says:

    trust me, you do not want to follow Sigmund Fruads’ theories, he is an atheiest and most of his theories are not factual and are a false ideal are conception. Just google the fool

  79. Kasie says:

    This was very helpful, i have to write a 2 page papper or 600 words on this in psychology thanks for the help(:

  80. Kayla says:


  81. joel says:

    I have to write of how I can relate a dream of mine with this man tehory . Im tired of psychology . I cant wait for this class to finish

  82. Devina says:

    Most useful site i have used for my term paper. Thank you!!!

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Introduction to Sigmund Freud’s Theory on Dreams"
  1. […] This is only part of Freud’s overall theory, however I thought that this area was the most important part for thinking about the imagination and dreams. Freud claimed that our dreams contain our unconscious desires, which are disguised by symbolic objects and items, in order for the dreamer not to be distressed by their disturbing and forbidden thoughts. This results in dreams which often do not make any sense, with strange and surreal content. [link] […]

  2. […] material desire. In his final analysis, Freud summarily subscribed to the understanding that “dreams fundamentally act as the guardian of sleep,” integrating both external and internal stimuli into the substance of a dream in order to […]

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