Chapter VII – The Function of the Dream

There are, therefore, two exits for the individual unconscious emotional process. It is either left to itself, in which case it ultimately breaks through somewhere and secures for once a discharge for its excitation into motility; or it succumbs to the influence of the foreconscious, and its excitation becomes confined through this influence instead of being discharged. It is the latter process that occurs in the dream. Owing to the fact that it is directed by the conscious excitement, the energy from the Forec., which confronts the dream when grown to perception, restricts the unconscious excitement of the dream and renders it harmless as a disturbing factor. When the dreamer wakes up for a moment, he has actually chased away the fly that has threatened to disturb his sleep. We can now understand that it is really more expedient and economical to give full sway to the unconscious wish, and clear its way to regression so that it may form a dream, and then restrict and adjust this dream by means of a small expenditure of foreconscious labor, than to curb the unconscious throughout the entire period of sleep. We should, indeed, expect that the dream, even if it was not originally an expedient process, would have acquired some function in the play of forces of the psychic life. We now see what this function is. The dream has taken it upon itself to bring the liberated excitement of the Unc. back under the domination of the foreconscious; it thus affords relief for the excitement of the Unc. and acts as a safety-valve for the latter, and at the same time it insures the sleep of the foreconscious at a slight expenditure of the waking state. Like the other psychic formations of its group, the dream offers itself as a compromise serving simultaneously both systems by fulfilling both wishes in so far as they are compatible with each other. A glance at Robert’s “elimination theory,” will show that we must agree with this author in his main point, viz. in the determination of the function of the dream, though we differ from him in our hypotheses and in our treatment of the dream process.

The above qualification—in so far as the two wishes are compatible with each other—contains a suggestion that there may be cases in which the function of the dream suffers shipwreck. The dream process is in the first instance admitted as a wish-fulfillment of the unconscious, but if this tentative wish-fulfillment disturbs the foreconscious to such an extent that the latter can no longer maintain its rest, the dream then breaks the compromise and fails to perform the second part of its task. It is then at once broken off, and replaced by complete wakefulness. Here, too, it is not really the fault of the dream, if, while ordinarily the guardian of sleep, it is here compelled to appear as the disturber of sleep, nor should this cause us to entertain any doubts as to its efficacy. This is not the only case in the organism in which an otherwise efficacious arrangement became inefficacious and disturbing as soon as some element is changed in the conditions of its origin; the disturbance then serves at least the new purpose of announcing the change, and calling into play against it the means of adjustment of the organism. In this connection, I naturally bear in mind the case of the anxiety dream, and in order not to have the appearance of trying to exclude this testimony against the theory of wish-fulfillment wherever I encounter it, I will attempt an explanation of the anxiety dream, at least offering some suggestions.

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