Chapter VII – The Function of the Dream

As I have often repeated, the theory of the anxiety belongs to the psychology of the neuroses. I would say that the anxiety in the dream is an anxiety problem and not a dream problem. We have nothing further to do with it after having once demonstrated its point of contact with the subject of the dream process. There is only one thing left for me to do. As I have asserted that the neurotic anxiety originates from sexual sources, I can subject anxiety dreams to analysis in order to demonstrate the sexual material in their dream thoughts.

For good reasons I refrain from citing here any of the numerous examples placed at my disposal by neurotic patients, but prefer to give anxiety dreams from young persons.

Personally, I have had no real anxiety dream for decades, but I recall one from my seventh or eighth year which I subjected to interpretation about thirty years later. The dream was very vivid, and showed me my beloved mother, with peculiarly calm sleeping countenance, carried into the room and laid on the bed by two (or three) persons with birds’ beaks. I awoke crying and screaming, and disturbed my parents. The very tall figures—draped in a peculiar manner—with beaks, I had taken from the illustrations of Philippson’s bible; I believe they represented deities with heads of sparrowhawks from an Egyptian tomb relief. The analysis also introduced the reminiscence of a naughty janitor’s boy, who used to play with us children on the meadow in front of the house; I would add that his name was Philip. I feel that I first heard from this boy the vulgar word signifying sexual intercourse, which is replaced among the educated by the Latin “coitus,” but to which the dream distinctly alludes by the selection of the birds’ heads. I must have suspected the sexual significance of the word from the facial expression of my worldly-wise teacher. My mother’s features in the dream were copied from the countenance of my grandfather, whom I had seen a few days before his death snoring in the state of coma. The interpretation of the secondary elaboration in the dream must therefore have been that my mother was dying; the tomb relief, too, agrees with this. In this anxiety I awoke, and could not calm myself until I had awakened my parents. I remember that I suddenly became calm on coming face to face with my mother, as if I needed the assurance that my mother was not dead. But this secondary interpretation of the dream had been effected only under the influence of the developed anxiety. I was not frightened because I dreamed that my mother was dying, but I interpreted the dream in this manner in the foreconscious elaboration because I was already under the domination of the anxiety. The latter, however, could be traced by means of the repression to an obscure obviously sexual desire, which had found its satisfying expression in the visual content of the dream.

A man twenty-seven years old who had been severely ill for a year had had many terrifying dreams between the ages of eleven and thirteen. He thought that a man with an ax was running after him; he wished to run, but felt paralyzed and could not move from the spot. This may be taken as a good example of a very common, and apparently sexually indifferent, anxiety dream. In the analysis the dreamer first thought of a story told him by his uncle, which chronologically was later than the dream, viz. that he was attacked at night by a suspicious-looking individual. This occurrence led him to believe that he himself might have already heard of a similar episode at the time of the dream. In connection with the ax he recalled that during that period of his life he once hurt his hand with an ax while chopping wood. This immediately led to his relations with his younger brother, whom he used to maltreat and knock down. In particular, he recalled an occasion when he struck his brother on the head with his boot until he bled, whereupon his mother remarked: “I fear he will kill him some day.” While he was seemingly thinking of the subject of violence, a reminiscence from his ninth year suddenly occurred to him. His parents came home late and went to bed while he was feigning sleep. He soon heard panting and other noises that appeared strange to him, and he could also make out the position of his parents in bed. His further associations showed that he had established an analogy between this relation between his parents and his own relation toward his younger brother. He subsumed what occurred between his parents under the conception “violence and wrestling,” and thus reached a sadistic conception of the coitus act, as often happens among children. The fact that he often noticed blood on his mother’s bed corroborated his conception.

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