Chapter VII – The Function of the Dream

That the sexual intercourse of adults appears strange to children who observe it, and arouses fear in them, I dare say is a fact of daily experience. I have explained this fear by the fact that sexual excitement is not mastered by their understanding, and is probably also inacceptable to them because their parents are involved in it. For the same son this excitement is converted into fear. At a still earlier period of life sexual emotion directed toward the parent of opposite sex does not meet with repression but finds free expression, as we have seen before.

For the night terrors with hallucinations (pavor nocturnus) frequently found in children, I would unhesitatingly give the same explanation. Here, too, we are certainly dealing with the incomprehensible and rejected sexual feelings, which, if noted, would probably show a temporal periodicity, for an enhancement of the sexual libido may just as well be produced accidentally through emotional impressions as through the spontaneous and gradual processes of development.

I lack the necessary material to sustain these explanations from observation. On the other hand, the pediatrists seem to lack the point of view which alone makes comprehensible the whole series of phenomena, on the somatic as well as on the psychic side. To illustrate by a comical example how one wearing the blinders of medical mythology may miss the understanding of such cases I will relate a case which I found in a thesis on pavor nocturnus by Debacker, 1881. A thirteen-year-old boy of delicate health began to become anxious and dreamy; his sleep became restless, and about once a week it was interrupted by an acute attack of anxiety with hallucinations. The memory of these dreams was invariably very distinct. Thus, he related that the devil shouted at him: “Now we have you, now we have you,” and this was followed by an odor of sulphur; the fire burned his skin. This dream aroused him, terror-stricken. He was unable to scream at first; then his voice returned, and he was heard to say distinctly: “No, no, not me; why, I have done nothing,” or, “Please don’t, I shall never do it again.” Occasionally, also, he said: “Albert has not done that.” Later he avoided undressing, because, as he said, the fire attacked him only when he was undressed. From amid these evil dreams, which menaced his health, he was sent into the country, where he recovered within a year and a half, but at the age of fifteen he once confessed: “Je n’osais pas l’avouer, mais j’éprouvais continuellement des picotements et des surexcitations aux parties; à la fin, cela m’énervait tant que plusieurs fois, j’ai pensé me jeter par la fenêtre au dortoir.”

It is certainly not difficult to suspect: 1, that the boy had practiced masturbation in former years, that he probably denied it, and was threatened with severe punishment for his wrongdoing (his confession: Je ne le ferai plus; his denial: Albert n’a jamais fait ça). 2, That under the pressure of puberty the temptation to self-abuse through the tickling of the genitals was reawakened. 3, That now, however, a struggle of repression arose in him, suppressing the libido and changing it into fear, which subsequently took the form of the punishments with which he was then threatened.

Let us, however, quote the conclusions drawn by our author. This observation shows: 1, That the influence of puberty may produce in a boy of delicate health a condition of extreme weakness, and that it may lead to a very marked cerebral anæmia.

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