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Young Dr. Freud
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Analysis: Dreams
Freud's Vienna office
Freud's Vienna office
(David Grubin Productions)
As his anguish grew more and more intense by the mid 1890s, Freud turned to the therapy he had invented to help others to ease his own suffering. He subjected his tumultuous thoughts and feelings to examination by the only doctor alive who could analyze them - Dr. Freud.

EAGLE: During the very period where he's so creative, he also is very conflicted. He's studying the human mind and it's hard to imagine that it doesn't stir up some of his own concerns. That's one motive for the period of self-analysis that he engages in. He's trying to cure himself.

GAY: You have to be able to be the patient to be the analyst. And Freud in his own way was making that discovery. He was in those years the patient.

FREUD: "My recovery can only come about through work in the unconscious. I cannot manage with conscious efforts alone. Things are… bubbling in me: I have felt impelled to start working on dreams, where I feel most certain."

As he analyzed himself in solitude, searching for ways to explore the hidden recesses of his mind, he turned to dreams to help him.
Freud was inventing psychoanalysis bit by bit, layer upon layer. As he analyzed himself in solitude, searching for ways to explore the hidden recesses of his mind, he turned to dreams to help him. Dreams, he would one day say, are "the royal road to the unconscious."

GAY: He happens to be a good dreamer. He dreams a lot and he remembers a lot, and he writes them down. And as he reads them and reads them he begins to, well, interpret them.

Freud began recording dreams without exactly knowing why by 1892. Later, he mined this material to help inform his emerging theories. He came to believe that he had discovered the secret force common to every dream. "Dreams," he said, "were wishes, longing to be gratified."

FREUD: "There is a dream of wandering about among strangers, undressed, and with feelings of shame and anxiety…. Oddly enough, the 'bystanders' don't seem to notice… for which we have to thank wish fulfillment."

GAY: Freud had a theory that dreams are wishes which have been repressed. The mind is very intent on not letting itself know certain disgusting, mean, unpleasant, self-centered things, whatever, which are in all of our minds and which we hold back. The dream is a way of revealing some of this, if you know how to do it.

EAGLE: Freud states that the motive force for every dream, even when it appears to be not the case, is always an infantile wish, an unacceptable infantile wish. In sleep all those forbidden wishes, ideas, fantasies, desires are much more likely to emerge into consciousness, not waking consciousness, but sleeping consciousness. But even there, they don't emerge freely, and even there they're disguised, and that's why the dreams have to be interpreted.

FREUD: "Suppressed and forbidden wishes from childhood break through in the dream. It is only in our childhood that we feel no shame at our nakedness… Undressing has an almost intoxicating effect on many children… they laugh and jump about… When we look back at this unashamed period of childhood it seems to us a Paradise. Mankind was naked in Paradise and was without shame. But we can regain this Paradise every night in our dreams… thus dreams of being naked are dreams of exhibiting."

As Freud analyzed himself, he was often perplexed.
As Freud analyzed himself, he was often perplexed. With his imagination on fire, he had a dream that seemed to confirm his theory that abusive fathers caused hysteria. "I saw 'Hella' before me printed in heavy type," he wrote to his friend and confidant Wilhelm Fliess. He feared it meant he was having "overly-affectionate feelings" for a young girl named Hella. But, as his mind wandered, Freud connected Hella, the word for ancient Greece, to his oldest daughter Mathilde.

Freud's daughter Mathilde
Freud's daughter Mathilde
(Freud Museum London)
FREUD: "Mathilde may have been called Hella because she is enthralled by the mythology of ancient Hellas and… regards all Hellenes as heroes."

Freud believed that dreams could be interpreted by "free associating," letting the mind wander randomly, settling on events from the present, or dredging-up long forgotten images from the past. Turning to his theory that dreams were secret wishes, he came up with an interpretation. His "overly-affectionate feelings" for Mathilde were so intense that he was capable of abusing his own child - just as the fathers of some of his patients had abused their children. Disturbed as he was by this idea, he saw in the dream a greater truth.

FREUD: "The dream…. shows a fulfillment of my wish to pin down the father as the originator of neurosis and put an end to my persistent doubts."

But as he pursued his rigorous self-examination, the dark images in his dreams caused him to delve even deeper into the working of his own mind.

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