• Psychoanalysis > Dream Interpretation

The Key of Dreams and Psychoanalysis

A comparative study of the key of dreams and the psychoanalytic approach of dreams interpretation points out striking similitude

By Horia Vasilescu

In his peerless work dedicated to dreams and their interpretation in psychoanalysis - Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900)  - Freud also mentions the famous keys of dreams, these genuine popular guides of common use. Considering the fact that the general mentality grants signification to the dreams - unlike his felows-scientists who claimed that dreams have no meaning or sense as they are simply products of mind activity in sleeping phase - Freud approach them in a critical manner.

A "key of dreams" is, in fact, a "deciphering method", " because it treats the dream as a secret writing where every sign is translated by a correspondent sign, by means of a certain key".(1)

Starting from the deciphered key words, all we have to do is to imagine a story that makes sense, regarded in a future's prospect. Because - we shouldn't forget - in the popular view dreams are always premonitions concerning future events.

The following is an example on how one may use a key of dreams.

Let's suppose I dreamt the following: I went to the station to take up the train and I suddenly discovered that I had forgotten my luggage home. I open a key of dreams and find out that "going by train" means "a trouble that threatens you  from an unexpected direction".

"Luggage" means "good news" or "quick, unexpected enrichment". "To forget" (the luggage) = "something you don't know about yet, but you'll find out in its season" or "news (from the other end of the world)".

I can interpret this dream very easy by simply building up a logical connection between all its elements: Overnight enrichment due to a misfortune (probably decease) of a distant person (relative); inheritance.

  • Another version of the "deciphering method"

There is another alternative to this method, Freud continues, expounded in the writings of Artemidorus from Daldis:

    Here we take into account not only the content of the dream,  but also the personality and circumstances of the life of the author of the dream: so-and-so detail has different meanings from one individual to another, as he/she is rich or poor, married or single, orator or  merchant.(2)

What is characteristic to this proceeding is the fact that "the interpretation doesn't take into account the whole dream, but each of his content elements, as if the dream would be a conglomerate in which  each mineral fragment demands a special determination.(3)

"The deciphering method", Freud concludes, cannot be used in the scientific approach of the dreams. Because it depends upon a "key", and therefore it lacks any warrant".(4) It is impossible for us to detect how was drawn up this correlation between the dream element and its significance from the "key of dreams". For instance, we can't see how we could come from "going by train" to "trouble that threatens you from an unexpected direction", or from "luggage" to "good news, quick, unexpected enrichment".

  • The psychoanalytical method

We must emphasize that psychoanalysis doesn't consider dreams as a product of our prophetic ability, neither as gods' messenger. The scientific approach, which Freud himself hints at, rejects those "virtues" of the dream that cannot pass the examination of the scientific investigation.

As far as it concerns him, Freud states that dream is always the hallucinating expression of a repressed wish. He insists on the fact that the interpretation cannot be deprived of the dreamer's associations, of his recollections and impressions that the elements of the dream, considered separately, evoke to him. In the above quoted dream, Freud would obtain the following information:

- Travel by train. It suggests to the dreamer a traveling manner, which he doesn't like. Because it's uncomfortable. He (the dreamer) prefers to go by his personal car, especially when he spends his weekend in a trip to the mountains or at the seaside.

- Forgetting luggage. The dreamer complains of the fact that, from some time, he noticed a suspect change of his character. He forgets easily, he is absent-minded, confused, inattentive, with his thoughts far away. All these happenings, apparently harmless, annoy him. Adding to these, he was never so "scatter-brained" and, of course, he imitates his wife, who embodies the distraction itself, by this behavior.

Further examining dreamer's impressions, Freud would find out that dreamer's wife behaves like a "little princess" to him, arrogant and all airs and frills, she looks down on her husband, she treats him with an attitude of self-satisfied superiority.

The conclusion of the dream imposes so without saying: it expresses dreamer's wish to change places with his wife (this is where the idea of imitating her comes from), for him to be "the prince" and his wife "the servant".(5)

=> Continues: The psychoanalytic and the classical method


<= Back to the dreams section of the site | Techniques

or to the Home page

Copyright 2002-2021, AROPA. All rights reserved.