Dreams May Reflect the Unconscious

Psychology and dreams

It often occurs that people reminisce about their dreams and wonder what they implied. Some assume that these dreams have hidden meanings and messages that one has to uncover. Over the years, several psychologists have dedicated time and energy to understanding the purpose of dreams as it relates to the psyche.

One of them was Mr. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis who believed and propagated that dreams represent the hidden urges of the id.

Freud's theory:

According to Freud’s theory, the id is the most primitive part of a person’s psyche. Its urges are considered instinctual and aggressive. They are seen to be unacceptable by the social order of the society that a person resides within. These are repressed and hence they are expressed in dreams wherein they are not considered bad or unacceptable. This phenomenon is referred to as the ‘dream rebound effect’.

Freud wrote a book titled, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams ' which was a collection of his total study on dreams that he examined from his experiences with various patients and other studies.

He advocated that dreams disguise our actual thoughts and emotions. The reality is hidden as it causes anxiety and may lower our own self-esteem. The ego is active within the dream and hence, the actual thoughts and emotions are hidden.

There are two main components of our dreams:

  1. Manifest content: These are the objects or events that occur within our dreams and are visible to us. The occurrences within the dream are inserted to replace the real feelings and thoughts of the dreamer. These are 'made-up' by the dreamer to avoid the real thoughts' encounter with the ego.

  2. Latent content: The latent content are the hidden and deeper meanings of the occurrences within the manifest content. These are the main thoughts and emotions of the person. They are not readily visible as they cause conflict with the ego.

As a result, it takes refuge under the manifest content to reduce or eliminate anxiety and conflict.

Freud advocated four processes that may occur within the dreams:

a- Condensation:

In this, a variety of latent information is snowballed and represented as one single image, thought, or emotion. The latent content is ‘condensed’ into one singular, independent entity that is the visible manifest content.

b- Displacement:

The information within the latent content is confused and becomes mixed up. Whatever information in the manifest content is dreamt about may seem highly significant, though its corresponding latent content is not. Similarly, some dreams may represent highly significant latent information oppositely.

c- Symbolization:

The repressed thoughts and emotions are transformed in such a way that they defy the ego into not understanding the actual dream. The ego does not accept things that are unacceptable to society at large. Hence, dreams hide the real meaning to stop the ego’s guilty feelings regarding any unconscious thought or emotion.

d- Secondary revision:

This is where the dream gets its meaning and is interpreted by the dreamer. The coherence is established and meaning is given to the content of the dream. Though some meaning is derived here, the actual meaning gets hidden behind it. This often leads to an inaccurate Interpretation of the dream.

Carl Jung and dreams:

Carl Jung was the second best-known psychoanalyst. Initially, he was a vocal supporter of Freud but eventually they had a fallout about their interpretations of certain concepts. Jung did agree with the fact that dreams are influenced by our unconscious mechanisms.

He agreed with Freud and believed that dreams heal us and provide assurance and support to our psyche. Both concurred that knowledge of dreams can uncover the deep mysteries of our minds and make us understand more about them. The major disagreement consisted of Freud's perspective that the causes of the dreams are retrospective while Jung looked prospectively at them.

In other words, Freud looked for the various past causes of dreams and the influence of the past on our dreams. On the other hand, Jung focused on finding how these dreams influence and aid the individual’s growth in the future.

Jung’s concepts:

Jung believed that dreams are the ways of our psyche to communicate important information to us. We need to interpret our dreams effectively. By understanding what it is implying, we can learn something new and support our personality development. His interpretations of dreams were unique and did open new paths to perceive dreams. Some elements of his interpretations are:

• Compensation:

Psychological compensation occurs when there is a conflict between a person’s conscious thoughts and his unconscious feelings. Often it happens that the ego may become dominant and represses the unconscious instincts as a result of defying them. Dreams come to the person’s rescue here and reveal these inaccuracies of the person’s ego and create balance within the person.

• Reductive compensations:

Our dreams may bring our ego down by showing us our reality. Sometimes, we may wander on a path where we are high on ourselves and do not consider others. This is when the unconscious shows us our failures and sins of the past. This is how ego is lowered and we are made aware of our misgivings.

• Disguise:

Certain aspects of our life may be misunderstood by our ego and influence us differently than they should. Dreams show us that these interpretations are misguided and can be viewed or understood in other ways. In this manner, our understanding becomes better and influences our development.

• Symbols:

Dreams are not always to the point. They represent themselves through symbols. The dreamer understands these symbols as they are a direct link with the dreamer’s real life. The dreams do not just show themselves as dreams but resonate with the person’s reality. They make us aware of the choices and decisions that we have made in our waking life and may reveal their effects on our and others’ lives.


Dreams are an essential part of everyone’s life. Though a lot of people have come close to knowing and interpreting its effects on our life, very few have understood its essence bleakly. These have opened a new discipline whose focus is majorly on understanding the realities of our unconscious and dreams. It is essential to keep these in mind when studying dreams and interpreting them.

References : 1- Samiksha S., Notes on The Mechanism of ‘Dream Work’. Your Article Library.


2- Zhang W., Gyo B. 2018. Freud's Dream Interpretation: A Different Perspective Based on the Self-Organization Theory of Dreaming. Frontiers.


3- Bulkeley K., 2020. Jung’s Theory of Dreams: A Reappraisal. Psychology Today.


4- Hoffman L., 2022. The Importance of Dreams and Unconscious Mental Activity. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-freud/202205/the-importance-dreams-and-unconscious-mental-activity?amp


This Blog on 'Dreams May Reflect the Unconscious' has been contributed by Arpita. She is a 3rd year BA Psychology (Hons) student. She just doesn't find humans interesting, but likes to analyse them and their interactions with each other. She has a heightened inclination towards learning why and how biases and stereotypes occur within us and how they can be managed. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP). GIRP is an IJNGP initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.