Adler, Alfred – Three Chapters on Dreams

  • dream analysis. According to Alfred Adler the style of life of an individual could be explored through: 1) recollections, 2) dreams, 3) family constellations, 4) childhood difficulties and 5) exogenous factors. If the first two approaches are mirroring personal conditions, the last three are representing contextual conditions. Concerning the personal level, the difference between “recollections” and “dreams” belong to the specific activity of the individual – either he/she is dreaming (in a night time) and pays attention to the future; or is awaken (in the day time) and is concerned with the past. Aside these clarifications, the Adlerian perspective on dreams has at its basis two hypotheses: 1) the unity of personality – so, the unity of dreaming and wakefulness: the relationship between mind and soul is also stated by Freud not as unity, but as contradiction between consciousness and unconsciousness. And, secondly 2) the contents of the dreams are situated only at the manifest level: in a dream nothing is hidden (contrary to Freud’s beliefs) but everything is revealed. In contrast with Sigmund Freud’s “dream interpretation” where there are differences between dreaming and awakening, and between different levels of the dream, Alfred Adler’s technique – namely “dream analysis” – is presenting the unity both temporally (between dreaming and awakening) and spatially (dreams, as any state of mind, are presenting only manifest meanings). So, here I’ll limit myself to three chapters written by Adler concerning the dreams. Primo, the chapter “Day-dreams and night dreams”, written in 1939, could be divided in two parts: the first part is about “fantasy” (or “imagination”) that is to be found in day-dreams, night-dreams, works of art or in actual life; and the second part presents the problem of “dreams”. After a short introduction to the “sleep”, Adler presents two “sources” of his dream perspective: i) the contradiction between conscious and unconscious, and ii) the unity of personality. Then he is asking a big question: yes, the dreams are the creation of mind, but why no one understands them and why no one remembers them? Answering this question, Adler presents two “functions” of dreams: they “self-deceive” the dreamer who has no memories about them, when awaken, but only “emotions” and “feelings”. The chapter ends depicting another two topics related to the problem of dreams: some “elements” (and the question if the meaning of the symbols is universal of particular) and an “illustration” (in fact, three dreams and their analysis). Secundo, “Dreams”, written in 1958, is a chapter more easy to read than the previous one – that from 1939. The same topics are discussed and their presentation is crystal clear. Broadly, Alfred Adler is asking three questions, he is providing the necessary answers and is ending up with some elements and some examples from his clinical practice. The first question is: “What is the difference between dreaming states and waking states?” Adler says that the “style of life” is governing both states and there is a “unity of personality”. The second question is: “It is known that we forget our dreams: it is nothing left at all of them, when we awake?” – and the answer is: “After every dream, we are left, at least, with some “feelings” and “emotions”. And finally: “It is known that we don’t understand our dreams: what is the reason of not understanding them?” For this last question, Adler gives us a more complex answer: the dreams are mechanism of “self-deception”, in order to fool ourselves in two different ways: i) when dreaming, we make a certain choice of pictures, incidents and occurrences, and ii) the dreams are built up out of metaphors and symbols. Tertio, the final chapter I’ll consider here is named “On the interpretation of dreams” and was written first in 1935 and then reprinted in 2002. It mirrors well the “Dreams” 1958 article, presenting a history of dream interpretations starting from ancient times and coming to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler’s individual psychology. For Alfred Adler, dreams have some “functions”: i) they are an expression of the “style of life”, reflecting inferiority feelings and achievement strivings, ii) they are “solutions” for problems of life, iii) they are “emotionally” charged, and iv) they are chosen pictures, incidents and occurrences; not to mention metaphors – therefore, they are “fooling” devices. These functions being presented, then Adler enlists some “elements” of dreams (and the issue if their symbols are universal or particular) coupled with some “examples” (derived from clinical practice). Finally, I’ll finish this presentation here and I’ll try a critique of Adlerian’s perspective: sure, the personality is characterized by unity, even if this one is a unity of pluralities. Emphasizing the power of mind as the only sovereign in human affairs is not the wisest thing: sometimes this could be just a foolish thing, a fact that will be proved, or disproved, by life itself…

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  • Alfred Adler (1936/ 2002): “On the interpretation of dreams”, International Journal of Individual Psychology, 2 (1), pp. 3-16, reprinted in Henry Stein (ed): “The collected clinical works of Alfred Adler”, Volume 7, pp. 157-169
  • Alfred Adler (1939): “Day-dreams and night dreams” in Alfred Adler: “Social Interest. A challenge to mankind”, Faber and Faber LTD, pp. 242-268
  • Alfred Adler (1958): “Dreams” in Alfred Adler: “What life should mean to you”, Capricorn Books, pp. 93-119

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