In attempting a discussion of the Interpretation of Dreams, I do not believe that I have overstepped the bounds of neuropathological interest. For, on psychological investigation, the dream proves to be the first link in a chain of abnormal psychic structures whose other links, the hysterical phobia, the obsession, and the delusion must, for practical reasons, claim the interest of the physician. The dream (as will appear) can lay no claim to a corresponding practical significance; its theoretical value as a paradigm is, however, all the greater, and one who cannot explain the origin of the dream pictures will strive in vain to understand the phobias, obsessive and delusional ideas, and likewise their therapeutic importance.
But this relation, to which our subject owes its importance, is responsible also for the deficiencies in the work before us. The surfaces of fracture which will be found so frequently in this discussion correspond to so many points of contact at which the problem of the dream formation touches more comprehensive problems of psychopathology, which cannot be discussed here, and which will be subjected to future elaboration if there should be sufficient time and energy, and if further material should be forthcoming.
Peculiarities in the material I have used to elucidate the interpretation of dreams have rendered this publication difficult. From the work itself it will appear why all dreams related in the literature or collected by others had to remain useless for my purpose; for examples I had to choose between my own dreams and those of my patients who were under psychoanalytic treatment. I was restrained from utilising the latter material by the fact that in it the dream processes were subjected to an undesirable complication on account of the intermixture of neurotic characters. On the other hand, inseparably connected with my own dreams was the circumstance that I was obliged to expose more of the intimacies of my psychic life than I should like and than generally falls to the task of an author who is not a poet but an investigator of nature. This was painful, but unavoidable; I had to put up with the inevitable in order not to be obliged to forego altogether the demonstration of the truth of my psychological results. To be sure, I could not at best resist the temptation of disguising some of my indiscretions through omissions and substitutions, and as often as this happened it detracted materially from the value of the examples which I employed. I can only express the hope that the reader of this work, putting himself in my difficult position, will show forbearance, and also that all persons who are inclined to take offence at any of the dreams reported will concede freedom of thought at least to the dream life.
If there has arisen a demand for a second edition of this rather difficult book before the end of the first decade, I owe no gratitude to the interest of the professional circles to whom I appealed in the preceding sentences. My colleagues in psychiatry, apparently, have made no effort to shake off the first surprise which my new conception of the dream evoked, and the professional philosophers, who are accustomed to treat the problem of dream life as a part of the states of consciousness, devoting to it a few — for the most part identical — sentences, have apparently failed to observe that in this field could be found all kinds of things which would inevitably lead to a thorough transformation of our psychological theories. The behaviour of the scientific critics could only justify the expectation that this work of mine was destined to be buried in oblivion; and the small troop of brave pupils who follow my leadership in the medical application of psychoanalysis, and also follow my example in analysing dreams in order to utilise these analyses in the treatment of neurotics, would not have exhausted the first edition of the book. I therefore feel indebted to that wider circle of intelligent seekers after truth whose co-operation has procured for me the invitation to take up anew, after nine years, the difficult and in so many respects fundamental work.
I am glad to be able to say that I have found little to change. Here and there I have inserted new material, added new views from my wider experience, and attempted to revise certain points; but everything essential concerning the dream and its interpretation, as well as the psychological propositions derived from it, has remained unchanged: at least, subjectively, it has stood the test of time. Those who are acquainted with my other works on the Etiology and Mechanism of the psychoneuroses, know that I have never offered anything unfinished as finished, and that I have always striven to change my assertions in accordance with my advancing views; but in the realm of the dream life I have been able to stand by my first declarations. During the long years of my work on the problems of the neuroses, I have been repeatedly confronted with doubts, and have often made mistakes; but it was always in the “interpretation of dreams” that I found my bearings. My numerous scientific opponents, therefore, show an especially sure instinct when they refuse to follow me into this territory of dream investigation.
Likewise, the material used in this book to illustrate the rules of dream interpretation, drawn chiefly from dreams of my own which have been depreciated and outstripped by events, have in the revision shown a persistence which resisted substantial changes. For me, indeed, the book has still another subjective meaning which I could comprehend only after it had been completed. It proved to be for me a part of my self-analysis, a reaction to the death of my father — that is, to the most significant event, the deepest loss, in the life of a man. After I recognised this I felt powerless to efface the traces of this influence. For the reader, however, it makes no difference from what material he learns to value and interpret dreams.
Berchtesgaden, Summer of 1908.
Whereas a period of nine years elapsed between the first and second editions of this book, the need for a third edition has appeared after little more than a year. I have reason to be pleased with this change; but, just as I have not considered the earlier neglect of my work on the part of the reader as a proof of its unworthiness, I am unable to find in the interest manifested at present a proof of its excellence.
The progress in scientific knowledge has shown its influence on the Interpretation of Dreams. When I wrote it in 1899 the “Sexual Theories” was not yet in existence, and the analysis of complicated forms of psychoneuroses was still in its infancy. The interpretation of dreams was destined to aid in the psychological analysis of the neuroses, but since then the deeper understanding of the neuroses has reacted on our conception of the dream. The study of dream interpretation itself has continued to develop in a direction upon which not enough stress was laid in the first edition of this book. From my own experience, as well as from the works of W. Stekel and others, I have since learned to attach a greater value to the extent and the significance of symbolism in dreams (or rather in the unconscious thinking). Thus much has accumulated in the course of this year which requires consideration. I have endeavoured to do justice to this new material by numerous insertions in the text and by the addition of footnotes. If these supplements occasionally threaten to warp the original discussion, or if, even with their aid, we have been unsuccessful in raising the original text to the niveau of our present views, I must beg indulgence for the gaps in the book, as they are only consequences and indications of the present rapid development of our knowledge. I also venture to foretell in what other directions later editions of the Interpretation of Dreams — in case any should be demanded — will differ from the present one. They will have, on the one hand, to include selections from the rich material of poetry, myth, usage of language, and folklore, and, on the other hand, to treat more profoundly the relations of the dream to the neuroses and to mental diseases.
Mr. Otto Rank has rendered me valuable service in the selection of the addenda and in reading the proof sheets. I am gratefully indebted to him and to many others for their contributions and corrections.