Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dream within a dream

A patient came crying to the session, extremely distraught. Her father had an auto accident in which he had suffered multiple fractures. The injuries were life threatening, he was in Intensive Care Unit, and there was a good possibility he would not live beyond a week.
After she abreacted the shock and pain of this trauma, she mentioned that every night she was having disturbed dreams, but one which had puzzled her greatly.

She dreamt that she was dreaming that the accident had happened. She felt so happy that the accident was after all only a dream.  She  could now continue to sleep because when she wakes up the nightmare will end too.  
But anyway she woke up and immediately reached for her smartphone to call her father to tell him as to what a terrible dream she had had about him, only to realize that she had pictures of her father on life support in that very phone, which on checking she found yes they were there, and all her pain came flooding back. 

Here is Freud on the issue of dream within a dream

The interesting and allied problem, as to what is meant when some of the content of a dream described in the dream itself as "dreamt' - the enigma of the 'dream within a dream' - has been solved in a similar sense by Stekel, who has analysed some convincing examples. The intention is, once again, to detract from the importance of what is 'dreamt' in the dream, to rob of its reality. What is dreamt in a dream after waking from the 'dream within a dream' is what the dream-wish seeks to put in the place of an obliterated reality. It is safe to suppose, therefore, that what has been 'dreamt' in the dream is a representation of the reality, the true recollection, while the continuation of the dream, on the contrary, merely represents what the dreamer wishes. To include something in a 'dream within a dream' is thus equivalent to wishing that the thing described as a dream had never happened. In other words, if a particular event is inserted into a dream as a dream by the dream-work itself, this implies the most decided confirmation of the reality of the event - the strongest affirmation of it. The dream-work makes use of dreaming as a form of repudiation, and so confirms the discovery that dreams are wish-fulfilments.

The dream within a dream of my patient confirms the correctness of Freud's explanation of this puzzle.
I may add here that sadly the patient's father did not make it out of the ICU and left the patient's dream of keeping him alive against all odds unfulfilled.


  1. I too sometimes experience having this dream within a dream. I am fascinated by how weird and crazy dreams are, and they convince me to believe that dreams are meaningful to our lives. If what Freud said is true about our dreams representing the things or events we desire to happen, then I am simply dumbfounded by how amazing the human mind is. I’ve also read from a new philosophy and psychology blog,, that when you dream of a person or a group of people, these people are also dreaming of you, which is just so cool! However, dreams can also be meaningless, just a bunch of images and stories which do not make sense, and our attempt to decode or find their relevance to our lives might just prove to be futile.

  2. Dear James,
    Thanks for your comment. The belief that if I am dreaming of somebody they are dreaming of me confirms the wish fulfillment theory of dreams. Dreams are wishes. If you wish for somebody you dream about them. And generally when you wish for somebody you are hoping that they are wishing for you too at the same time.
    If you want somebody you wish they want you too.
    Not a single scene or detail of a dream is ever meaningless. Nothing in this God's universe happens without reason. Not all elements of a dream are decipherable though. This is because of patient's resistance that prevents sufficient associations to emerge in analysis and also because of the limitations of the knowledge and observations of the one who is doing the analysis. Dreams are not easy to decipher. But so are the other riddles of nature. But that does not mean what one fails to understand is necessarily senseless