Old people dream differently

Dream Interpretation: "Understanding dreams is not difficult"

How are dreams to be understood? Can you get rid of nightmares? And what is it about Sigmund Freud's interpretation of dreams? GEO editor Johanna Romberg spoke to the renowned dream researcher Michael Schredl about this and more

GEO: Professor Schredl, may I tell you a dream?

Michael Schredl: Of course.

The other night I found myself in the company of a corpulent American comedian and Sigmar Gabriel. We had a love triangle that I ended by packing my suitcase. Both were very sad, I felt guilty. What does this dream say about me?

If the dream does not take up direct experience ...

For heaven's sake. I have been happily married for 23 years.

... then it probably represents a topic that is currently preoccupying you. Apparently there is something in your life that you have enjoyed for a long time, professionally or privately. But you want to get away from that now. And you are aware that your decision will not be well received.

"In the dream your consciousness works differently"

The pattern may be right. But why does my dream consciousness choose this comedian and the Vice Chancellor to portray it?

The people have no special meaning. You can imagine the dream consciousness as a director who has a script in front of him and selects the appropriate images and actors.

These two don't seem right to me ...

... because you judge the scene with your waking mind. In the dream, however, your consciousness works differently. It has access to memories that are inaccessible to you when you are awake - because those parts of your brain that sort and logically link thoughts are largely inactive. So your dream consciousness, in this scene, not only shows you a current situation, it also revives memories of other farewells long ago. Apparently with suitable pictures - otherwise the dream would not have triggered such strong feelings in you.

What kind of “scripts” are staged in the dream, and how do you recognize them?

One of the most common patterns of action is this: You run away in a panic from monsters that are chasing you. The theme behind it: The dreaming shies away from dealing with a problem that is perceived as threatening.

"Sigmund Freud still shapes many common ideas about dreams"

In my dream I always pack my suitcase and I never get over it.

A classic dream topic, behind which there is a common experience these days: You have too many projects to complete and you are under time pressure.

The explanations sound plausible. But also somehow - too easy.

They are easy. Interpreting dreams does not require great deciphering skills.

Really not? I always thought that dreams were full of hidden messages that can only be deciphered through careful analysis.

That is, to put it mildly, an outdated notion.

Climbing stairs means coitus, caves and vessels represent female genitals ...

You allude to Sigmund Freud's theory, which still shapes many popular ideas about dreams. I find this kind of interpretation problematic; it often says more about the interpreter than about the dreaming himself.

"I would not use the term dream interpretation"

And how do you know your form of dream interpretation is correct?

There is no “interpretation” that is “correct”. I wouldn't use these terms. For me, dreams simply provide stimuli to think about something while awake. It is true that one usually does not come to new insights “overnight”. But if after a while the feeling arises that I can recognize certain behavioral patterns more precisely, possibly change them constructively - then the dream work was successful.

But there are also dreams that you would like to forget when you wake up.

Nightmares in particular should definitely be dealt with. This is often the only way to get rid of them.

And how does that work in practice?

One should first write down or record the dream action, with all the details. Then one can proceed to rewrite the dream. You invent, for example, a mythical creature who defeats the chasing monsters. The new phrase will be recalled daily from now on. In about 80 percent of all cases, the nightmares go away after two weeks.

Sigmund Freud and the Interpretation of Dreams

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the Viennese neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, saw dreams as the “royal road to the subconscious”. He assumed that at night from unconscious parts of the psyche, hidden desires and feelings arise, which the dreaming suppresses during the day, for example because they frighten him or violate applicable norms. According to Freud, these are often sexual cravings, aggression or childhood experiences. Sigmund Freud also taught to pay attention to special dream symbols - that is, to images that can be translated universally. A vase or cave, for example, represents the female genitalia; a stick or tower the penis. And if a person dreams of going up a flight of stairs, he secretly fantasizes about coitus. However, there is no scientifically sound evidence for this view. Even followers of the Viennese researcher now assume that dream images can rarely be assigned as clearly as Freud believed. But Freud was the first to establish the idea that night fantasies open up access to unconscious parts of the psyche - and thus created the basis for all other schools of dream interpretation.

Excerpt from "Key to the Psyche" by Ute Eberle in GEOkompakt "Sleep and Dream".

What good is it for healthy, unencumbered people to deal with their dreams?

I believe that dealing with one's own dreams helps everyone, regardless of their psychological state. Dreams can teach you to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, and they always provide creative suggestions.

You also speak from experience. In your book "Dreams" you can read that you have been recording your dream experiences for over 20 years.

And they keep surprising me. Recently a crowd of people rushed into my room at night to distract me from work.

And what did you learn from that dream?

It was about the topic of demarcation. What do I learn from it - that is still the question. Dreams never deliver ready-made solutions. They are always just a stimulus to think further.

Video: Typical dreams - and what they mean

Many people report dreams that are amazingly similar. Around the world, for example, many men and women experience that they have to take an exam completely unprepared or that they are desperately looking for a toilet. Such images and actions, which appear to millions of people in a very similar form at night, are what some experts call “universal” dreams. In the video we explain three common dream motifs. Read more about typical night fantasies and restful sleep in GEOkompakt "Sleep and Dream" - order here directly.