Freud’s Pleasure Principle


Behind every mask , hides a deeper meaning that may trick or treat the mind .  The conscious image of ourselves is just the surface of a deeper realm that stretches far into our individual core. According to Sigmund Freud, this deeper realm is the unconscious part of the mind that we may attempt to unravel through dream analysis. He further believed that dreams were the royal road to the unconscious. However, he theorized that the answers at the end of this royal road are primarily sexual and pleasure-seeking. Beyond his emphasis on unconscious sexual drives, his underlying message unfolds a deeper point that dreams arise from the deepest part of our being, and that without desire, we wouldn’t dream.

Freud was an Austrian neurologist who founded psychoanalysis. His psychoanalytic framework, among many things, emphasized the influence of the unconscious mind on behavior, dreams and fantasies.  He theorized that the mind was composed of 3 realms – of which the unconscious realm was the most mysterious. The three realms are  follows:

1. The Super Ego –This is the portion of our mind that we are partially conscious of. The Super Ego is  responsible for ideas of perfect morals. It has a need to strive for moral superiority.

2. The Id – Like the greater part of the iceberg  hidden under water, the Id is the completely unconscious portion of our mind. According to Freud, it is comprised of our baser instincts that seek to satisfy primitive desires in accordance with the pleasure principle of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

3. The Ego– Like the tip of a visible iceberg , the ego is the part of our mind that we are partially  aware of.  The ego strives to create balance between our impulsive instincts of the Id  and our idealistic  morals of the Super Ego. A well developed ego, for example, is balanced between the selfish and the perfectionist extremes. It  knows who it is and has a strong sense of individual nature.


Photo credit/BeckysBlog

From the above diagram,  the unconscious realm stretches into an ocean of unconscious depth.  Freud believed that dreams provide valuable clues as to how this unconscious depth operates. His reason behind why dreams are so difficult to understand is because we aren’t meant to.  He believed that dreams primarily served as an outlet to fulfill a wish or desire. One part of the mind – the Id,  tries to express its pleasure-seeking desires while another part of the mind censors these desires from our conscious mind out of shame, embarrassment or denial. From this, Freud draws a distinction between the manifest content and the latent content of a dream. They are as follows:

1. The manifest content: Like the cover of  a book, the manifest content  is  the dream scene as directly experienced.  When most people describe their dreams, they would be describing the manifest content as it appeared in the dream. According to Freud, the manifest content itself is considered meaningless because it only serves as a mask that hides the true unconscious wishes or desires known as the latent content.


Photo credit/thesong-d354kdb
This dream image is an example of the manifest dream content.

2.  The latent content: Like a message behind a story, the latent content holds the true deep meaning of the dream. According to Freud , the latent content mostly encompasses unconscious desires that are often so morally unacceptable that they are repressed. As a result, Freud claimed that the latent content is often disguised in the appearance of the dream (manifest content).


Photo credit/Caluchan13This image reflects an example of a latent content or dream thought that underlies dreams.

Freud believed that the ambiguous nature of dreams reflect a compromise between the conscious and unconscious mind. He uses this to explain why the manifest content usually possesses an “alien appearance” that the dreamer does not know in waking life and does not recognize. Behind the face of the dream, lie unconscious wishes that could be as simple as, I wish I studied more; I wish I wasn’t responsible for the accident; or I wish I was someone else.  Freud believed these unconscious wishes are more complex than that.  He theorized that most unconscious wishes trace to childhood wishes. These childhood wishes are believed to possess sexual and incestuous contents – which because of their moral unacceptability mind are rejected by censorship. Freud believed that  this censorship reflected through dream distortion. The degree of distortion between the manifest (dream scene)  and latent content (dream meaning) depend on the magnitude of internal conflict. He claimed that if the inner conflict was minor, the manifest content would closely follow the latent content of a dream. For example, if a person went to sleep hungry and dreamed of food, this would illustrate an example of the manifest content (dream images of food) closely reflecting the latent content (desire for food). There was hardly any dream distortion that censored its meaning. In such a dream case, Freud would conclude that the desire for food, in this case, was an acceptable wish that clearly reflected in the dream. However, Freud claimed that a dream is greatly distorted when it disguises unconscious desires that were strongly repressed.


Photo credit/Ry
An example of dream content closely following an unrepressed wish.

The process by which the latent content is disguised behind the manifest content is known as the “dream work”. Freud believed that the unconscious mind could use dream work  to disguise and distort the underlying dream meaning in the following 3 ways:

1. Condensation:  In your dreams, you may notice condensation when a single dream image reminds you  of 2 or more things. You may see a person in a dream that looks like your father but acts like your best friend. A form of condensation that is rather common in my dreams is one that reflects a house that at one point seems like my house, and at a later point, is my grandmother’s house. Another common form of condensation is when a word combines two or more parts of other words into one. According to Freud, condensation is a dream distortion that hides multiple meanings behind the blend of many dream images into one.


Photo credit/hybridgothica
An example of two or more distinct features blended into one dream figure.

2. Displacement: This occurs when an emotion or a particular desire associated with an intended person or object, is transferred onto a meaningless or unrelated entity in the dream scene.  For example, you may dream of screaming and punching at a clown when it may reflect an emotion of frustration at your neighbour transferred onto a clown. Freud would explain that your repression of a perhaps shameful thought created a dream distortion such that the conscious mind would not recognize the true meaning behind the dream. However, the dream serves as an outlet for this repressed emotion to express itself.

Photo credit/ettone
A dream image of a figure displacing an emotion onto an unrelated object.

3.Symbolism: This is when complex or abstract concept is represented by a dream image. Freud is known to associate almost all dream symbols with sexual symbols. According to Freud  ; sharp or upright images  (knives, pencils) are symbolic of the penis , open or soft images ( pillows, key holes) are symbolic of the vagina and repetitive acts (sprinting, pumping up tyres) are symbolic of sexual acts.  Though he emphasized sexual drives as one of the driving forces of existence, these sexual interpretations may also represent the powerful role that gender plays in society. Men are often portrayed as the leaders of countries, corporations and  action. Therefore a male’s symbol may represent masculine energies associated with our potential power and dominancy. Similarly , woman are often portrayed as nurturing and emotional. Accordingly, a female’s  symbol may represent feminine energies such as our capacity to love and heal.

Photo credit/sortvind
Some dream images serve as symbols for emotion or complex concepts.

Desires may serve good or bad intentions, and do often appear as strange dreams. Whether it is a wish for revenge, lust for someone, or desire to escape – Freud draws attention to dark parts of our unconscious mind that we may not necessarily like. However, his investigation into the unconscious mind through dream analysis, directs a way for us to further understand ourselves. In response to this, I believe lucid dreaming is one of many methods to consciously confront the unconscious realm for clarity, healing and a deeper connection with our individual core. Though Freud focuses heavily on our pleasure-seeking and pain avoiding energies, it is important to note that lucid dreaming does grant us the power to pursue such pleasures but is our responsibly – whether lucid or not,  to seek something greater than primitive desires. Our unconscious depth can reveal much more, if we desire to explore.

– By Nikita King

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