The latent content of a dream is the deeper meaning behind the literal plot of the dream.
Read on to learn about the theory that explains the latent content of dreams, and take a quiz to test your understanding.
Definition of Latent Content in Dreams
There are two ways to look at dreams. On one level, you have the manifest content of your dreams.
That’s all the stuff that literally happens in the dream. On a deeper level of that dream, you have the latent content. The latent content of dreams is what the manifest content represents.
Let’s take a common example: many people dream that they are falling. In a dream like that, the act of falling is the manifest content of the dream. But the fall can represent so much more – the latent content of your dream might have to do with feeling out of control in your life or failing at something.
It might even represent giving in to sexual temptation.
Freud and Psychoanalytic Dream Interpretation
Sigmund Freud first proposed that dreams have both manifest and latent content. Freud started a movement in psychology called psychoanalysis. Freud’s theories about the nature of humans centered on the unconscious: things we hide even from ourselves. We have urges and issues that we repress.
They float around underneath the surface in the unconscious, and then they come out during dreams.To Freud, dreams were all about wish fulfillment. The manifest content of the dream masked the true wishes and desires of the dreamer, which were revealed in the latent content. In the ‘falling’ dream example, Freud might have said that the act of falling represented giving into a sexual urge.
To him, the latent content of dreams was much more important than the manifest content.Dreams were such an important part of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory that he believed the way to heal people of many physical and psychological afflictions was through dream analysis. In fact, Freud was the first person to open dreams up to scientific investigation.Freud believed that people repress urges and thoughts that they deem inappropriate. Maybe you have fantasies about your best friend’s girlfriend, or maybe you want to do violence to someone who hurt you.
These are the types of things that we repress, forget, and exile to our unconscious. While we sleep, our unconscious takes over, and our darkest urges and thoughts begin to come out. But, according to Freud, we still try to stop them from taking over.
As a result, even in sleep we censor our thoughts. This is why we have two levels of dreams. The latent content is the unconscious self trying to bring our repressed emotions to the surface, but we censor ourselves, and therefore the manifest content comes to symbolize our latent desires and wishes.Let’s look at an example. Imagine that you go to sleep and dream about a big suitcase that you are trying to open. You try and you try, but you can’t get the suitcase open.
Freudian analysis would point out that a suitcase is a vessel that holds other things, and as such, the suitcase represents female genitalia.In this analysis, the manifest content of the dream – trying to open the suitcase – represents the struggle to sleep with a woman you desire. If that woman is not suitable for you (because she’s with someone else or related to you), you’ve suppressed the desire to sleep with her.
The latent content – wanting to sleep with a woman who is not suitable – is censored, and the manifest content comes to symbolize it.
There are two ways to look at dreams. On one level you have the manifest content of your dreams. That’s all the stuff that literally happens in the dream.
On a deeper level of the dream you have the latent content. The latent content of dreams is what the manifest content represents. Freud started a movement in psychology called psychoanalysis. Freud’s theories about the nature of humans centered on the unconscious, things we hide even from ourselves.
Dreams were such an important part of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory that he believed the way to heal people of many physical and psychological afflictions was through dream analysis.