Apply It: Psychoanalytic Concepts


The dream was similar to the others.  This time familiar characters from a popular television show were the couple in the dream with a child.  As always the couple is happy, enchanted with their child.  At some point, the child is taken from them, through either illness or theft.  The remainder of the dream consists of pain and sorrow over the possible loss of the child, as they seek the return or recovery of the child, never to occur.  Often, the mother wakens crying or screaming.

Psychoanalytic analysis of this dream sequence, especially a pattern of such dreams, would indicate a tremendous fear of losing a child.  However, in this situation, the woman has already lost a child.  With this context in mind, Freudian analysis would indicate that powerful unconscious forces are at work within this woman’s mind.  Her id, which forever loves and desires to be with her lost child, cannot accept the reality of her loss.  The id is only responsive to basic, instinctual, pleasure related desires.  There is no understanding, comprehension, or acceptance of mitigating factors in this realm.

The woman’s superego, constrained by societal norms whereby it is unacceptable to speak of her lost child, continue to grieve openly, and lament her loss, requires that she consciously repress thoughts of her child while awake.  Should she think of him, she quickly becomes overcome by grief, which her ego is fully aware is both nonfunctioning and nonproductive within the work environment.  Further, interpersonal experiences have taught the mother that friends and coworkers are uncomfortable with expressions of grief, so she continues to consciously repress her grief in public, rationalizing she is coping effectively.  However, at night, while asleep, her subconscious id continues to express denial over the loss in the form of recurrent dreams wherein her son is still alive, but missing.  She continues to have these searching dreams even though it has been five years since her son died.

According to Friedman and Schustack (2012), defense mechanisms are the mind’s way of protecting itself from anxiety provoking information or stimuli.  In this situation, several different mechanisms are utilized, consciously and unconsciously.  Freud would suggest that the superego’s boundaries are significantly conflicting with the id, resulting in repression and rationalization by the ego during conscious, waking hours.  However, when the ego has less control, such as when the mother is asleep, tired, or distracted, the emotions come to the fore.  During the day, the mother’s conscious state appropriately expresses the emotions as grief because her conscious mind understands her son is gone; however, at night, the id has more sway and reveals that her unconscious is still denying the loss evidenced by seeking dreams suggesting the possibility of her son’s return.

Freud’s psychoanalytic concepts greatly influenced the field of bereavement as well as other fields of psychology.  In fact, Freud’s work Mourning and Melancholia indicated that the predominant purpose of grief was to detach from the loved one through conscious reliving of memories and feelings (Archer, 2008).  Avoidance of grief work through repression could result in resurgence and exacerbation of said thoughts and feelings classified by Freud as “the return of the repressed” (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2008, p. 104).  As in other areas of psychology, Freud’s concepts relating to bereavement were insightful, but have been largely overwritten or modified by more contemporary theories.  It is now understood that bereavement, especially involving traumatic, unexpected losses of children, can often last a lifetime as the grieving parents learn to redefine their relationship with the deceased to maintain a continuing bond without complete emotional and cognitive detachment (Neimeyer, Baldwin, & Gillies, 2006).



Archer, J. (2008). Theories of grief: Past, present, and future perspectives. In M. S. Stroebe, R. O. Hansson, H. Schut, & W. Stroebe (Eds.), Handbook of bereavement research and practice: Advances in theory and intervention (pp. 45-65). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012).  Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.).  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Neimeyer, R. a, Baldwin, S. a, & Gillies, J. (2006). Continuing bonds and reconstructing meaning: mitigating complications in bereavement. Death studies, 30(8), 715–38. doi:10.1080/07481180600848322

Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2008). An attachment perspective on bereavement. In M. S. Stroebe, R. O. Hansson, H. Schut, & W. Stroebe (Eds.), Handbook of bereavement research and practice: Advances in theory and intervention (pp. 87-112). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.





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