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Lancaster, E. (1970). The Dreams of the Traumatic Neuroses. Am. J. Psychoanal., 30(1):13-18.

(1970). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 30(1):13-18

The Dreams of the Traumatic Neuroses

Elizabeth Lancaster, M.D.

As is well known, Freud considered the dream as an expression of a wish, a wish in the unconscious mind. Dream life was thus understood by him to be dominated by the pleasure principle. But in some cases of what is known as the traumatic neurosis, a curious change in the dream life may occur. The condition is described as “traumatic” because it usually follows the experience of some serious danger from which the patient has escaped virtually uninjured. The range of symptoms is fairly wide, from a persistent nervousness to a more serious disturbance, including an incapacity to function in work and in various other ways.

But the curious phenomenon that will concern us is the change in the dream life. It seems to be chiefly preoccupied with the disaster which appears to have been the precipitating cause of the illness and the disaster is repeated over and over again. Freud regarded this type of dream as possibly representing an exception to his wish theory concerning dreams. He further supposed that the traumatic experience had in some way produced so severe a dislocation in the individual's mental life as to have thrown him back into that more archaic form of mental mechanism which Freud named the repetition compulsion.

I should like to consider here the possibility that such dreams do not represent a violation of the pleasure principle. Rather, they appear as screens for one of man's oldest and most powerful wishes: the wish to escape death. The form that this wish takes in these dreams seems to have survived from primitive thought.

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