Secondary Process

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Related to secondary processes: primary processes, secondary process thinking

Secondary Process


Secondary process is Sigmund Freud‘s expression for the psychological mechanism that regulates our behavior with respect to external reality. The secondary processes, associated with the ego, are dominated by what Freud referred to as the reality principle. The contrasting term is primary process, a mechanism dominated by the pleasure principle. In a normal adult, the secondary processes regulate the primary processes so that the person does not immediately act upon every urge that comes to mind. The secondary processes are called secondary because they come into being only after infancy, which is dominated by the primary processes.

Freud’s understanding of dreams was that they represented fulfillment of desires normally controlled and repressed by secondary processes. However, despite Freud’s emphasis on dreams as an arena dominated by primary processes, he noted that secondary processes also play a role in shaping dreams:

Two fundamentally different kinds of psychical process are concerned in the formation of dreams. One of these produces perfectly rational dream-thoughts, of no less validity than normal thinking; while the other treats these thoughts in a manner which is in the highest degree bewildering and irrational. (Freud, p. 597—see Sources)

The secondary processes are responsible for the overtly rational elements in dreams (coming into play at the stage of the dreamwork Freud called secondary revision), whereas the primary processes are responsible for the seeming irrationality of dreams.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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