“Our scientific consideration of dreams starts off from the assumption that they are products of our own mental activity. Nevertheless the finished dream strikes us as something alien to us” (Freud, 1900).
Dreaming is a dissociated state of unconsciousness, in which we experience images, sounds, and sometimes even taste and smell. There are a number of theories on dreams; their meanings, the significance of images, the cause of dreams, what they can tell us about our subconscious psyche, etcetera. The two most notable are those of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Freud first introduced his theory in “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1900 (Freud, 1900).
Freud believed that dreams are “the royal road to the unconscious.” Our unconscious mind consists of mental processes that we are not aware of – they are repressed materials that need to be brought to our conscious awareness through analysis. During wakefulness our unconscious mind remains dormant, and during sleep it slowly awakens, through dream images, or symbols, otherwise known as dream content. Freud distinguished two forms of dream content – manifest content, which refers to the actual images presented that the dreamer remembers upon awakening, and the latent content which refers to the underlying meaning of the images (pp. 311-312).
Freud demonstrated the need for the latent content to be translated into manifest content, in order for us to dream. In one aspect, this is to protect our psyche, due to the volatile nature of the latent content. This process is known as dream-work, which involves condensation, displacement and secondary elaboration. Condensation refers to the process of joining two or more ideas or images into one (pp. 312-39). Displacement refers to the transforming of a person or object that we are actually concerned about, into someone or something else (pp. 340-44). Finally, secondary elaboration refers to the unconscious mind putting the wish-fulfilling images and events in a logical sequence, obscuring the latent content further.
All of these components of the dream-work act together to produce our wish fulfillment, which is the most significant and basic understanding of the meaning behind our dreams (pp. 588-64), Freud stated that “[…] the dream, in its inmost essence, is the fulfillment of a wish.” (pp.160). This wish fulfillment can be sexually, anxiety or ego driven; it is entirely individualized. In fact, Freud shied away from universal symbols and their definitions. “Dream dictionaries”, therefore, should be avoided at all costs. While analyzing a dream, it is imperative that we focus on the context and individual circumstances.
Although dreaming can be assessed in such as way as to understand a persons’ subconscious better, interpretations are more rooted in subjective, rather than empirical, evidence. Since we are unable to deduce with confidence what a dream image means in relation to an individual under examination, we may only speculate. Therefore, dream analysis cannot act as a diagnosis for a potentially neurotic individual. It can, however, act as a window into the unconscious, and help with future diagnoses.
By analyzing dream images and sequences, we can better understand the individual’s general affect, the sources of their stress, and their anxieties. By understanding these three things we may also provide coping techniques to manage stress, and deal with the anxieties. Dreams are not merely baseless images projected in the minds eye while we sleep, they tell us stories about ourselves, and the world around us. Based on this idea, I have taken to documenting my dreams for the past four weeks and analyzing them.
Alongside the dream journal, I incorporated a mood diary in which I would rate the type of emotion I felt during or after waking from the dream, its intensity, and the most vivid image related with the emotion (on a scale from 1-5, 1 being little to no feeling and 5 being felt very strongly). This did not occur with every dream. This scaling of my emotions simply acted as a way to interpret the dream better.
The dream begins with my mother, sister, father and I at our old house. The house was dark and much smaller than I recall it being. As the dream progressed, the hallway in the house shrank more and more. There was a horrible storm happening, and we were scrambling trying to survive the storm. A very large condo building was struck by lightning and fell to the ground. This was out of place because the street our house was on was far too small to have a condo building.
All of a sudden my partner is with me, and I am explaining the chaos of the situation to him, and that in these situations I am in charge of getting the safe-box from the garage, along with the suitcase of “preparedness” which is filled with food and clothes. I pull out a key and open the garage door, and for some reason I have to close it and lock it as well, even though our lives are in danger. The entire time this is happening I feel very anxious. We go back inside the house, which is even darker than it was before, and it feels even smaller than it was before we left to go to the garage. It feels as if the walls are closing in, and it is hard to breathe. My parents are screaming and yelling; the chaos is palpable. My parents and sister are unable to move, and they have no idea where to go. I grab the clothes on the couch and yell “we have to go”, as my father lights a match and sets my skirt on fire (putting fire under my ass), but it just sets my skirt on fire and I have to stop drop and roll, which doesn’t work so I have to actually take my skirt off and stomp it out on the couch. After removing my foot from the skirt I notice that it is now stained orange. We are trying to leave the house now, and as we are leaving the living room and heading into the entryway the hallway becomes a very long single-file corridor, and it seems like we are running up it forever. My dog is at the front door waiting for us, running around in circles wagging her tail and whining. I am responsible for grabbing her too. I grab her by the collar and pick her up, (she is not a small dog in reality, but in the dream she feels even heavier, and keeps slipping from my grip). We start running away from what is now a firestorm. There is fire in the sky, and there are flaming buildings everywhere. The sky is orange, red and yellow. We are running so slowly, but it doesn’t seem to matter how hard we push to run faster, we are still running at the same slow pace as once we started.
I announce to everyone present “we just have to get to the water, the water will quell the fire.” My dog is now running ahead of us. Neighbours are fleeing their homes, and one of them yells at my father “how much do you have in safety?” “17,000” was my father’s response. For some reason, the neighbour declares he will match that, so now we have $ 34,000 in “safety” money. The whole street is dark and gloomy, and the entire scene is almost apocalyptic.
• Claustrophobia – 4
• Fear – 2
• Anxiety – 4
• Stress – 4
• Doubt – 3
The dream images are obvious here, but there are too many to analyze individually. The most significant images are: the fire, the house, and the money. Though we should also pay close attention to the symbolic power of the family members. Some key concepts we should be mindful of while making these interpretations are the three concepts, which make up the dream-work. Displacement is a prominent theme throughout the dream, especially in the storm, which actually represents the chaos I feel in my everyday life. This dream occurred at a time in which I was very stressed in my waking life; I was working a part time job, unable to make enough money to save and pay down my debts, all the while trying to get my work published. In this instance then, my waking life is reflected in my dream as a chaotic storm. This follows throughout the entire dream, and additional latent feelings can be found manifested in the dream images. For instance, the image of my parents, and the chaos surrounding them, reflects my feelings of worth in relation to them. I feel the need to make them proud and to not disappoint them. Again, this reflects my waking state at the time. I remember having feelings similar to these in my waking state, particularly concerning my job position. I was concerned that I was not fulfilling their wishes for me, and that I perhaps had made a mistake moving out to the east coast. I was able to make ends meet, but I was not fulfilling myself artistically or financially (I was unable to focus on paying off school debts or saving money). One of the last remarks made in the dream is that concerning money; one of the neighbours yells to my father asking how much we have in safety money, to which my father responds “17,000$.” The neighbour decides to match this, making it 34,000$. This is not a random number; this is how much money I originally owed in student debt upon graduation. This relates to the amount of stress I was feeling in my waking life, which reflected in my dream. My part time job at the time was not paying enough to pay down my debt, which made me feel anxious, stressed, and stuck.
The walls of the house closing in on us not only represent physical claustrophobia, but it also represents how I feel under pressure to the point of suffocation.
The instance of my father putting fire under my ass is interesting to consider. The image and what it means is very clear; I feel pressured to make myself, as well as my parents proud. It is interesting to note that the house in my dream is not the house I most recently lived in with my parents; in fact, it is the last house I lived in before heading off to university. I believe that this represents my growing up and away from my parents and family. The reason I believe this is because the rest of the dream images suggest a powerful parental influence, where I would not have felt as strongly at our new home as my last. Upon returning to my parents’ newest house I would have been in my 3rd year of university, not quite an impressionable teenager living by my parents “rules” anymore. The reason this house is shown in my dream and not my parents’ most recent house, is because although I still feel a strong need to make my parents proud, I was much more concerned about it when I was younger, and living in my parents home.
As you can see, a great number of dream images indicate responsibility; I am responsible for procuring the safe-box, I am responsible for motivating my family out of the house and storm, I am responsible for grabbing my dog. This is also linked to the immense pressure I was feeling at the time. The last remark I make in the dream is that we have to get to the water; the water will quell the fire. Water is typically seen as a symbol of renewal, life, and cleanliness, whereas fire is typically symbolic of destruction and death. The juxtaposition between these two images is paramount. I am the only one responsible for fixing the issue at hand, and the fire, above all other images represents the immense pressure I am under. The water, on the other hand, gives this idea of removing pressure – I suggest we must get to the water, in order to quell the fire. This is a clear message: although I am under pressure, and extremely stressed, I have the power to diminish that stress by dealing with it, or quelling it.
This dream is rich with images, representing my waking mental and emotional state. I was very stressed and anxious at the time about a number of things: making my parents proud, money, being successful in a new city, and generally wanting to succeed at life.
The final scene of the dream, the apocalyptic state of the neighborhood, succinctly demonstrates the state of my life at the time. My living situation was chaotic and emotional. I was away from family, friends, my hometown, and everything that represented my childhood and youth. I was out on my own, in a foreign city, with only my partner to rely on. This is why my partner appeared halfway through the dream; the whole scene was chaotic, and I was feeling pressure from all sides, except from my partner. It is interesting to note that this support was made exceedingly evident in my dream images.
I was in a very old building that felt very much like a castle with a number of anonymous figures. There were a number of rooms and staircases and the interior of the building was very dark (not only were there little to no lights on, the wood and paint was all dark).
After limited exploring I found a photo album that had a number of professional photos of me in it, and one in particular stood out to me. I was standing at the top of a double spiral staircase with my back to the camera. I was wearing a burgundy mermaid gown, with a long train cascading down the one side of the staircase. My hair was done up in a beehive, and my arms were stretched out along the railing of the middle portion of the staircase. I took a picture of this image with my phone and posted it on facebook with the caption “I miss modeling.”
The next thing I remember is stepping out of the shower wrapped in a towel and trying to catch the ferry. I was running down the dock, which was wet and slippery making it difficult for me to run. There were a number of people in my way, and a group of guys were teasing that they would throw me in the harbor, which made me very anxious because I had just showered. I had an underlying feeling of embarrassment relating to the fact that I was almost naked, and a fear of losing my towel.
• Fear – 2
• Embarrassment -3
• Worry/anxiety – 3
• Nostalgia – 4
• Lost – 4
• Disconnected – 4
The overwhelming feeling throughout this dream was nostalgia, with underlying feelings of fear, anxiety, and embarrassment.
The building is where the dream begins, and the atmosphere therein was one of loss, of being lost. Not only was the building old, and non-descript, but it was also one in which I am unable to say with certainty that I have visited before. Further, there was a near absence of light within. The figures that were with me were not identified. I am sure they represented important characters within my life, but within my dream I could not identify them. If we take into consideration the time in which this dream occurred, we can interpret this sequence of images as my personal feelings of being lost. This dream was documented in early January, a time when tensions were high and I was feeling more homesick than I had been in the previous months. I was feeling disconnected from my friends and family, who are hundreds of miles away, and I felt as though I was lacking a bedrock of emotional support. This may help us to understand the significance of the anonymous figures – there are people in my life, but I did not feel capable of connecting or sharing my emotional frustrations with them. This of course, connects well with the feeling of being lost. Not only was I physically lost in the dream I was emotionally lost, which mirrors my waking state. I was feeling very lost in a foreign city, which was further amplified by my feelings of disconnectedness with important figures in my life.
The feeling of nostalgia was deeply rooted in the photo album and the images of myself modeling. I spent a significant portion of my time in Ottawa modeling for shoots, with different photographers, bridal shows and with my best friend. Moving here, I no longer had the opportunity, or gumption to model or even bother looking for modeling opportunities. This image resonates with me because my time in Ottawa was characterized largely by my ability and willingness to try new things, and accept myself. It was almost as if moving, and leaving that behind, made me separate myself from who I was becoming, and devolve into an earlier version of myself, or some version of myself I thought was expected of me. The statement “I miss modeling” has a deeper meaning than just I miss modeling, rather, I miss who I was when I was modeling, seeking and accepting those opportunities and the person I was becoming and allowing myself to become. The image itself was a very idealized version of myself, which was not congruent with my actual, perceived self at the time, and was more in line with my actual self prior to moving. This of course, caused a significant amount of anxiety while experiencing the dream, and after the dream. The reason I was pictured at the top of a double spiral staircase is significant in that, it represents the difficult journey we face when self-actualizing. Each staircase represents an aspect of the self, and a certain path we can take in order to self-actualize and become the person we are meant to be. The centre, being the image of myself, the ideal-self, is the end point, where I reach self-actualization, and realize fully who I am. The fact that my train is falling down one set of the stairs indicates an incongruence between my real self and my ideal self, meaning, that, I am finding it difficult to self-actualize. This image of my ideal self is very connected to who I was becoming, and now that there is a break in my realization, incongruence has developed.
All of this is tied very much to my self-image, and feelings of nostalgia. The fear of nudity and the images of the crowd and people taunting or teasing me are linked to my self-image, and my feelings of being watched and judged. The towel in a sense represents a mask that I have worn in the past, and that I felt I was wearing at the time of this dream. My fear of losing the towel, especially in front of others, is that they will see who I am in reality, the “me” I fear others will not accept.
There is no real transition in the dream, from being inside the building to running down the dock, but there is a significant contrast. Inside the building I was shrouded in darkness, and there were significant feelings of being lost and disconnected, whereas in the sequence of me running down the dock, it was daylight and there were multiple people around with faces, expressions and identifying features. It is significant to note that I was still finding it difficult to run down the dock, and that it was slippery and wet. I was however, running away from the building I had been in. The contrast between the building and the outdoors, was that I was essentially running away from who I was inside the building. I was running away from those feelings of being lost and disconnected, and now, different people, different colours, different fears and anxieties were in my surroundings. I was still avoiding people, however, especially the group of taunting boys, who wanted to throw me into the water. In my dream, the reason I was afraid of being thrown into the water was because I had just showered – however, in waking life, I am actually afraid of the water to some degree because I have difficulty swimming. When I was in my adolescence I did not want to get my hair wet while in a swimming pool because I wanted to hide my forehead and my eyebrows, which I thought were ugly aspects of myself. This feeling has stayed with me into my young adulthood. This is a very real way to mask the self, I fear embarrassment from people seeing me without my bangs, because I do feel a sort of security with my bangs covering my forehead. In a way, they do act very much like a mask.
My strong desire to avoid the water was not only because I had just showered, but also because I feared that my mask would be washed away. I was not ready to reveal who I am, because at the time I did not know who I was. My feelings of disconnectedness were not just with others, I felt disconnected from myself; there was a significant incongruence that I needed to deal with.
This dream is very much a dream of identity and self-image. It is interesting to see the transition from feeling lost, nostalgic and disconnected, to feeling anxious, embarrassed and still a little lost. Coming out of the darkness into the light, is in a way a realization of these feelings of incongruence, and the desire to change that. The need to self-actualize without considering the judgment of others around me is paramount.
The dream began inside a boutique where I was trying on clothes. The change room had doors that were very low. This made my head, shoulders, and chest visible just above the top of the door. Two girls were standing outside of my change room chatting with each other. The one barged into the change room I was in, and started to dance around and push me around. When I told her she needed to leave, she became very upset with me, but she did leave.
Her and her friend remained outside the change room and began videotaping, and the friend was pretending to be me. I did not hear exactly what was being said because I was focused on the dress I was trying on. The dress was a shiny, metallic brown prom gown that had a mesh cutout on my chest, all the way down to my privates. This means that all of my intimate areas were showing. All of a sudden the owner of the boutique called me into her office, while I was still wearing the dress, and she informed me that the girls from earlier has accused me of assaulting them. She showed me the video that they had made, which was of them assaulting each other. Both the owner of the boutique and I began to laugh because it was clearly not me in the video.
The issue resolved itself, but I decided to buy the dress even though it was 3000$.
• Shame – 2
• Being pushed around/stepped on – 4
• Anxiety – 3
• Anger – 4
The main feeling that I felt at the end of this dream and upon awakening was anger, specifically in relation to how I had been treated. The change room doors already had my body partially exposed to the entire store, which caused a great deal of anxiety. I found it difficult to try on the clothes and ignore my surroundings – I found trying to crouch down and hide my body very distracting. This contributed to the feelings of shame as well.
The girls pushing into the change room and ignoring the fact that I was there made me very angry, but also caused a great deal of anxiety. I felt that I was almost invisible, even though most of my body was exposed to the store. This reflected my current feelings in my waking life. At the time of this dream, I had been denied approval for my vacation request, which meant I would not be able to see my family, who lives 3 provinces away. This made me feel like I was being stepped all over, and not being taken seriously or even considered. Further, the environment at work had been quite tense for the preceding months: I was given more responsibilities but there was no change in my position, nor was I seen as any more capable.
The scenario with the girls framing me for assault was rooted entirely in my feelings of being blamed for things I had not done or said in waking life. In my waking life I felt very much like an invisible, disconnected scapegoat that was only paid attention to when it served another persons aims (that is at work, or with acquaintances/friends).
Another interesting thing to note is that this was at a time in my life when there were a number of familial issues happening, and I felt as though I was under a microscope, which is mirrored by the exposure of my private body parts. I felt very exposed and very harshly judged by those around me in waking life.
I believe the store owner represents my ego in this dream sequence, the voice of reason. My ego assessed the situation and questioned my actions, making sure that I had in fact, not committed the assault. This is in direct relation to my waking life where my ego was assessing what I was being accused of in waking life, and analyzing whether or not I had done what I was being accused of. The resolution of this dream proved to me that I had not, but the fact that I still purchased the dress that exposed intimate parts of my body demonstrates that I felt it necessary to prove something to those around me.
The dream began in an English class in a room in my old high school. All of my former classmates were in the room, and a particularly domineering and autocratic teacher was teaching the class. We were going through the class reciting poetry that we had written for a class assignment. I had a book of my published poems that I described as a mix between Kurt Vonnegut, Ezra pound and “all of my emotions.” Although I was very excited to read some of my poetry out loud, the teacher skipped me and told me we did not have time to hear everyone’s poems, and that my poems were not all that important.
This scenario made me feel very anxious, and I was able to recognize that I had already graduated high school, so I began to wonder why I was there.
Anxiety – 3
Upset – 4
Neglected – 4
Invalidated – 4
Worried – 3
This dream is very much an anxiety dream about acceptance and recognition. The setting takes place in high school because high school is a time of self-development; it is a time where we struggle with our own identities. In high school, like most other adolescents, I was concerned with being accepted and recognized as unique and valuable in my uniqueness. This has continued on throughout my life, well into my young adulthood. Although I feel I have formed a relatively strong ego, and I would identify myself as a self-actualizing individual, I still continue to seek validation, particularly from my parents.
The teacher in this scenario then, would represent my parents. This is not to say that my parents are particularly domineering or autocratic, but I have lived my whole life wanting to impress them and make them proud. Recently, I have taken to writing as an outlet for a number of things, and have had the opportunity to have some of my articles and poems published, which of course, has led my parents to tell me how proud they are of me and how impressed they are with my work. We can consider this in drive-reduction terms; my secondary drive is to make my parents proud, but just because I make them proud once, does not mean this need will be satiated indefinitely. In fact, according to Clark hull and the drive reduction theory, we have drives that we need to reduce, and so we reduce these drives by drinking water (satiating our need for thirst, which is a primary need) or by getting paid (satiating our need for money, a secondary drive). But after a while we become thirsty again, or we spend the money that we made. Therefore, we are in a constant state of needing to reduce these drives – that is what my drive to make my parents proud is like. This could potentially stem from an inferiority complex, where I feel it is necessary to over exaggerate my accomplishments because I feel inadequate in some aspects of my life (either as an artist, as an intellectual, etc). According to Adler this is caused either by neglect or over nurturing, but I believe this can also be due to a perception of either or. Neglect and over nurturing are not limited to the physical, they can be tied to the emotional and psychological, and sometimes can be unintentional.
An inferiority complex not only leads me to over exaggerate my accomplishments, it makes me act in such a way as to take offense when people fail to acknowledge my accomplishments. I have been writing a blog with my personal essays on psychology and mental health, and perhaps feel neglected and invalidated because these essays are not receiving as much attention as I think they should from those who mean the most to me.
This is of course, a perception that stems from feelings of inadequacy that I have felt since adolescence. In a way, my need to attack psychological research and essay writing so fiercely is because I feel inadequate because I did not accomplish what I feel I should have while in university, and because I feel that I should have accomplished much more in relation to my field at this point in time. The need for recognition and acknowledgment, however, is something that I will have to overcome on my own.
I have learned through this entire process that it is helpful to analyze my dreams because it helped me identify the issues within my life that need the most attention. Any attempt at self-analysis is intimate and undoubtedly helps you understand yourself better. Dream analysis has helped me to understand my intentions, motivations and emotions, and has actually helped to alter my behaviour in waking life. When you have insight into your cognition, and your ego strength, you are able to apply positive changes in your waking life. We can learn a great deal from our dreams.