Dreams and their importance

Another post taken from my work on my emotional therapeutic course! There were elements of this session that caused me all sorts of issues, namely the concepts of male and female archetypes. I bring it up in the report below, but I also ended up writing another post about it (here) which I sent to my tutors at the time. Since then, the course has been altered to reflect our modern world more accurately, so that was one victory I certainly did not expect!

largeOne of the first things we were told on the dreams workshop was a simply sentence: ‘We cannot sensor our dreams’. That statement holds within it the powerful effect that working with our dreams can have, how it can become a gateway to fears, events, or thoughts we have not been able to access consciously for a variety of reasons. We were presented with Yung’s work as background for our work on analysing dreams. With an awareness that our consciousness is by far smaller than our unconscious/subconscious, we started our travel into the dreamworld and its meanings.

To start with, we looked at what Jung classified as archetypes of what is present within dreams. There are three sets of opposing energies surrounding the self that forms the centre part of the dream and around which everything else revolves. This seven basic archetypes are Jung’s key to the understanding of dreams.

The archetype of the journey stands opposed to the archetype of the cycle of death/rebirth. The first symbolises the beginning of some form of healing work with the destination of the journey often uncertain or irrelevant as the importance lies in the journey itself. It can be represented through actual travelling or the presence of clocks, calendars, mountains in the distance, or even a light in the distance. It speaks of development and progression. The death/rebirth cycle is opposed to the journey archetype in that it doesn’t represent a linear travel but a cycle of change. Death within dreams is unlikely to represent a physical death of the body, but is far more likely to represent the end of something (a state of mind, a situation, a relationship, etc…) with rebirth ever present on the other side of death for each end is in turn a new beginning. Whereas the journey archetype is all about the process of moving forward, the death/rebirth cycle archetype represents a crisis and the potential for something to change and begin anew.

The next set of opposing archetypes are those Jung refers to as the masculine and largefeminine archetypes (which I shall henceforth be referring to as the Yin and Yang archetypes as a way to remove myself from any gender bias attached to either of the sets of energies discussed here, with the Yin corresponding to the set of ‘feminine’ energies and the Yang to the ‘masculine’ ones). On one side the Yang energies are the doing, pro-active energies. They’re about focus and structure, about logical thought and assertiveness. Taken to the extreme they become the violent energies, domineering and frightening. On the other side the Yin energies are about growth, acceptance, and welcoming. Those energies are about nurturing and the simple state of being. Taken to the extreme they become overly passive and stagnant. Where the previous pair of archetypes worked on an either/or basis (we are either undertaking a journey OR in the process of death and rebirth) the Yin and Yang archetype is very much so about balance of the two sets of energies (which is why I also thought the Yin and Yang words were perfect to use in this regard as they are primarily about balancing energies within ourselves). Whenever these energies appear within our dreams (Yung says we usually use people of the relevant gender to personify these emotions but within my personal experience I see it as more being people who we see as representing those energies, gender regardless) it is usually as a way to tell us that there is an imbalance, that one energy might be more predominant than the other and that we need to find ways to rectify this.

Finally, the third set of opposing archetypes are the hero or saviour archetype and the adversary archetype. One the one side, the hero archetype is a positive energy about winning and saving (ourselves). It can take the shape of a warrior, or a cornucopia and represents the light. The adversary is its exact opposite with a negative energy bent on opposition and destruction. Represented by things such as fire, the devil, or wounds, it is the darkness to the hero’s light. Here the aim of these archetypes is not so much to balance each other as to be integrated. Jung believed that we needed to integrate our darkness (referred to in his work as shadow) by accepting its existence and acknowledging it. In our dreams the darkness can often manifest in the form of something chasing us, something behind us that we cannot see but are often afraid or apprehensive about. The resolution comes when we become able to turn around and accept what is behind us in our dream, therefore taking the shadow of our selves within us, and integrating it into our self.

large (2)The seventh archetype is the centre one: the self. It represents both unity and separation and is the focus point of the healing process. There are many ways for the self to present itself in our dreams, although commonly it can be seen that a house (usually from childhood) represents the self.

Dreams can easily be seen and looked at as one would look at a drama, a play unfolding upon a stage. People as actors inhabit our dreamworld with their role and meaning not always matching the person they are in our waking life, making all their interactions with us and one another meaningful on a level deeper than the simply interactions of daily life. There is often a beginning to the dream that serves to set the scene. From there onwards the plot unfolds as it would in a play with the actors going about their roles and the momentum gathering around whatever the problem is until a climax or turning point is reached. When looking at dreams as drama it is interesting to analyse the place of the actors within the setting. It also gives us the opportunity to look at the sequencing of events and the interactions that have occurred. The ending whether it be a fulfilling conclusion or an abrupt end, also holds meaning as to our situation and mental state in our waking hours.

To access a more in depth analysis of dreams we looked at three separate methods which I will now briefly describe and discus as relevant to my own personal analysis done on the day.

The first method we looked at views dreams as happening in three stages: the introduction, the story, and the ending (be it through solution or catastrophe). Each part is analysed separately: what does the first sentence of the introduction tell us? We look at the characters and setting introduced and try to draw association with our waking lives. Throughout the introduction and the story we look at what the dream is trying to say by using recent events in our lives to see if they can be linked with what is happening in the dream. Finally we must extricate from the ending of the dream what action might be needed in our daily life to fix the issue at hand.

I personally found this way of analysing dreams to be very efficient for myself as the dream I used for this I had very detailed recognition of and was therefore able to clearly look at possible associations without needing to be guided. It felt like it is definitely a method that would work best for people who very clearly recall their dreams (or at least the dream worked on) and are easily able to bring back details to mind. It also does seem to encourage a very current interpretations, by which I mean it seems to try and root the message of the dream in the present situation of the person. It asks to draw association with what happened during the previous day, but does not appear to seek to make links with perhaps longer standing issues/anxieties that the person might have and would therefore be better used for dreams that the client feel are relevant to their current situations and not something that is deeply rooted within their past (for example, a recurrent dream).

The second method consists of a list of questions to ask the dreamer. It is a guided large (1)approach to dream analysis which focusses on specific aspects. The list of thirteen questions seeks to draw out the most important parts and feelings associated to the dreams by asking thigs like a word title the dreamer would give his or her dream, what actions were taken, or what would be done differently if the dream was lived in real life. These questions are there to help the client focus only on the elements of the dream which may be helpful if the person is not used to working with dreams or struggles to recall the dream in its entirety. Being able to focus simply on the parts of it that are relevant and meaningful also partially removes the chance of drawing associations simply for the sake of finding meaning behind every single thing. I found it an interesting method when I worked with it as it brought to light one or two elements of the dream that I had not regarded in the same way before, although overall there was a restrictive quality to the questions that I found did not let me explore my dream as freely.

The final method we looked at is Johnson’s four steps in dreamwork. The first step is all about making associations: we are to take the dream’s imagery and create direct associations with words, ideas or feelings that are relevant to us. The associations need to stay direct and not become a chain of connections as this is just the first stage. The associations need to feel right, to ‘click’ for the person making them, which means it advised to not be using a dream dictionary of any kind of universal dream symbols as a way to create the associations, at least not initially. The second part focusses on linking the dream images we have just acquired to our own inner life. We are now seeking to created links in between the words/ideas/feelings that we associated with what was in the dream to our waking selves and our daily lives. We may look at patterns present in the dream that also exist in our waking lives, at emotions that are echoes of our own personalities. The goal is to seek to understand what the dream is trying to draw our attention to: is something changing that we haven’t noticed? Has a healing happened or begun to happen that we didn’t think had? We only begin to interpret all of the findings from step one and two in the third and penultimate step. Here we draw together everything we have looked at so far to find the central message in the dream. We focus on what feelings are there and try to find an interpretation that resonates honestly with ourselves. Finally, the fourth step looks at taking a concrete step following the dream. Whether it be writing a letter, talking to someone, changing certain aspects of our lives, we must focus here on what we can do during our waking time to implement the message of the dream and therefore step closer to wholeness and individuation.

large (3)When I used this method for the dream I was working on, I both found it very helpful and somehow confusing. I liked how creative and free it allowed me to be, especially after the restrictions of the second method. But I did, however, find that I was terrible at sticking to the separate steps and tended to plough on ahead, mixing everything together and doing it all at once. Perhaps I would not have tried to create the associations in the same way had I not been working from this method but I found it difficult to just keep to the steps as each images unfurled into a flurry of associations that were easy to trace and work with. It is definitely a method that I think is best suited to people who find it easy to connect with their dreams, and I believe it is probably also important to not use it as a rigid to-do list but more as a guideline in how best to get the most possible out of our dreams and as a way to keep track of the different levels of associations and when it is best to pull everything together for an overall meaning.

Before finishing it is worth adding that we spoke briefly about keeping a dream log and the importance of it for people who wish to work with their dreams. Whenever keeping such log it is best to write what we remember of our dreams as soon as possible as well as leave space in between each dream to give us a chance to come back later on and to look at them with fresh eyes as we might be able to bring a new level of understanding after we have had time to think about the dream.

 

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Book review: The Drama of Being a Child (The Search for the True Self) – Alice Miller

This is actually a book report I had to write for my course, so it might be less of a traditional book review and more of a summary/general impressions I had of the book. Either way it seemed enlightening enough for those who might be wondering whether to read this to post it here. I don’t usually review books that aren’t genre fiction so this feels very odd, and somewhat personal too, but I do hope it will interest those who are intrigued by this field of study and self-discovery!

 

41046HJX0YL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Miller offers through her book a fascinating tale of the effects of childhood, not solely on the child as these events take place, but more so on the adult. These events from childhood that have become the invisible strings that guide us through our lives are, more often than not, simply accepted by the adult person as a fact that had little to no consequences on their lives. It is only when as an adult we can look back to our childhood days and not only understand but truly feel what affected us as children, that we can begin to unravel the tangle of fears, habits, and issues that has followed us everywhere we went during our adult life.

Much like emotional therapeutic counselling, Miller recognises the importance of the hurt and lonely child we all carry within us. She emphasises that it is that child’s emotions that make us often react as we do to the world around our adult selves. Because that child is made of so many repressed emotions, so he seeks to either take revenge upon the world, or hide away everything even more. The dialogue with this Inner Child is, to Miller, as intrinsic a part of healing, as it is for emotional therapeutic counselling.

Miller also mentions the importance of confronting those who have caused the hurt during childhood, whether face to face or, if the former is impossible for one reason or another, through a mental dialogue wherein the adult can finally unload the Inner Child’s actual feelings onto the person who has caused them and have a discussion with them. Similarly to emotional therapeutic counselling, Miller does not believe that we can be free of the hurt of our childhood until we have truly felt the emotions that our child-self repressed.

Another element in the book that reminded me strongly of what we had done in the course was Miller’s regular mention of her patients’ dreams and their importance in their therapy. She takes dreams as the subconscious’ way of talking to us, or trying to point where or what the issues might be. She points out in one of her examples how it can be an easy way to track therapy progress as the patient’s dreams change and evolve.

I personally found this read enlightening, especially following what I had already learnt about myself during the course and it shed a fascinating light on some elements of my childhood that has just seemed that they had left me unaffected up to that point. Stories of which I have little to no recollection but have been told about seemed to come back with stark clarity as the emotions I had felt were accessed. It emphasised that it was ok for my adult self to revisit those emotions, to let them happen and face the feelings of my childhood without fear of any consequences. It has allowed me to understand my reactions to certain things that happen around me, as well as turn the emotions elicited towards their true target instead of the situation at hand.

5/5

Childhood and identity

open-uri20120828-7303-1xpgydfIn a handful of weeks, I’ll be starting a module on Child development. Now a couple of years back, when I very first signed up to the course, I rolled my eyes at the idea of a module that dealt mainly with childhood and children. But since then I have had to deal with a lot of issues the root of which is to be found in my childhood. It has gifted me with a new perspective on the subject. As such, I find that I am rather looking forward to studying the psychology of children and how their environment  and the people around them have the power to impact on their personality.

Nurture isn’t the only factor at work, obviously, as nature plays its part as always, often unseen–or perhaps not so much unseen as not understood–and in a far different way to nurture. For example, I read a while back now (in an article that I can no longer find, unfortunately), that scientists have discovered that there exists a gene that is likely to make children behave more obediently towards their parents. Children lacking in that gene, seemed to be far more free-willed and likely to make their own decisions from a younger age, instead of obediently listening to what they’re told to do.

But nurture can definitely affect nature and influence the direction in which it develops. Several researches have demonstrated that children receiving higher level of care of attention from their parent or carer are likely to grow up healthier, smarter, and kinder (See article: Why spoiled babies grow up to be smarter, kinder kids). If you look at it on very simple term: if the baby is well looked after, the growing brain doesn’t need to waste resources on stress, crying, or other efforts to draw the attention of the ones it expects to be looked after by. So our personality, which will later contribute to the forming of our identity, is influenced by outside factors from the second we are born–and possibly even before that, when we’re still in our mother’s womb.

Obviously, the attention that our parents/carers give us as we grow up will not entirely decide who we are: nature still has a say in the matter and some people who have suffered horrendously neglectful and/or traumatic childhood can still turn out to be wonderful people capable of more empathy than most. On the converse, all the love in the world might not change the way the brain of a sociopath or a psychopath was wired to start with.

Nonetheless, childhood is the root of who we are, whether we like it or not: the person we are today has its roots in our childhood. As such, any baggage that we acquire through childhood, we are likely to drag with us for the rest of our life. Sometimes, even becoming aware of the issue and its origin, is not enough to drop the baggage; it might become lighter and easier to carry, but it never fully leaves us.

My childhood wasn’t an unhappy one, my parents were fairly attentive, and generally I was loved by the people around me. One of the greatest problem my family suffered from, was the incapacity to communicate with each other. When I was six, my mother started suffering from depression due to problems at work. As a child, I was well aware that something was different about my mother, although no-one ever told me what: my mum’s depression was only discussed in between her and my father behind closed doors, and even then, I don’t think they did much talking at all. I found out what was happening by eavesdropping at the kitchen door in an evening. But from this, and several very similar incidents, I learnt a lesson my parents had never thought they might be teaching me with their actions: talking about what is wrong with us personally is bad, something to be done in secret and, preferably, not to be done at all.

I have dragged this with me all the way to my adulthood. Even now, I am more than likely to not talk about something that is bothering or upsetting me. I bottle everything up inside, store it behind high walls and attempt to cope with it by myself. It very rarely works, unfortunately. Eventually, everything that builds up inside gets too much and I find myself crumbling under the weight of it all. I am lucky enough to have a special someone here to help me cope, but he–quite rightly–gets frustrated at my incapacity to talk about the things that get to me. I have been trying to improve since I very first admitted to this issue, but it’s still hard most days to not feel ashamed of some of the negative thoughts that go on in my head.

This is but one of the things that I have dragged from my childhood into my life as an adult, and it is but one example of how things can affect children on a level often unseen by the parents or carers. Received, or perceived, love or affection aren’t the only things that start to shape a child’s personality as they grow up. Children learn by watching and copying: when they play make-believe with their friends, they will more than likely copy the attitude of the adults around them. Although such games are unlikely to directly influence personality later on in life, they do set a basis of what the child perceives as normal behavior for an adult and their own expectations of themselves.

Not everyone will be affected the same, but it’s impossible to know what will and will not affect a child’s personality until it is too late. Where demanding parents may push their child’s ambitions and drive forward, it may just as well make them feel pressured, unworthy, and unable to cope. There is no hard and fast rule that decides how we are going to react to how the people closest to us act and how it will affect us once we are out of childhood. Some children may give clear signs of how they are affected whilst others are likely to bottle it up and hide behind a facade.

But one thing is for sure: there can never be too much love and care in a child’s life, and no-one has ever suffered from too much love in their childhood, and from having attentive parents.