Carl Jung, founder of Jungian psychology, believed that individuals house psychic energy within the unconscious mind. The unconscious is our inner self storing reservoir that is not open to awareness unless we cooperate in a path toward personal growth and development. Dreams are one way for the unconscious mind to express inner conflict and emotional trauma so we can understand and process untapped information effectively.
Dreaming is a universal experience. There may be intensity to dreams or they may be vague and forgettable. Our dreams may evoke images and awaken us in the form of night terrors. They may follow a repetitious pattern over time and can be annoying. When we awaken after dreaming, the experience may generate a constellation of feelings that are troublesome and difficult to comprehend. The feelings associated with dreaming, may linger for some time.
Bookstores and libraries are filled with works written about the process of dreaming and how to interpret them. Some authors may act as a prophetic visionary, providing people with personal insights to current and future experiences, goals and direction. The authors purpose is to "thread the needle" regarding an interpretation for one’s dream, relieving the reader’s sense of mystery around the perplexing event.
I believe that we need to look at the meaning of dreams from a different perspective. Rather than content to be interpreted, they may represent an aspect of the "self" that is yearning for understanding, emotional expression and release. They may give us clues to our dealings with others, but are primarily a connection to our own inner experience. A dream can be characterized as a metaphor, providing a snapshot for personal, unresolved issues. Through a dream-state, we may be working through inner conflicts that require some resolution. It is often helpful to ask the dreamer to become the various parts of their dream and play them out as if they're telling a story. By dramatizing various aspects of the dream, people are able to observe a pattern or thread that connects all parts to the whole of their inner experience - this is the essence of Gestalt therapy. Dreams represent a microcosm of personal issues that are affecting one's self-identity.
A former patient of mine was struggling with the issue of giving herself permission to cooperate with the process of personal change. Tina had been afraid of experiencing the responsibility that comes with success. She felt guilty for leaving her parents behind in pursuit of a lifestyle that was dramatically more meaningful and rewarding.
One night, Tina had a powerful dream. She was on a roller-coaster enjoying the freedom of the ride. Shockingly, the person in the coaster car in front of her was cut in half. The dream only showed the abdomen of an unrecognized person. She woke up terrified and in need of an explanation to account for this horrific experience.
Since I believe that aspects of a dream represent dusty corners of a person’s life, I had Tina tell the story as it was happening to her in the here-and-now. After she finished expressing her dream, having played out various components of it, I created a personal metaphor for it. I concluded that Tina was on a journey towards psychological freedom and felt cut off from realizing her aspirations due to internal conflict associated with the permission to succeed.
I asked Tina for feedback regarding my explanation. She immediately saw the parallels between her dream and aspects of her current life experience. Dreams can be our "acts of grace" if we willingly open ourselves to insights about our thinking, feelings and behavior. They represent a potentially powerful tool for change. Tina's dream was symbolic of everything that was happening in her current world. Dreams can be instruments that assist us in the pursuit of spiritual and psychological growth. For Tina, the metaphor was a potent message to assist her toward making necessary change. The following are guidelines to consider when attempting to explore the meaning encompassing the dreaming process:
- Always ask yourself, what do the feelings from the dream relate to?
- What are you currently experiencing that may have been a trigger for this dream?
- If there is a repetitious pattern to the dream, what issues are you ignoring?
- After the dream, consider ways in the present to complete the dream in a way that meets your needs and desires.
- Explore doing guided meditation with positive affirmations prior to sleeping. This will help calm your sympathetic nervous system.
- Don’t over-analyze or interpret your dreams. They are meant to be a metaphor for aspects of your personal self.
- What pieces am I missing that my dream may help as clues to integrate aspects of my "self?”
Dreaming can assist us in exploring the meaning behind internal conflict. The experience tells a story about who we are and what is happening within our life. The unconscious mind is always looking for ways to express that which needs resolution. Dreams are often a metaphor for unconscious material within the self that yearns for healing and closure.