Archives for posts with tag: Dreams

One might say that the dream goes on with the “explanation” of what is happening in the square space. Animals are to be changed into men; a “shapeless life-mass” is to be turned into a transfigured (illuminated) human head by magic contact with a reptile. The animal lump or life-mass stands for the mass of the inherited unconscious which is to be united with consciousness. This is brought about by the ceremonial use of a reptile, presumably a snake.

The idea of transformation and renewal by means of a serpent is a well-substantiated archetype. It is the healing serpent, representing the god.

The “shapeless life-mass” immediately recalls the ideas of the alchemical “chaos,” the massa or materia informis or confusa which has contained the divine seeds of life ever since the Creation. According to a midrashic view, Adam was created in much the same way; in the first hour God collected the dust, in the second made a shapeless mass out of it, in the third fashioned the limbs, and so on.

But if the life-mass is to be transformed a circumambulatio is necessary, i.e., exclusive concentration on the centre, the place of creative change. During this process one is “bitten” by animals; in other words, we have to expose ourselves to the animal impulses of the unconscious without identifying with them and without “running away”; for flight from the unconscious would defeat the purpose of the whole proceeding. We must hold our ground, which means here that the process initiated by the dreamer’s self-observation must be experienced in all its raimfications and then articulated with consciousness to the best of his understanding.

This often entails an almost unbearable tension because of the utter incommensurability between conscious life and the unconscious process, which can be experienced only in the innermost soul and cannot touch the visible surface of life at any point.

If reason is not to be outraged on the one hand and the creative play of images not violently suppressed on the other, a circumspect and farsighted synthetic procedure is required in order to accomplish the paradoxical union of irreconcilables. Hence the alchemical parallels in our dreams.

“Not a few have perished in our work,” we can say with the author of the Rosarium. The dream shows that the difficult operation of thinking in paradoxes–a feat possible only to the superior intellect–has succeeded. The “transfiguration” and illumination, the conscious recognition of the centre, has been attained, or at least anticipated, in the dream. This potential achievement–if it can be maintained, i.e., if the conscious mind does not lose touch with the centre again–means a renewal of personality.

Since it is a subjective state whose reality cannot be validated by any external criterion, any further attempt to describe and explain it is doomed for failure, for only those who have had this experience are in a position to understand and attest its reality. “Happiness,” for example, is such a noteworthy reality that there is nobody who does not long for it, and yet there is not a single objective criterion which would prove beyond all doubt that this condition necessarily exists. As so often with the most important things, we have to make do with a subjective judgment.

We must remember that there are not a few patients who imitate the technical or theoretical jargon of the doctor, and do this even in their dreams. This is not to say that the fishes of which the fisherman dreams are fishes and nothing more. There is no language that cannot be misused. As may easily be imagined, the misuse often turns the tables on us; it even seems as if the unconscious had a way of strangling the doctor in the coils of his own theory.

Therefore I leave theory aside as much as possible when analysing dreams–not entirely, of course, for we always need some theory to make things intelligible. It is on the basis of theory, for instance, that I expect dreams to have meaning. I cannot prove in every case that this is so, for there are dreams which the doctor and the patient simply do not understand. But I have to make such an hypothesis in order to find courage to deal with dreams at all. To say that dreams add something important to our conscious knowledge, and that a dream which fails to do so has not been properly interpreted–that, too, is a theory. But I must make this hypothesis as well in order to explain to myself why I analyse dreams in the first place.

All other hypotheses, however, about the function and the structure of dreams are merely rules of thumb and must be subjected to constant modification. In dream-analysis we must never forget, even for a moment, that we move on treacherous ground where nothing is certain but uncertainty. If it were not so paradoxical, one would almost like to call out to the dream interpreter: “Do anything you like, only don’t try to understand!”

When we take up an obscure dream, our first task is not to understand and interpret it, but to establish the context with minute care. By this I do not mean unlimited “free association” starting from any and every image in the dream, but a careful and conscious illumination of the interconnected associations objectively grouped round particular images.

What Freud calls the “dream-facade” is the dream’s obscurity, and this is really only a projection of our own lack of understanding. We say that the dream has a false front only because we fail to see into it. We would do better to say that we are dealing with something like a text that is unintelligible not because it has a facade–a text has no facade–but simply because we cannot read it. We do not have to get behind such a text, but we must first learn to read it.

Free association will bring out all my complexes, but hardly ever the meaning of a dream.  To understand the dream’s meaning I must stick as close as possible to the dream images.

When somebody dreams of a “deal table,” it is nto enough for him to associate it with his writing-desk which does not happen to be made of deal. Supposing that nothing more occurs to the dreamer, this blocking has an objective meaning, for it indicates that a particular darkness reigns in the immediate neighborhood of the dream-image, and that is suspicious. We would expect him to have dozens of associations to a deal table, and the fact that there is apparently nothing is itself significant. In such cases I keep on returning to the image, and I usually say to my patient, “Suppose I had no idea what the words ‘deal table’ mean. Describe this object and give me its history in such a way that I cannot fail to understand what sort of thing it is.”

In this way we manage to establish almost the whole context of the dream-image. When we have done this for all the images in the dream we are ready for the interpretation.

Every interpretation is a hypothesis, an attempt to read an unknown text. An obscure dream, taken in isolation, can hardly ever be interpreted with any certainty. For this reason I attach little importance to the interpretation of single dreams. A relative degree of certainty is reached only in the interpretation of a series of dreams, where the later dreams correct the mistakes we have made in handling those that went before.

The fundamental mistake regarding the nature of the unconscious is probably this: it is commonly supposed that its contents have only one meaning and are marked with an unalterable plus or minus sign. In my humble opinion, this view is too naive.

The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does. Every process that goes too far immediately and ineitably calls forth compensations, and without these there would be neither a normal metabolism nor a normal psyche. In this sense we can take the theory of compensation as a basic law of psychic behavior. Too little on one side results in too much on the other. Similarly, the relation between conscious and unconscious is compensatory.

This is one of the best-proven rules of dream interpretation. When we set out to interpret a dream, it is always helpful to ask: What conscious attitude does it compensate?

Compensation is not as a rule merely an illusory wish fulfillment, but an actual fact that becomes still more axctual the more we repress it. We do not stop feeling thirsty by repressing our thirst. In the same way, the dream-content is to be regarded with due seriousness as an actuality that has to be fitted into the conscious attitude as a codetermining factor. If we fail to do this, we merely persist in that eccentric frame of mind which evoked the unconscious compensation in the first place. It is then difficult to see how we can ever arrive at a sane judgment of ourselves or at a balanced way of living.

. . .

“Mother” is an archetype and refers to the place of origin, to nature, to that which passively creates, hence to substance and matter, to materiality, the womb, the vegetative functions. It also means the unconscious, our natural and instinctive life, the physiological realm, the body in which we dwell or are contained; for the “mother” is also the matrix, the hollow form, the vessel that carries and nourishes, and it thus stands psychologically for the foundations of consciousness.

Being inside or contained in something also suggests darkness, something nocturnal and fearful, hemming one in. These allusions give the idea of the mother in many of its mythological and etymological variants; they also represent an important part of the Yin idea in Chinese philosophy. It is a collective inheritance, alive and recorded in language, inherited along with the structure of the psyche and therefore to be found at all times and among all peoples.

The word “mother,” which sounds so familiar, apparently refers to the best-known, the individual mother–to “my mother.” But the mother-symbol points to a darker background which eludes conceptual formulation and can only be vaguely apprehended by the hidden, nature-bound life of the body. Yet even this is too narrow and excludes too many vital subsidiary meanings.

The underlying, primary psychic reality is so inconceivably complex that it can be grasped only at the farthest reach of intuition, and then but very dimly. That is why it needs symbols.

Every interpretation of a dream is a psychological statement about certain of its contents. This is not without danger, as the dreamer, like most people, usually displays an astonishing sensitiveness to critical remarks, not only if they are wrong, but even more if they are right. Since it is not possible, except under very special conditions, to work out the meaning of a dream without the collaboration of the dreamer, an extraordinary amount of tact is required not to violate his self-respect unnecessarily.

For instance, what is one to say when a patient tells a number of indecent dreams and then asks: “Why should I have such disgusting dreams?” To this sort of question it is better to give no answer, since an answer is difficult for several reasons, especially for the beginner, and one is very apt under such circumstances to say something clumsy, above all when one thinks one knows what the answer is. So difficult is it to understand a dream that for a long time I have made it a rule, when someone tells me a dream and asks for my opinion, to say first of all to myself: “I have no idea what this dream means.” After that I can begin to examine the dream.

The further procedures to hich Freud subjects the dream-contents I have had to reject, for they are too much influenced by the preconceived opinion that dreams are the fulfillment of “repressed wishes.” Although there are such dreams, this is far from proving that all dreams are wish-fulfillments, any more than are the thoughts of our conscious psychic life. There is no ground for the assumption that the unconscious processes underlying the dream are more limited and one-sided, in form and content, than conscious processes. One would rather expect that the latter could be limited to known categories, since they usually reflect the regularity or even monotony of the conscious life.

On the basis of these conclusions and for the purpose of ascertaining the meaning of the dream, I have developed a procedure which I call “taking up the context.” This consists in making sure that every shade of meaning which each salient feature of the dream has for the dreamer is determined by the associations of the dreamer himself.

I therefore proceed in the same way as I would in deciphering a difficult text. This method does not always produce an immediate understandable result; often the only thing that emerges, at first, is a hint that looks significant.

The examination of the context is, to be sure, a simple, almost mechanical piece of work which has only a preparatory significance. But the subsequent production of a readable text, i.e. the actual interpretation of the dream, is as a rule a very exacting task. It needs psychological empathy, ability to coordinate, intuition, knowledge of the world and of men, and above all a special “canniness” which depends on wide understanding as well as on a certain “intelligence du coeur.”

No sixth sense is needed to understand dreams. But more is required than routine recipes such as are found in vulgar little ream-books, on which invariably develop under the influence of preconceived notions. Stereotyped interpretation of dream-motifs is to be avoided; the only justifiable interpretations are those reached through a painstaking examination of the context. Even if one has great experience in these matters, one is again and again obliged, before each dream, to admit one’s ignorance and, renouncing all preconceived ideas, to prepare for something entirely unexpected.

Even though dreams refer to a definite attitude of consciousness and a definite psychic situation, their roots lie deep in the unfathomably dark recesses of the conscious mind. For want of a more descriptive term we call this unknown background the unconscious. We do not know its nature in and for itself, but we observe certain effects from whose qualities we venture certain conclusions in regard to the nature of the unconscious psyche. Because dreams are the most common and most normal expression of the unconscious psyche, they provide the bulk of the material for its investigation.

Since the meaning of most dreams is not in accord with the tendencies of the conscious mind but shows peculiar deviations, we must assume that the unconscious, the matrix of dreams, has an independent function. T his is what I call the autonomy of the unconscious. The dream not only fails to obey our will but very often stands in flagrant opposition to our conscious intentions. The opposition need not always be so marked; sometimes the dream deviates only a little from the conscious attitude and introduces only slight modifications; occasionally it may even coincide with conscious contents and tendencis.

When I attempted to express this behavior in a formula, the concept of compensation seemed to me the only adequate one, for it alone is capable of summing up all the various ways in which a dream behaves. Compensation means balancing and comparing different data or points of view so as to produce an adjustment or a rectification.

But if dreams produce such essential compensations, why are they not understandable? I have often been asked this question. The answer must be that the dream is a natural occurrence, and that nature shows no inclination to offer her fruits gratis or according to human expectations. It is often objected that the compensation must be ineffective unless the dream is understood. This is not so certain, however, for many things can be effective without being understood.

But there is no doubt that we can enhance its effect considerably by understanding the dream, and this is often necessary because the voice of the unconscious so easily goes unheard. “What nature leaves imperfect is perfected by the art,” says an alchemical dictum.

Coming now to the form of dreams, we find everything from lightning impressions to endlessly spun out dream-narrative. Nevertheless there are a great many “average” dreams in which a definite structure can be perceived, not unlike that of a drama. For instance, the dream begins with a statement of place, such as, “I was in a street, it was an avenue.” Next comes a statement about the protagonists, for instance, “I was walking with my friend X in a city park. At a crossing we suddenly ran into Mrs. Y.” Statements of time are rarer. I call this phase of the dream the exposision. It indicates the scene of action, the people involved, and often the initial situation of the dreamer.

In the second phase comes the development of the plot. For instance: “I was in a street, it was an avenue. In the distance a car appeared, which approached rapidly. It was being driven very unsteadily, and I thought the driver must be drunk. The situation is somehow becoming complicated, and a definite tension develops because one does not know what will happen.

The third phase brings the culmination or peripeteia. Here something decisive happens or changes completely.

The fourth and last phase is the lysis, the solution or result produced by the dream-work. The last phase shows the final situation, which is at the same time the solution “sought” by the dreamer.

Critics have sometimes accused me outright of “philosophical” or even “theological” tendencies, in the belief that I want to explain everything “philosophically” and that my psychological views are “metaphysical.” But I use certain philosophical, religious, and historical material for the exclusive purpose of illustrating the psychological facts. If, for instance, I make use of a God-concept or an equally metaphysical concept of energy, I do so because they are images which have been found in the human psyche from the beginning. I find I must emphasize over and over again that neither the moral order, nor the idea of God, nor any religion has dropped into man’s lap from outside, straight down from heaven, as it were, but that he contains all this in nuce within himself, and for this reason can produce it all out of himself. It is therefore idle to think that nothing but enlightenment is needed to dispel these phantoms.

The ideas of the moral order and of God belong to the ineradicable substrate of the human soul. That is why any honest psychology, which is not blinded by the garish conceits of enlightenment, must come to terms with these facts. They cannot be explained away and killed with irony.

In physics we can do without a God-image, but in psychology it is a definite fact that has got to be reckoned with, just as we have to reckon with “affect,” “instinct,” “mother,” etc. It is the fault of the everlasting contamination of object and imago that people can make no conceptual distinction between “God” and “God-image,” and therefore think that when one speaks of the “God-image,” one is speaking of God and offering “theological” explanations.

It is not for psychology, as a science, to demand a hypostatization of the God-image. But, the facts being what they are, it does have to reckon with the existence of a God-image. In the same way it reckons with instinct but does not deem itself competent to say what “instinct” really is. The psychological factor thereby denoted is clear to everyone, just as it is far from clear what that factor is in itself.

It is equally clear that the God-image corresponds to a definite complex of psychological facts, and is thus a quantity which we can operate with; but what God is in himself remains a question outside the competence of all psychology.

I regret having to repeat such elementary truths.

It is characteristic that dreams never express themselves in this logical, abstract way but always in the language of parable and simile. This is also a characteristic of primitive languages, whose flowery turns of phrase are very striking. If we remember the monuments of ancient literature, we find that what nowadays is expressed by means of abstractions was then expressed mostly by similes. Even a philosopher like Plato did not disdain to express certain fundamental ideas in this way.

Just as the body bears the traces of its phylogenetic development, so also does the human mind. Hence there is nothing surprising about the possibility that the figurative language of dreams is a survival from an archaic mode of thought.

At the same time the theft of the apple is a typical dream-motif that occurs in many different variations in numerous dreams. It is also a well-known mythological motif, which is found not only in the story of the Garden of Eden but in countless myths and fairytales from all ages and climes. It is one of those universally human symbols which can reappear autochthonously in any one, at any time. Thus dream psychology opens the way to a general comparative psychology rom which we may hope to gain the same understanding of the development and structure of the human psyche as comparative anatomy has given us concerning the human body.

Dreams, then, convey to us in figurative language–that is, in sensuous, concrete imagery–thoughts, judgments, views, directives, tendencies, which were unconscious either because of repression or through mere lack of realization. Precisely because they are contents of the unconscious, and the dream is a derivative of unconscious processes, it contains a reflection of the unconscious contents. It is not a reflection of unconscious contents in general but only of certain contents, which are linked together associatively and are selected by the conscious situation of the moment. I regard this observation as a very important one in practice. If we want to interpret a dream correctly, we need a thorough knowledge of the conscious sirtuation at that moment, because the dream contains its unconscious complement, that is, the material which the conscious situation has constellated in the unconscious. Without this knowledge it is impossible to interpret a dream correctly, except by a lucky fluke.

As a rule, the unconscious content contrasts strikingly with the conscious material, particularly when the conscious attitude tends too exclusively in a direction that would threaten the vital needs of the individual. The more one-sided his conscious attitude is, and the further it deviates from the optimum, the greater becomes the possibility that vivid dreams with a strongly contrasting but purposive content will appear as an expression of the self-regulation of the psyche.

Just as the body reacts purposively to injuries or infections or any abnormal conditions, so the psychic functions react to unnatural or dangerous disturbances with purposive defense-mechanisms. Among these purposive reactions we must include the dream, since it furnishes the unconscious material constellated in a given conscious situation and supplies it to consciousness in symbolical form. In this material are to be found all those associations which remained unconscious because of their feeble accentuation but which still possess sufficient energy to make themselves perceptible in the sleeping state.

Naturally the purposive nature of the dream-content is not immediately discernible from outside without further investigation. An analysis of the manifest dream-content is required before we can get at the really compensatory factors in the latent dream-content. Most of the physical defense-mechanisms are of this non-obvious and, so to speak, indirect nature, and their purposiveness can be recognized only after careful investigation. I need only remind you of the significance of fever or of suppuration processes in an infected wound.

The process of psychic compensation are almost always a very individual nature, and this makes the task of proving their compensatory character considerably more difficult. Because of this peculiarity, it is often very difficult, especially for the beginner, to see how far a dream-content has a compensatory significance.