Science Articles

An Emotional Pattern In Dreams: Part One

Wed, 12th Jan 2005

Dan Gollub

How have theoreticians viewed dream interpretation? Freud suggested that dreams have a meaning, theorising that the conscious intellect imposes constraints upon the imagination, and it is only by the process of free association that the dreamer can arrive at the meanings of the dream content. Those meanings typically involve inner wishes which the conscious self might not approve of. Jung suggested a dream interpretation procedure of submitting to the impulses of the unconscious, and he theorized about the nature of the unconscious as involving much more than just the personal experiences of the dreamer (for an overview see references below by Storr, 1983, and Brill, 1938)

But more recently some researchers have speculated about the neurophysiological purpose of dreaming. Brereton (2001) suggests that dreaming may have been a preadaptation for the evolution of hominid consciousness by locating the dreamer in emotionally salient social space, a trait possibly derived from hippocampal spatial mapping. Dreaming is thus expected to share significant features with consciousness, symbolization, and cognitive mechanisms pertaining to culture. Accordingly, insights about the dreamer's cultural awareness can be obtained from dreams.

Some modern researchers seek to explore the contextual implications about the self which might be derived from dreams. Quinodoz (2002) argues that dreams which contain anxiety-inducing content occur at a time of integration in which the dreamer is acquiring a sense of inner cohesion and thus is better able to cope with conflicts which previously would have been unacceptably threatening. There are many other orientations about dreams and / or dream interpretation which seemingly deserve to be mentioned. As one such example, Kuenstlicher (2001) has postulated that dreams infuse a time dimension which helps in acquiring a valuable rhythm of frustration and satisfaction.

The diversity of theories and speculations about dreams could be considered a reflection of the ongoing fascination and wonder which people experience about their dreams. But is there any consistently reliable way to analyze and understand dream meanings? A tentative answer is yes, and an explanation of one possible approach is outlined below.

The Emotional Pattern In Dreams

It is possible that dreams are consecutive depictions of what the inner self loves, desires, finds undesirable, and hates. So the location of particular dream content within a dream is a key part of its meaning.

For example, a man dreamed this: "I went horseback riding. The horse took me through beautiful countryside. When it was time to go back I chose a different way, became lost, and came to barbed wire which blocked the path. The horse became restless and tried to throw me."

Following is an analysis of that dream in relation to the love-desire-nondesire-hatred pattern:

The man goes horseback riding at the beginning of his dream, and therefore he loves doing that. Riding through beautiful countryside appears in the early-middle part of his dream, so he desires that scenery. The late-middle plot shows him becoming lost and then finding the way blocked by barbed wire. Those situations are defined by their location as being undesirable to him. In the ending the horse tries to throw him. Dreams end with the depiction of hatred, and he would hate that scenario.

Those are normal, unsurprising emotions and might seem disappointing for that reason. Shouldn't all dreams reflect the soul's mysteries? An answer is that the dreamer said he hadn't been horseback riding for too long, and dreaming about it was enjoyable.

A woman dreamed this: "I am buying jewels in a jewelry store. I choose a big pendant necklace with emeralds, flashing and beautiful. When I try it on, it hangs down too far. So I give it to my sister. She gives it back. She has nothing green to wear with it. She wants blue."

The "emotional pattern messages" are as follows. The woman loves buying jewelry. She desires buying an emerald necklace. It would be undesirable if the necklace didn't fit her and she ended up giving it to her sister. She would hate it if her sister rejected her gift because of a petulant demand about the necklace's color.

A woman dreamed: "It was a gorgeous, sunny day. I was at my house. Suddenly these giant, fuzzy teddy bears driving red VW bugs appeared. They roared around the property, chasing me, and I finally climbed this medium-sized cottonwood tree in the back yard to get away from them. It didn't work. The biggest teddy bear drove his car right up the tree after me."

The dream's messages seem apparent. The dreamer loves being at home on nice days. The teddy bears presumably are symbols of men who are potential dating partners. She likes it when they drive red VWs, and she also likes to think of those men as being cute and cuddly. She wouldn't want them to act so masculinely aggressive, however, that she would have to take some extreme action to escape from them. And she would hate it if a man continued to pursue her despite her efforts to escape him.

There's more to the dream analysis process than just dividing the dream content into the four sections, of course. One also has to draw the correct conclusions, as we see in this next example. A woman reported that as a child she had dreamed this in the last half of a dream: "I was falling and falling. I was terrified. And I wanted to scream but was unable to do so."

It might appear the urge to scream was related to falling. The dreamer had a different explanation, though. "As a child," she said, "I was not permitted to express my feelings. It wasn't until I was 16 that I began speaking out." The assumption is that the wish to scream was a consequence of being forced to suppress her emotions, and that inability to express her true feelings was what the hatred message was depicting.

As the preceding examples help illustrate, dreams have relevant messages to our everyday life. Yet even the dreams we don't remember are important to us at an inner level.

Dreaming's Involuntary Effect Upon The Dreamer

What you dream about won't necessarily happen, but it if does you'll involuntarily feel an emotion of love, desire, non-desire, or hatred, depending on where in the dream that situation appeared. In that way your dreams will be guiding your conscious adaptation. Let's look at examples of that adaptation process.

A woman dreamed this at the beginning of a dream: "There are some refugee children in a run-down, dirty house. I befriend seven or eight of them and take them to my big house. I return to the other house and there are some more children there. They want to sneak into my group." Even though this dream segment was a fantasy it was influencing the dreamer to love acting motherly toward children who would need her help.

A man dreamed at the beginning of a dream of being at a swimming pool with his wife and another couple, and then dreamed this in the early-middle plot: "The other three were sunbathing and I was clowning around while jumping off the high diving board. I was doing can openers and cannonballs, trying to soak them. Finally a guard told me to knock it off, so on my next dive I did a perfect swan dive."

The desire plot displayed the man's playful urge to soak his wife and friends. That playfulness could become excessive, however, so the plot added a desire to be responsive to authority when told to stop those antics. Also, the dreamer's inner self may have seen that if he only performed the graceless dives his self image would suffer; perhaps for that reason the desire section included the wish to dive gracefully after finishing the 'bellyfloppers'.

A man who was a beginner fencing student dreamed in the non-desire section of making love with an attractive female fencer he knew. Why was this undesirable to him? The woman had declined to fence with him because he was a beginner and therefore wouldn't be a challenging opponent, and in response his dream was indicating that subconsciously he wasn't impressed with her beauty or fencing skills and valued more highly the willingness to help a beginner, and found her undesirable for lacking that trait.

If the dreamer had attempted to make love with the woman after having that dream he likely would have been impotent. The non-desire he felt would have interfered with his sexual arousal. Three more examples follow of how nondesire sections of dreams define scenarios which could result in psychologically-caused impotence or frigidity.

A woman dreamed this in her desire and nondesire sections: "My children and I were in a barn that was warm and smelled of hay. We went toward the front entrance and found a room off of it where a man was living. He told us we couldn't go out that way and threatened us." It is unlikely the woman could become sexually aroused if there were some threat either to her children or to her. That threat would be undesirable to her and consequently could prevent her from feeling any sexual desire until she thought her children and she were safe.

A man dreamed in the nondesire section of threatening to hit a smaller, weaker man who was a rival for a woman. In contrast to the previous example there might not be any physical danger involved for the dreamer in that situation, but nevertheless it would be undesirable to his inner self if he were to act in that bullying manner. While feeling that inner nondesire he predictably would be impotent in a lovemaking situation.

A woman dreamed this in a nondesire section: "I saw a snake and at first was afraid it would bite me, but then I thought, 'Oh, well, if it did bite me and I died then all of my problems would be over.'" That attitude is undesirable to her inner self, and if she consciously chose to devalue life in that way involuntary frigidity could be a consequence. Dreams end with the depiction of what is hated, and the inner hatred shown in dreams consistently tends to be constructive.

A gifted teenager dreamed at the end of a dream that he was living in a dull, ordinary environment. By causing him to hate that outcome the dream was motivating him to find gifted companions and stimulating interests.

After dreaming about being on a boat cruise with her family, a woman dreamed this in the hatred section: "I seem to remember Larry (my son) on a deck somewhere, standing and looking at us but unable to get to where we were, even though he wanted to." The dreamer reported that her son had been emotionally distant from the rest of the family and also had displayed behavioral problems. So his physical separation in the dream was a symbol of his emotional and behavioral separation from the family, and the woman's hatred of those problems would motivate her to help her son overcome them.

Questions And Answers About Dream Interpretation

Q. The analysis of dream content according to the love-desire, non-desire-hatred pattern appears to produce psychoanalytic insights. Does this mean that dream pattern analysis is a derivative of psychoanalytic theory?

A. Freud stated that dreams contain wishes. The dream pattern theory implies that wishes will appear in the first half of dreams and, in contrast, what the dreamer doesn't want to have happen will appear in the last half of dreams.

Q. Do all dreams follow the love-desire-non-desire-hatred pattern?

A. The answer is a conditional yes. Noises can disrupt a dream's plot and so can other external stimuli, but it is suggested that in the absence of such distractions all dreams will follow that pattern. However, some of the complications which appear in dream plots can obscure the presence of the emotional pattern. Those complications can involve displays of sentiment such as laughter or crying, unusual uses of language or speech, and symbolism.

Q. Are there reliable guidelines for interpreting dream complications?

A.Yes, and in Part Two (coming next) we shall look at a number of those guidelines.

References

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