Science Articles

An Emotional Pattern In Dreams: Part Three

Wed, 26th Oct 2005

Dan Gollub

In Parts One and Two we learned about the emotional pattern in dreams and looked at guidelines for understanding dream complications. The examples which follow may reveal that meaningful dream interpretation can reliably be accomplished despite the endless diversity of dream content. Miscellaneous Examples Of Dream Interpretation A woman reported that as a child she had dreamed at the end of a dream that clowns were crying at a grave. Questioning brought forth the information that during that childhood period her sister frequently acted like a clown and as a consequence received a lot of attention from others. How would you interpret that dream ending using dream pattern analysis and the knowledge that the crying by the clowns was a sentiment opposite to the dreamer's inner emotional reality?

The clowns at the gave were crying about the death of the "clown" who was the dreamer's sister. The fact that the dreamer dreamed about her sister's death in the hatred section reveals she would have hated for her sister to die. But why did her dream choose to include that particular hatred message? She presumably had felt jealous of her sister when that sister received attention for others for her clowning, and the dreamer may even have wished at a conscious level that her sister were dead. Her inner self didn't want her to have that wish and therefore caused her to hate the emotional consequences to others of her sister's death. The dream crying additionally was opposite to what she inwardly felt about her sister's playful, extroverted behaviour. It was hard for the dreamer to enjoy that behaviour consciously, though, and that was why clowns cried in the dream rather than her own image.

Most examples of an opposite-to-reality dream sentiment are much easier to understand than that one.

A woman who was a writer and the mother of a 14 year-old girl reported this: "I dreamed at the beginning of a dream that my cousin Jack came to live with us. He was 14 years old and I was the same age I am now. He was wearing a cap like my daughter's." She didn't remember any more of that dream but later that night dreamed this: "I plan to announce that I have won the lottery. Everyone then will assume that what I have won is money. I will not tell them otherwise and will say that I want to share my good fortune. What I have won is Jack. I will give him away. Then I think this is a marvelous idea for a very funny story. I think it is hysterical. I laugh and laugh. I'm not sure which came first: the intention to write the story or the plan to rid myself of Jack. Either way I am pleased with myself. Then I caution myself to make sure I am not plagiarizing this story from anyone. I say to myself, 'Did I read this somewhere?'"

The woman's opposite-to-reality laughter in the second dream indicates that something was bothering her in real life. What might that be? In the dream she laughed about a "marvelously funny story plot," and this implies that as a writer she had been having problems devising humorous plots. But the dream laughter was more specific than that. It was about the idea of giving away Jack. Why did that theme result in her dream image expressing so much amusement? Her first dream showed Jack the same age as the dreamer's daughter and wearing a cap like the daughter's. The dreamer would love for that boy to come live with her (since she dreamed about him doing so in her dream's beginning), and this provides a context for understanding the second dream. The image of Jack in that dream was a symbol for her daughter. Her intention in that dream to give away Jack was a disguised wish to give away her daughter. She didn't want to be a mother any longer and that was exceptionally painful to her and was the reason why she laughed so heartily in the dream.

This is a dream a woman had during a period of depression in which she occasionally thought about taking a lethal overdose of sleeping pills: "I was riding on top of a stagecoach, and men on horses were chasing it. Were they good guys or robbers? This wasn't clear to me. They drew closer and one of them shot me. Everything was black and I knew I would die." Her dream revealed disturbances which may have been major contributors to her depression. It was desirable to her to be uncertain about men's roles and she felt anxiety that a man would hurt her. We also see that the dream was doing its best to keep her from attempting suicide: the ending was causing her to hate the harm that could come from an overdose of pills. That constructive nature is utterly typical of dreams.

This next example reflects a happier dreamer. A woman dreamed in the first half of a dream: "I was maid of honour at a wedding. I didn't know the couple getting married but I was chosen to be in the wedding ceremony because I fit into a long, green, sexy dress." That sort of carefree wishing sometimes appears in the love and desire sections.

The plot at the end of this next dream might seem like a wish, but it appears in the hatred section and instead is an "anti-wish." A woman dreamed: "I am in an empty old hotel. I have inherited it from someone famous--maybe Buffalo Bill. I'm standing in the bare room, oak floors, large windows, sunshine, warm breezes. I am in a beautiful, white, floor-length summer gown. I am in the body of an old school friend whom I thought was attractive. Enter a man named Henry--another school chum, but someone I was less fond of, except in the dream he's tall, sensual, appealing. He takes me in his arms and tells me that Black Bart has discovered he can lay claim to the hotel if I am not married. I am upset at the idea of losing the hotel. So Henry asks me to marry him and we go to the justice of the peace and all ends well." The dream ending shows the woman marrying, for financial reasons, a man whom she hasn't liked in the past, and it seems to predict they would live happily ever after. The true message, though, is that she would hate such a forced marriage and it wouldn't be likely to last. The indirect guidance is that she should marry for love rather than money. Note that the dream presents the character of Henry in the nondesire and hatred sections, yet also must include him in the desire section for the sake of the plot's continuity. In order for Henry to appear in her desire section, however, he has to change, and so he becomes physically desirable. As this illustrates, the transformations which people sometimes undergo in dreams are not random or whimsical but instead occur for essential reasons.

A man reported he had dreamed as a child: "Elves and fairies lived in the cellar of my house, and my brothers and I climbed down the ladder to play with them. Then my brothers went back upstairs and pulled up the ladder with them, and I was there alone. There was a gingerbread man stirring a big pot, and he was going to throw me in it." I attempted to explain the dream to him. "You loved imagining there were actual elves and fairies. You liked playing in the cellar with your brothers, and it would have been nice to play with those imaginary beings as well. You wouldn't have liked being abandoned in the cellar. As for the scary dream ending - "Was there a man you were afraid of when you were a child? The gingerbread man may have been a symbol for an actual person, and if so the dream was reflecting a fear involving him.". "My father and I never got along," the dreamer said. "He used to beat me."

A man lived in the city and had been forced to take his dog to the pound because neighbours complained about its barking. Subsequently he dreamed in the early-middle part of a dream that a dog talked about a house outside of town. What were the implications of that dream content? The dreamer desired having a dog and also desired living in the countryside, at least partly because a dog wouldn't upset neighbours there. But the fact that the dog rather than his own image spoke about the house outside of town suggests he consciously opposed that inner wish. "Unrepressing" that lifestyle change seemed in order.

A woman dreamed this, several months after her son had died in an accident: "I was standing above a road by a building trying to mentally urge a boy on the road to go on. A person in white to the side said the boy would not go on until he talked with me. So I went around a fence and the boy walked back to me. We both looked at a ruined building across the fence and road. It was like a ruined Greek temple. The boy said, 'Pay attention to the light. It transforms things and makes them beautiful.' Then he turned and walked off across the road. Only when he was out of reach did I recognize him as my son." Had her inner self been contacted by the spiritual world, and was her son's spirit actually talking with her? Regardless, her dream can be interpreted by dream pattern analysis. She altruistically wanted her son to advance to his spiritual destiny, and he wanted to speak to her first because of his love for her. The ruined Greek temple was a desirable symbol for the destruction of her son's life. His words in the nondesire section offered a way for her to get over his death, and the implicit message was that her adjustment at the time of the dream was undesirable. The ending indicated she'd hate not having a chance to display intimacy or affection for her son because of not recognizing him in his spiritual form.

The following example contains "silly" dream content with important implications. A girl dreamed this in the first half of a dream: "Michael Jackson was a good friend of mine. I was visiting him and his family. We were going to have dinner. I was helping them set the table and they thought it was great. Later I was talking to Angie (my best friend). She said something about Michael Jackson and I said, 'He's a friend of mine.' Next I was walking with some other friends of mine and a strong wind came up. I said I would fly home, and as quickly as that I was being lifted higher and higher in the air. I was trying to hold my dress down because it kept puffing out and I didn't want them to see up my dress. I looked back at them and they were standing with their mouths open in disbelief. It was effortless for me. I put my arms out and felt propelled by the wind." That dream, despite being a fantasy, shows tendencies within the dreamer which perhaps are at the core of her personality. She consistently may love being with people who are successful and popular (such as celebrities) and consistently may desire having special qualities which can impress her friends. Her dream might also contain a clue about how the mind becomes more creative. The words spoken by the dreamer's image indicate her conscious willingness to believe Michael Jackson is her friend. (She may have written to him and received a reply.) In that dream she subsequently flew, and perhaps it may be that having optimistic, happy beliefs can enhance one's continuum of imaginable behaviours.

Some dreams provide highly realistic guidance. For instance, a woman who had recently had an abortion dreamed this in the nondesire section: "Someone who was vaguely familiar was grieving for an infant, but was displaying superficial pathos rather than the true emotion." The implied message was that she felt unresolved inner grief which she should try to experience consciously, and not doing so would be undesirable.

After her mother had died a woman dreamed this at the beginning of a dream: "My father had died and my mother was still alive. I was with her in the kitchen at the farm. I was attempting to console her. Somehow I was at peace with her." I offered the following interpretation to the dreamer. "The dream was indicating you'd love the scenario in which your father had died instead of your mother and you could console her about his death. You probably have positive memories about being with her in the kitchen at the farm. It seems apparent, though, that your relationship with your mother wasn't usually serene, although you would have loved for it to be so. Was the feeling in the dream of being at peace with her opposite to what you typically felt while she was alive?" It seemed as if a feeling of relief crossed over the woman's face. "Dreams are curious things," she said. "You can't keep any secrets from them."

Questions And Answers About Dream Interpretation

Q. Sometimes I'm aware in my dreams that I'm dreaming. Do those plots follow the same emotional sequence as other dreams?

A. Yes, and so those lucid dreams (as they are called) are analyzed in the usual way. Two examples follow. A woman dreamed this in the last half of a dream: "Suddenly I realized I was dreaming. Since it was a dream I could do whatever I wanted. So I began a strip-tease dance until I was naked from the waist up. Then I said to the men present, 'Now which one of you sorry sons of bitches wants to marry this lovely creature?'" The strip-tease dance in the nondesire section was not undesirable to the dreamer. What was undesirable was the awareness that she was dreaming and therefore her dance was not happening outside of the dream. In other words, she wanted to act in that uninhibited way in real life but felt she couldn't. Her words in the hatred section reveal a resentment she felt toward men and also show that she wanted to get married in spite of that resentment. We see that her dream, despite her awareness in it that she was dreaming, was about basic, down-to-earth feelings.

A man on a business trip dreamed in a love section that he was back at home. In the hatred section he realized he was dreaming and wasn't at home after all. That lucid dreaming was a means of revealing that he hated being away from home.

Q. What causes nightmares?

A. Inescapable anxiety or fear certainly can be one source of nightmares. Yet perhaps the most typical reason is that the dreamer isn't adapting well to reality and the inner self becomes upset about that and produces a nightmare as deliberate punishment. The inner intention is that the dreamer will be alerted by the nightmare, think about the dream plot, identify the incorrect adaptation, and realize the need to change. A man dreamed the following in the last half of a dream: "I wasn't trying to improve the poor relationship I had with my girlfriend. Then I was attacked by a gang of criminals. They were hitting me and the only way I could escape was by awakening. But I couldn't awaken and they continued to hit me." The dreamer admitted that he and his girlfriend had been drifting apart at that time and yet their problems were solvable. So he'd been neglectful about that important aspect of his life and the nightmare was the result.

Even children can upset the person within and suffer nightmares due to inner retribution. A girl taking a trigonometry class dreamed this in the last half of a dream: "A disciplinarian chased me into a giant math book. I was trapped inside that book. Sines and cosines were chasing me." The girl said she had that dream at a time when she hadn't opened her math book for over two weeks. That failure to study is presumably why she dreamed that scary plot.

Nightmares or unpleasant dreams won't always be that way because the dreamer has done something wrong, though. On some occasions the inner self has to present a grim message about the dreamer's environment. For example, a woman who worked at a day-care center dreamed in the late-middle section of her dream that a child was deformed but only she could see that. After awakening she wondered why she'd dreamed that distressing scenario. Questioning brought forth the information that some of the children at the day-care center had emotional and developmental problems which were obvious to the dreamer. Other staff seemed not to notice the children's problems, though, and she couldn't help the children overcome their difficulties all by herself. That combination of undesirable elements resulted in the dream plot which was virtually a nightmare.

Some nightmares occur because of an inner feeling that is appalling to the dreamer's conscious self. A woman was babysitting in her home for her grandson. He pulled the cat's tail, broke her best vase, and misbehaved in other ways as well. That night a dream of her's became a nightmare. She saw her grandson in the dream ending. He wasn't performing any hateful action in the dream, but nevertheless she moaned twice, audibly, as she saw him. What was disturbing to her? The assumption is that after she saw his image in her dream's hatred section she immediately realized that she hated him. She didn't want to feel that way and so that ungrandmotherly emotion horrified her.

The intuitive understanding of dream content which that dream illustrates tends to vanish as the dreamer awakens. The conscious dream interpreter can't rely on instincts or intuitions, and instead must turn to rational analysis.

Q. I told a psychoanalyst I had dreamed about the death of someone who was alive, and he said I had a death wish toward that person. Is that true?

A. Not necessarily. In fact, such a statement stands an approximately fifty percent chance of being untrue. If one dreams within the first half of a dream about the death of a living person then the chances are high the dreamer feels a genuine death wish toward him or her. But dreaming within the last half of a dream about a living person's death instead suggests the dreamer doesn't want that outcome to occur. A woman dreamed: "My married cousin living in South Africa was killed along with her husband in some type of bombing. My aunt and uncle were there trying to clean up the mess and arrange to have my cousin's three small children brought back to this country. There was some sort of problem with the government there and they were not able to bring the children home." The death of the dreamer's cousin and her husband occurred in the love section, so the dreamer evidently wished for their deaths. The remainder of the dream suggests why she had that wish. It would be desirable if her aunt and uncle tried to bring the children back, undesirable if there were obstacles which interfered with that goal, and the dreamer would hate it if the children could not be brought home. It becomes clear the dreamer had hostile feelings toward the children's parents for raising them in a foreign country.

A woman reported she had dreamed as a girl of 11: "It was night and there was a full moon. I was walking in the woods. I came upon some garbage cans. Then I saw my brother's body lying dismembered in one of the garbage cans." The woman said that a month after she had that dream her brother was stabbed to death. Naturally, she wondered if her inner self had known of that in advance. "When I had that dream," she asked me, "did I know deep inside that my brother would die?" It was a question I couldn't answer. I could only tell her that her brother's death occurred in her dream's hatred section and therefore was something she hated.

Q. Is there any way to prove that dreams follow the love-desire-nondesire-hatred pattern?

A. There doesn't seem to be any convincing way to do so by using statistics. It all falls back on you to decide whether your dreams seem to make sense in relation to the theories you've now read. I'd wish you good luck in analyzing your dreams, but you can rely on rational analysis instead. All of the following seems likely to happen. You'll be able to understand the vast majority of your dreams which you analyze. You'll find insights in your dreams to help you get back on the right tracks if you've consciously gone astray. You'll realize that your dreams reflect qualities such as intelligence, benevolence, and resourcefulness while focusing on personal topics which are important to you. But don't take my word for it. See what messages your dreams have for you.

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