Table of Contents:
Section 1: Primitive, Paranoid – Schizoid Dreams (1 – 4)
Section 2: Mom’s Body Dreams (5 – 9)
Section 3 – The Bad Self and the Death Instinct (10 – 12)
Section 4 – Narcissistic Personality Organization / Self Sufficiency Dreams (13 – 19)
Section 5: Omnipotence, Denial of Reality, and Projection of Responsibility Dreams (20 – 23)
Section 6 – Schizoid Withdrawal Dreams (24)
Section #7: Dreams Prominently Featuring Unconscious Envy (25 – 27)
Section 8: Manic Defense (Against Depressive Anxiety and Guilt) Dreams (27 – 29)
Section 9: Oedipal Dreams (31 – 33)
Section 10: Sibling Rivalry Dreams (34 – 36)
Section 11: Dreams From the Psychotic Part of the Personality (37 – 41)
Section 12: Dreams Struggling with the Depressive Position (42 – 45)
Section 13: View of Therapy (Transference) Dreams (46 – 48)
Section 14: Dreams at the Threshold of Old Age
There are several points that I would wish to have the reader keep in mind while going through these dream examples:
First, these dream categories are very arbitrary. All of the dreams in each category could fit in other categories to varying degrees. I have put them in specific categories with the hope that they give a flavor of certain types of dreams, how one might think about them, and the concepts they might exemplify.
Secondly, confidentiality and space limitations make it difficult with some dreams to give sufficient information to make the dream’s understanding more detailed and thoroughly explained. I am not trying to give a “convincing” explanation to the reader. Dream interpretation is too much a product of the unique, intimate relationship between therapist and patient to lend itself to that sort of conviction. What I do hope for is that the reader will take the time to “bathe” himself or herself with a number of dreams to gradually have a broader feel for this type of thinking about dreams.
My final point is probably the most important one. Dream interpretation is arguably the most difficult thing an analyst/therapist can try to do. It takes years of clinical experience, a broad familiarity with a wide range of models for understanding the primitive workings of the mind and its emotionality, and a lot of imagination. No two experienced and competent therapists would ever come up with exactly the same interpretation of a dream. However, each interpretation would have the potential to grow the patient.
You may or may not agree with my specific approach to a given dream, but I hope the discussions expand your own way of thinking about dreams.
[Please note that I have numbered all of the dreams in this case book in continuous fashion so that they can be referred back to in other parts of MKA as Dream Case Book #…]
Section 1: Primitive, Paranoid – Schizoid Dreams:
Dream #1: “I’m in the mountains in France – like WWII. My patrol goes into this mountain house – it reminds me of a ski chalet in Mammoth with stairs going up the front – I find those houses particularly appealing. We moved in and were living inside, had the lights on, etc. I go outside and see the village which is half empty because many have evacuated. I walking around and suddenly realize the large house next door has been taken over by a bunch of Nazi soldiers. I run back into our house and tell the guys that the Germans have taken over the house next door and we’ve got to grab our stuff and leave or we will all be killed. But they’ve turned into a bunch of babies – they have taken off their uniforms, etc. and are eating cheese whiz. I decide I have to leave them because I have to defend myself. As I am going into the woods I hear the Germans shooting and killing the guys. I kill a deer as I’m escaping and I’m collecting green wood and putting it into a backpack that I will need. I’m pulling the deer over the snow and making little fires to smoke bits of it to eat as I go. I finally get to the top of the hill and can see the bad guys off to one side and the good guys off to the other and I feel safe.”
Comment: This dream is simultaneously well organized but highly persecutory and omnipotent. It has an extreme degree of violence that is kept in control by a highly separated and split distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. But there are no good parents around, only “babies”, bad guys, and his highly omnipotent, self-sufficient part of self. Mother, in the form of the deer that he drags around, was in reality extremely passive but nurturing in a very rudimentary manner. He can only achieve peace by extremely obsessional splitting maneuvers, keeping dad and mom widely apart, but a price of great persecution. His understanding of proper adultness is missing, and his own violent urges have been split off and projected violently into the outside world, perhaps at the most primitive level into daddy’s penis as personified by German soldiers.
Dream #2: “I was a five year old girl, Tim is going to molest me in Mary’s room. Mary comes in with her Boa constrictor that has a huge mouth (holds up arms to make two foot diameter circle) and it will swallow up and kill Tim.”
Comment: The thirty something woman, who had been in therapy for less than one year when she had this dream, was very concrete, limited in life experience, and awkward in relationships. She tended to project any uncomfortable states of mind, most commonly distributing them into family and girlfriends, occasionally co-workers. Mary is the patient’s older sister and Tim is her boss at work who she consciously envies and toward whom she is privately denigrating.
The dream has a rather blunt, unsophisticated quality of “If you do this to me, I’ll do that to you”. Even though the word “molest” is in the dream, the dream has more of an “infantile” quality than a sexual one, with “big mouths” that “swallow up” to engulf and kill someone if they become a threat. One gets a vague feeling that this was the patient’s view of sexuality, and her parent’s relationship in particular, when she was five years old, and it has probably changed very little since.
I took the dream up at the level of relationships between men and women, saying that I thought she tended to see those relationships as competitive and adversarial rather than loving and supportive. I added that she had recreated that adversarial quality of relationship at work with her boss, in her own private phantasies. We got into a discussion later in the session about her family of origin and her competitiveness with her dad for her mom’s attention, as well as her viewing her parents as having no love between them, when in reality, as far as I could tell, they clearly loved each other even though they argued a fair amount.
I did not have time it that session to take up the dream at the level of the transference relationship with me. The emotional intensity seemed focused on understanding the idea that she tends to see and expect all relationships to be dominated by negative feelings rather than positive ones. However, I felt that all of that would have to be revisited with respect to our relationship, which she clearly kept idealized.
I felt that idealization was partly motivated to keep us from molesting or swallowing up each other, or deteriorating into a competitive, denigrating bad couple (as I suspected was her deeply unconscious internal view of her parents). I also felt the idealization was a way of holding onto something “good” in the face of her doubt that anything good would ever come her way (as her relationship to her mom had been inadequately loving on a consistent basis).
Dream #3: “It was my teeth and they were all jagged with pieces missing.”
Comment: This is a very common type of dream that usually leaves the dreamer awakening in a state of dread, as if everything in life has disintegrated and is ruined. The emphasis in this horrible state of mind may be one of feeling hopelessly damaged and wondering if this can ever be fixed. Alternately, the bad mood may emphasize how it will look to others with intense embarrassment and shame.
In either case, teeth are one of the baby’s first developments that have the potential for being used constructively (i.e. for chewing) or destructively (for biting). They are scary when they first arrive because they hurt, but they also become a source of pride because one is getting what the “grown-ups” have. Thus they have the capacity to represent growth and development, narcissistic pride, and/or aggression, all in one compact bit of symbolic imagery.
In the case of this patient, who tended to be frightened of his aggression and envious competitiveness, I took up the dream as him struggling with an urge to attack everyone. That mood had arisen as a product of not getting the raise at work that he had anticipated. I said that at a baby level he felt like “biting everyone’s head off”, including me for not suffering with him (I had given him his monthly bill the day before so in effect I was getting his “raise”). He was now being attacked back by his “teeth falling out”, turning him back into an ugly baby (he hated feeling like a disgusting, “shitted up” baby).
I took these points up in our relationship (transference) by asking if he was aware of feeling at times that “I bit off his head” or if he ever felt like “biting off” mine. We ended up in a discussion in which it became clear that he felt that either he or I was feeling critical of the other more often than I would have imagined.
He ultimately felt some relief when the discussion lead to the idea that he was afraid to be a fully potent man, lest it provoke one or the other of us to “tear up” the other, as if there were concretely room for only one person to possess a potent penis. His relief seemed to be a product of the hope that it would be okay for him to grow up to be a man also, emotionally speaking.
Dream #4: “I was being chased by the Predator and I see a girl on the rocks below and then I see a man under the water – just there for a really long time, staying stationary. I jump off – shoot down into the water, then go further than the guy was. I see rocks below me, the floor of the ocean – I could touch it – around one foot away. I see the guy starting up. I follow him. I start spinning in the water – feel I’m not going to make it. I keep swimming up- and the next thing, I do make it. I take a deep breath and then get onto the rocks. And then the guy who was under water says something like, “You did a pretty good job – you go further than I ever did.” I say there’s this thing that is chasing me and he says “ya I know – he’s chasing everybody”. And then – I forget what else happens, but then something else happens and we have to run away and a whole bunch of people are trying to escape this – the monster, the Predator. Then that’s pretty much it.”
Comment: This dream feels very primitive, concrete, omnipotent, life reduced to “scary monster versus good guy”. But the dream also has a sweet side to it, boy saves girl, man works with man and they even give each other compliments and reassurance.
I chose to emphasize the transference relationship to me, saying that we seemed to be working well together, going under the surface of his unconscious inner world, and surviving, even feeling good about it. But we still had work to do on a very scary side to his feelings, embodied in the Predator image. I said that it linked to his most violent baby feelings, which we knew he had historically projected into his rather explosive (but not actually mean) father, which he was going to have to face and own, but which still seemed too dangerous to fully embrace. I said that we could expect them to be recreated between us in our relationship, and we could keep an eye out for any times when one of us was feeling mean toward the other.
Section 2: Mom’s Body Dreams
Dream #5: “I had a crazy dream last night – It was Dorothy and Todo. I came out of a door at some place. There were two doors, one was Verona and one had Babbs (her mother’s nickname) on it. A teenage girl with short reddish hair takes me out on some sort of guided tour – like on a trip. We go into a place (outside a large auditorium like building) which fills up with people who poke and prod and harass me. I try to drive away but then an auditorium empties out (she associates it to Radio City Music Hall in New York) and a crowd of people block my driving and harass me further. I end up back at the two doors and as I try to decide which door to go through – I remember that I came through the Verona door. But just as I start to go toward it a young woman comes out of it and vomits violently. A liquid spews out across the room so I immediately go through the Babbs door and – you’ll like this – I’m in a tube like a water slide – going in a somewhat thick fluid and I’m pleased to see I can breath and I say to myself ‘I never got to do this before’ [she was a C-section] so I’ll enjoy it and I’ll get to see what it is like. Then I end up in a larger pool of warm water and I enjoy it but I stay in the water breathing under the surface.”
Comment: This patient was an emergency C-section because her mother had toxemia and the infant began to show signs of fetal distress. She and her mother had difficulty bonding in the first few days but ultimately it all was worked out. The patient tended to be shy, and quite attached to her mother growing up.
This dream, early in her treatment, seemed to suggest that life had two choices, be “star crossed lovers” like Romeo and Juliet (the Verona door), where the world is against you and you must ultimately die, or stay fused together and allow nothing to ever change. One can see how her experience of birth, which apparently felt like an overload of stimuli attacking her from all sides (a crowd in frenetic New York City), contributed to her shyness and preference for staying close to mom. When her mom was preoccupied or upset, perhaps depicted by the girl who vomits and cannot be a good “container” (probably her baby “self” projected into and then confused with mom), then the patient apparently felt growing up that she had no choice but to take matters into her own hands and get “unborn” back inside mom.
There is a distinct transference element in this dream, bringing a dream that is very “Kleinian”, that would please me (“you’ll like this..”), with my good little girl’s creation. This dream remained, as one might imagine, a pivotal dream which we revisited many times over the course of her treatment.
Dream #6: “I drive by a building – it is beautiful, it has exquisite apartments with an arch with the name ‘Heavenly Vision’ and I go into an underground parking and see a girlfriend and her boyfriend. Then a man is chasing people and I run. Next door is a men’s prison.”
Comment: This is an interesting dream illustrating a number of elements. It starts with an enviable, idealized vision of mom’s body, a wonderful place to be if you can get back in. This male patient had a very unsatisfactory relationship with his narcissistic mom and aloof dad. He had kept his parents widely split apart in his inner world view of them. This was recreated in a marriage where he was secretly quite denigrating of his wife, who was very attractive, but had turned out to also be aloof. He was chronically feeling angry and deprived, and he masturbated with very hostile phantasies toward women.
This dream laid out the anatomy of his masturbatory activities. He sees the desirable mom/wife (the “beautiful” building with “exquisite” apartments) as something he simultaneously idealizes and holds in envious contempt. “Heavenly Vision” is an expression of this mocking of the positive aspects of this mom/wife representation, as the concept of heaven is something which he does not believe exists and he holds religious people in contempt.
Notice he enters the building through an underground parking structure. This could represent entering mom’s body from the front side (i.e. genital) or the back side (i.e. anus). When I asked, the patient had no idea if it was the front or the back of the building as he “didn’t notice” which, but he did think the boyfriend and girlfriend were probably teenagers in high school.
My interpretation to him was that when he felt especially left out of all of the “heavenly” good stuff that anyone had, a part of him felt that he could make it for himself by masturbating. Then he could become a completely self-sufficient little couple (the boyfriend and girlfriend probably “making out”, which was his association) and not need anyone else. He was already familiar with the idea of masturbation and self-sufficiency, so in a sense this was old news.
What was not yet understood by him was that when he masturbated, he was also invading mom’s body out of frustration and envy. This resulted in a feeling of “stealing” the mom and dad’s sexual relationship, and displacing dad, who then became a hostile, retaliatory figure, the “man chasing people”.
As the paranoid anxieties become nightmarish at this point, one can see the deterioration of his inner world from life in a world of “Heavenly Vision” apartments, to a “men’s prison”. While I would suspect that the men’s prison represents his hostile exile of dad away from mom, perhaps to his own anus, all I said to the patient was that there was a lot more hostile, cruelty in his masturbatory activities than he realized, and it risked turning all relationships into mean, controlling prisons rather than constructive places for growth. I added that we would probably at times see the same quality in our relationship, me being mean to him or vice versa.
Dream #7: “It felt like a birth dream – a magical quality. I was with several people, one was like a mom at my son’s school – she is one the healthiest moms at the school but she looked kind of butch in the dream. We got small – we shrank – going into a tunnel going somewhere, secret and special, kind of elf like. A big man is trying to follow us. He is kind of wizardy – had a beard – was a cross between a street person and a wizard. He had robes on – was kind of magical. We heard him yelling and told him he couldn’t come.”
Association: “It really reminded me of going back to the womb. We didn’t want the grown- up to come.”
Comment: As one might imagine from the dream, this is a woman who is prone to consciously idealize relationships, and try to keep negative feelings at bay, usually split off entirely from conscious awareness. Her infancy had not gone well, but her rather shallow mother was decent after she got the hang of parenting, albeit a bit mechanical. The father was equally shallow and prone to professorial aloofness.
We can see her preference for an idealized version of life in the “magical quality”, “..healthiest moms”, being able to back inside a “secret and special” place, and a “wizardy” man who is “kind of magical”. Her focus in thinking about the dream was on these pleasant elements, the essence of which could be thought of as the idealized phantasy of being able to become an “unborn inside baby”.
But the dream also has elements which belie secret hostility and contempt which she keeps split off from conscious awareness. These went unacknowledged by the patient until I pointed out the enviably healthy mom is “kind of butch” and the enviable, wizard dad is also a “street person”, i.e. pathetic and homeless.
I chose to take up this dream in the transference, as it occurred the week before my vacation. I said that I thought the dream was a way of avoiding any negative feelings about being left by me while I go on vacation. She could get rid of feeling “left out” by just getting “unborn back inside some magical place”, reverse the situation, and then I could become a “left out, homeless, street person”. She didn’t much like this interpretation, although she did say that the mom at school looked like what she imagined my wife would look like. We left it at that for that session.
In the following session I had an opportunity to come back to the dream, as she was complaining about feeling distant from her husband. I said that it might link back to the dream in which the father figure is exiled into homelessness, not allowed to go along with her back inside mom, and that mom is thus made into a lesbian who doesn’t like men, “kind of butch” in her dream. I said that if those images represented an attack on my relationship with my wife, splitting us apart, then “water can’t rise above its source”, so how could she be allowed to have a loving relationship with her husband.
I could not resist adding that if she did not let dad “come”, she could not only keep mom and dad split apart, but she could also prevent any siblings from being born. She didn’t like any of these ideas but she acknowledged that they seemed to fit the dream and how it felt.
Dream #8: “…I was living in some room off the stairwell of your office, I would come and go as I pleased and you didn’t realize I was living there…”
Comment: This patient had slept in the parent’s bedroom for her first two years of life. She was only moved out, under great protest, when a sibling was born. She was a very cooperative patient, let me do all of the thinking for her, paid early and was always grateful for my help, but never grew an inch in the first two years of treatment. It was only after I learned in supervision about “unborn inside babies” that we made progress and she began to have many dreams like the one above.
Dream #9: “There is a hospital room with a woman who has had the front of her chest torn off on one side. In another room is a baby with one side of its face missing. It was really upsetting to look at. That seems like a really weird dream.”
Comment: This adult woman had been breast fed for two months when her well-meaning mother abruptly stopped the feeding and switched to a bottle because her pediatrician had said the baby was not gaining enough weight. We came to recognize that as a baby she must have felt very attached to her mother’s breasts, that the breast feeding was going satisfactorily, and that the weaning was a catastrophic “tearing apart” of that union. The patient, who was morbidly shy, had no conscious knowledge of this weaning until it came up in the transference and in her dreams, and she then asked her mother about her early history which confirmed our impressions.
Section #3 – The Bad Self and the Death Instinct
Dream #10: A patient who had been in therapy for a couple of weeks had the following dream: “I had a weird dream last night. I was holding a gun in my hand and noticed there was writing on the side of it. I looked very closely at it and noticed it said ‘Shoot yourself’.” The patient had no particular reaction or feelings about the dream other than to say it was strange.
Comment: In contrast, I had a very strong reaction. I thought it represented a strong suicidal element in the patient’s personality. The patient was actually quite depressed. I insisted that we meet daily, adjusted my fee to fit what the patient could afford, and saw the patient at the end of each day as an add on as I had only two open times we could use during my regular schedule. The patient was cooperative, relieved, and ended up in a successful long term analysis.
Dream #11: “I see a fairly large, black bug flying in the house and realize it is a termite (patient had seen termites swarming that week after a rain) and looking for a place to crawl into some wood and I want to kill it before it can get into some inaccessible space and do damage. I grab it in a paper towel and try to smash it with my fingers and I realize it is full of termite babies that are crawling out and seem too hard to crush to kill with my fingers. I’m afraid they will escape and I wonder if I can put the piece of towel in the garbage disposal and grind them up before they escape.”
Comment: To me this is a really interesting and very rich dream that could be taken in a number of different directions. At one level it is about babies, on the inside or outside of mother’s body. At another level it could be taken up regarding thoughts, both good and bad, where they end up within one’s mind or personality, and what the result is for personality stability and growth. On that level it could also include a transference component as regards the therapist’s and patient’s impact on each other and how they are going about doing it (i.e. invading or destroying each other’s thoughts or possessions).
What I wish to take up, because it was more to the point of my discussion with this patient, was the problem of having “split off” his destructive urges to such a degree that he was really quite out of touch with them and thus his own behavior which was quite problematic at times, mostly in a self-destructive manner.
He came from a large family and harbored very ambivalent feelings toward his mother who was a decent person but, as the patient said, “…spread way too thin by the time I came around”. To me the dream conveys the dilemma for a baby as to where it places the “bad” part of itself and all of its attendant murderous feelings (i.e. toward a mom and all her babies who interfere with the patient/baby getting its fair share).
In this case it seems that his bad self, and the bad version of mom that would be the object of so much resentment, are “split-off” simultaneously, as a paired relationship (the mother termite with his “destructive self” equated with babies inside her that will eat up his home). One can readily see the confusion that ensues. Is mom good or bad, are his siblings for him or against him, is he bad for resenting mom and his siblings, etc.
As a general rule, Kleinian therapy aims to reduce the width of splits between good and bad elements in the personality, with an eye toward a more stable, integrated character structure. With that in mind, I took up with him an interesting dilemma. Termites, like so many creatures in nature, are just trying to do what they are instinctively programmed to do to survive. They don’t have harm to others as their motivation, even though they can do great damage.
By extension, the patient and his many siblings were once babies who didn’t ask to be made, but ended up having a greater totality of needs than his two parents could meet without resulting in some deprivation. I said that he had understandable frustration, resentment, even envious hatred toward mom and his siblings, but that those feelings were felt to be a threat to his loving relationships, and so he had to get rid of them. The problem was that he couldn’t really get rid of those feelings. It was wishful to imagine having gotten rid of that part of himself with its angry, hurt, destructive urges. They had come “swarming” back at family events, or is this case, the week of his birthday, and the attempts to deny them had contributed to his life-long predisposition to depression
Furthermore, I added that the dream suggested that in order to kill off a bad part of himself, or the bad versions of mom and siblings, he was actually then also taking with them good versions of himself, mom, and siblings (because no such real division could be made between bad and good parts since they were, in reality, aspects of one and the same person, whether it be self, mom, or sibling).
This patient’s situation, as depicted in this dream, demonstrates the problem of too wide a split in the task of bringing order to its world via “splitting-and-idealization” in early infancy (i.e. Klein’s “paranoid-schizoid position”). It may be necessary to keep good and bad very far apart (i.e. good and bad aspects or parts of self and object) to survive infancy, but it makes the task of bring those splits back together in the middle of the first year of life, so that one can have a more accurate, integrated view of reality (i.e. Klein’s “depressive position”), a great deal more difficult.
His predisposition to depression could be thought of as largely related to his hurt, angry, envious, jealous feelings being disowned at too great a distance for him to do the work of bringing them back so that they could be modified by insight, and his capacity for “love” could be more firmly established as the core of his personality, counterbalancing his human, inevitable, negative feelings.
Dream #12: “I had a funny dream last night. I’m hitch hiking and I get in a car with a guy who sort of looks like Dennis Hopper from “Easy Rider”. He asks if I want a ‘hit’ from his cigarette and I say no I don’t smoke. We end up in some part of Mexico and I am thinking I will have to call in sick to work tomorrow. There was more to it but I can’t remember it.”
Association: “I wonder if this has anything to do with Jill (a younger employee at work) sending an email invitation that Meredith (his boss) told me about inviting her to Jill’s baby shower (Jill is pregnant and due in a few months).”
Comment: Patient is the second of five in his family of origin, in his fifties, and never married. He goes on to talk about work and does not go back to the dream. After about ten minutes I start to feel irritated that he has just dumped the dream in my lap and giving me no help or showing any interest in it when it is actually a rich sounding dream.
I mention to him that he seems to have lost interest in the dream and is leaving it up to me to think about it. Since I had a summer vacation looming, I wondered if he felt abandoned by me, as if my vacation was me going off to have a baby.
Later in the session we had a profitable discussion about how alone he often felt in life, and how when in that state of mind, he would go out on his back porch and have a cigarette even though he “didn’t smoke”. This would usually happen on weekends.
We came back to this “Easy Rider” dream a number of times as it compactly conveyed his rage at his mother making so many babies, leaving him abandoned, forcing him to turn to his own bottom (Mexico) and feed himself shit (cigarettes), and let the death instinct – who care about life or anything – part of himself take over and run his life, with his murderous urges split off (the guys who kill the Jack Nicholson character in the movie).
On a more subtle level I think this dream depicts a “narcissistic personality organization” component to his inner world that has undermined his growth over the years. It is as if he is chronically playing “hooky” from life by taking the “easy rider” way out, leaving all responsibility for caring about growth up to analyst/bosses while he calls in sick.
Section 4 – Narcissistic Personality Organization / Self Sufficiency Dreams
Dream #13: “I saw a woman who looked like a working class woman, perhaps a maid. She might have been foreign. She had very thick cake make-up, large breasts, and I decided to flirt with her. After a while she seemed more interested and turned into a tall, slim, beautiful woman. We went around a corner and were going to have sex and I woke up.”
Comment: The essence of a “narcissistic personality organization” is the idea of avoiding being vulnerable to any painful baby states of mind. This means avoiding feeling small, helpless, needy, dependent, etc. The “envious, omnipotent, know-it-all, destructive, self-sufficient, bad part of self” promises to the “good baby parts of self” that it will keep them invulnerable to these baby pains. To achieve this, no one in the outside world is ever to be truly loved and needed, because this would then subject one to potential loss, etc. If one allows love for a living human, it is “precariously uncertain that they will go on living”, even if they promise to always love you and never leave you, so love must be squelched.
The resultant solution is that to remain invulnerable to mental pain, one must create a world that prevents one from ever entering into the sphere of loving relationships. The “hallmark” of a “narcissistic personality organization” is therefore that all people are treated as “things”, merely extensions of oneself, to be used as long as they are useful, and discarded when they are no longer useful, or become a source of pain.
This dream perfectly depicts a narcissistic type of relationship. The person is devalued from the beginning, inferior to the patient (“working class”, “maid”, “thick cake make-up”), only valued as a part object (i.e. “large breasts” and a vagina to be used as a seminal repository). Once safely controlled by the devaluation, the patient can allow a desire for a “tall, slim, beautiful woman” to be acknowledged.
While consciously a pleasant dream to the patient, it is actually quite a bit more disturbed and ominous than one might think at first blush, if one just takes it as a “wishful phantasy”. The ominous elements, as I see them, are a rather vicious devaluation of women and a delusional idealization of his own anus and its contents.
I took the dream to be about anal masturbation in which he can turn an ugly, “cake make-up” stool, and his smooth round buttocks (i.e. “large breasts”), into a beautiful slim woman with whom to have sex (going “around the corner” to bimanual masturbation). This idea may seem harsh to some but this man was actually constantly remarking about how his anus itched and he had to scratch it, and then felt compelled to smell his fingers.
Although in his forties, he had never married and was actually rather frightened of women, worried about premature ejaculation, and occasionally was unable to achieve an erection. It was not surprising to me that if he was unconsciously very envious of women, secretly hostile and spoiling of them, he would be unable to imagine safely having a loving relationship with them.
My interpretation to him in that session was that I thought a relationship with anyone that was proper and equal was too scary to allow himself to be that vulnerable, there was too much risk of being hurt. Therefore, he felt that it is was safer to have total control over someone inferior to himself, but that it left him unsatisfied and alone.
I imagined that the same problem would occur with me, i.e. that it would be hard to allow me to become important to him. It would be better to turn to his own body and its products, which were always available, and never more than “an arms-length away”.
We spent years trying to dissect apart his masturbatory attachment to his own anus which was slow arduous work, as he had so little connection to his mom originally, so little belief in any goodness in relationships, and our work was consistently undermined by any separation disrupting his treatment relationship to me which was just about all he had in life, aside from his anus.
Dream #14: “The mafia or someone was after me and I went to a restaurant with two women and Harvey Keitel. He said that I was sitting in a vulnerable position or place. I felt protected and taken care of by him. And there was this sexual attraction between us that I felt.”
Comment: This patient associated to HK, the actor, as a man who plays very strong figures who can do anything and can protect you, but can be a “little scary”. At the most straightforward level, this dream suggests that life out in the world is a dangerous place with lots of anxiety about being safe. That would be a simple beginning comment to make about the dream. HK fits in to that world. He could easily represent a good guy or a bad guy.
If we go deeper into the dream, we might ask ourselves several questions. Why is it taking place in a restaurant, why are two non-descript women there, and why is a sexual attraction to HK mentioned?
This is where dream interpretation gets into the idea that dreams are written by the baby core of the personality, which often sees things at a very primitive, “part object” level. If one were to make an interpretation of the manifest content, one might say that when this patient feels persecutory anxiety (e.g. “someone wants to hurt me”), her reaction is to get inside mom’s restaurant body, with the two breasts (the two women) and daddy’s penis (HK) there, and imagine she is being taken care of by the daddy/penis.
Let us add a comment by her that she had too much to drink the night before she had the dream, and had been offered cocaine by a girlfriend. She had declined the cocaine but had previously used it to a dangerous degree of becoming dependent on it. She had also recently broken up with a boyfriend. With all of that in mind, I felt that the dream was describing an urge to turn to an omnipotent, masturbatory, self-sufficient state of mind (i.e. getting inside, HK as her protector, and the air of sexual excitement) in the face of her current distressing life situation. But I also felt that she sensed at some level that this is precariously close to the mafia’s “underworld”, and there is precious little difference between HK as a protector and HK as a bad guy and potential persecutor.
I said to her that the dream suggested that she was feeling very alone and in need of protection, but rather confused about how to achieve safety. I added that she was aware at some level that her past approaches were too dangerously close to being very destructive to her mental health, and physical safety (i.e. drug use), and that the dream suggested that she was afraid she might go back to them (i.e. drugs, manically compulsive sexuality, etc.).
She responded that when she got home and went to bed the night of the dream, she was starting to feel “depressed”. I commented that at some level she realized she was in danger of giving into confusion about what is good and what is bad, and then going back to allowing a destructive, bad part of herself take back control of her life.
Dream #15: “I was at my place, in the bedroom with Will Smith who was quite taken with me, I was naked, we were embracing on the bed, about to have sex, my roommate opened the door and looked surprised but I didn’t stop.”
Comment: This is a very context driven dream. At a surface level, who wouldn’t want to be with a handsome, charming movie star, and feel quite flattered if he was attracted to you. The fact that this is a very light complected black man, and the patient is caucasion, seems inconsequential if one is being politically correct.
But let’s go deeper after putting the dream in context. It occurred after she had a huge fight with your husband and it was the week before her analyst was going on vacation. Taken in that light, I interpreted that she was feeling abandoned by me, and furious with me, and to retaliate she was going to “turn away” from me to her own body and bodily products, to be self-sufficient, and not need me at all.
I said that she was going to hide the fact that she was turning to her own bottom and its products, to achieve this state, by representing it as a handsome, light skin colored black man so the “anal eating poop” quality could be easily rationalized. I said the roommate represented a sane part of her that was surprised that she was going back to this destructive state of mind, and approach, to her current situation.
Dream #16: “I’m having sex with a black woman who has a penis and I’m thinking the only place left for my husband is my anus, and that doesn’t sound pleasant, and I wonder how is he going to feel?”
Comment: This is the very same dream as the one above. It depicts being a self-sufficient couple (i.e. being both a woman and a man so that you can have sex with yourself). It also emphasizes a hostile state of mind toward her husband who is left out and probably is containing the “left out” baby part of self, that has been projected into him. The woman being “black” again suggests anal omnipotence as a means of having a “stool/penis” and not needing anyone else.
What is more emphasized in this dream, compared with the one above (where there is only a vague reference to a roommate looking “surprised”), is a feeling of concern for her husband and his feelings. One could imagine that this is a dream of a patient who is less narcissistic and has a greater capacity for empathy for another person. Alternately, it might suggest that this patient is further along in treatment, which was actually the case.
[It is worth noting that in this kind of “narcissistic, self-sufficiency dream”, instead of becoming a couple with oneself (i.e. vagina or mouth and penis at a “part object” level, or man and woman at a whole object level as in this dream), it is very common for the dream to depict “twins”, in the sense of two emotionally equivalent parts of self, at the same age, “joining or twinning up” together so as to not need anyone else. See the next dream below.]
Dream #17: “I was parked on a street in front of a flower store to buy a dozen roses for my wife. I decided to make sure the trunk was not messed up so I could possibly put them there. As I was getting rid of the junk in the trunk – I found an old [marijuana cigarette] wrapped in aluminum foil. I said to myself “I don’t need this anymore, I’ll throw it away with the trash”. I walked over to the trash can to throw it away and I put it in. Just at that moment a black man appeared and began shooting at me, trying to kill me. I started running for my life. I woke up in a panic.”
Comment: This dream occurred at the tail end of a long analysis in which great effort had gone into dismantling a “narcissistic personality organization” linked to “anal omnipotence” as manifested by, among other things, chronic marijuana smoking which had been given up some years earlier. The patient was trying to preserve a loving relationship to the good family internally, and give up all destructive omnipotent maneuvers.
The dream graphically depicts the idea that the “bad” part of self feels it is being “murdered off” when the “good baby parts of self” turn toward goodness, the “adult” part self, and “good” parents internally and externally. The “bad part of self” starts shooting immediately as the marijuana joint is discarded in the trash, an act by the “adult self” that is tantamount to “killing off” the sphere of influence of the bad self, and the narcissistic personality organization.
Dream #18: “I can’t remember much of the dream except that I was being chased by a person who intended to kill me and I was trying to escape, running all over the place, in and out of buildings and stuff, but he kept finding me and chasing me. I woke up feeling depressed and wondering why I would have a dream like this when life is going so well. I haven’t done anything that I would feel bad about or paranoid or anything.”
Comment: The “bad self” is always threatened with a loss of its hegemony over the good baby parts of self when progress is being made in the therapy. Earlier in treatment, this dream would have the patient chased by a wild animal, a monster, an alien from outer space, etc.
Dream #19: “I’m on an island – people live nice comfortable lives on one side – but the other side over the mountains is forbidden, off-limits, dangerous. A pirate ship is marooned there and the water is shark infested or for some reason they can’t leave the ship. I’m curious to see what is on the other side of the mountain and a young woman agrees to take me to see what they are doing on the forbidden side. I see the ship in the water and row a boat out in the water which I can see is rat infested. As I get close to the boat I see that these are mean, violent guys who will kill me and so I turn the boat around and wake up.”
Comment: This dream vividly depicts a narcissistic personality organization. The patient had been making progress in his treatment for a year, had this dream, and then quit treatment a week later despite his therapist’s attempts to interpret a return to an old, destructive personality approach to life. What is interesting is the confusion of good and bad with a “young woman” essentially luring him to the dark side of life. The threat of brute force by the bad guys, if he betrays their influence in his personality, has him consciously turning around in the dream but in external reality he is knuckling under to the destructive bad part of self. His quitting treatment represents a return to the narcissistic personality organization that got him through his disturbed childhood. That organization is now threatened with extinction by the treatment and is therefore fighting for its life.
Section 5: Omnipotence, Denial of Reality, and Projection of Responsibility Dreams
Dream #20: “I had this really neat dream last night but it had an upsetting ending. I was flying in the air in this round sort of donut or inner tube type thing. I was really enjoying being able to see everything and go anywhere I wanted. But then I realized I had no way to get down, back to earth. I would have to turn the donut upside down in order to go down but I realized I would fall out then. I got really upset.”
Comment: I said in the dream course that “flying is never good”! It is conceivable that a patient could have a unique circumstance where the meaning of someone being able to fly on their own was not problematic. This dream, for this patient, is not one of them.
Flying almost always represents an “omnipotent” point-of-view, commonly linked to the wish not to be constrained by reality and gravity, as was the case in this dream. A not uncommon variation is that it represents seeing the world from the parent’s lofty point of view, sometimes even out of mother’s eyes, usually achieved by intrusion into her body in phantasy. Occasionally it has a link to death, expressing a phantasy of the soul (or its equivalent) leaving the body and the constraints of mortality.
In the case of this patient, the round donut stood for “anal omnipotence”, which was in abundant evidence everywhere in her life, in a fairly problematic manner. The dream was actually a product of the developing awareness of the difficulty she was going to have in giving up her omnipotent, grandiose approach to her life.
The phantasy that she could fly was a product of the “insane” aspect of her personality, and the realization that it put her in an untenable position, was a product of the “sane” part of her personality. What that realization was foreshadowing was a nascent recognition of how much her omnipotence pervaded her whole approach to life and how problematic that approach was to her well-being. We both felt that this dream was a positive sign, even though it was almost a nightmare.
Dream #21: “I was parked outside school, waiting to pick up my daughters. I was driving a really fancy convertible, like maybe an old Cadillac convertible, really big, and I had the top down. This next part is kind of weird. I was having a martini, sort of celebrating the new car. The girls came and got in and we drove home. My wife came out of the house onto the driveway and saw the martini glass I had left on the front seat. She went all crazy and I said chill out, I was just celebrating the new car, I am not drunk. I thought to myself, she is such a bitch, she spoils everything.”
Comment: This essentially manic dream denies all sorts of destructive urges and irresponsibility (driving his children while drinking) and projects all responsibility and blame into his “wife/mother” whom he provokes with the martini glass. He is completely out of touch with this while feeling the “excitement” of the Cadillac convertible.
We spent some time in the session focused on his denial of responsibility which seemed to put me increasingly into the position of “lecturing him” on his irresponsibility and provocativeness. I began to feel fairly irritated with him and realized I needed to take up this “process” between us in terms of his view of me as the container of a bad version of a parent who only criticized him and never saw life from his point of view.
As one might imagine, given the content of this dream, this man was capable of denying almost anything that he didn’t wish to face, and was in fact very good at provoking others into feeling states of mind that should have been his. Simultaneously, the dream hints at masturbatory activity that generates a mood of “excitement” while allowing him in unconscious phantasy to get inside a parental figure ( ..”really big”,.. “really fancy”, ..”old Cadillac”) and take over their identity. This dream hints at the possibility that it is “daddy’s penis” he is taking possession of, in order to then be able to get inside and possess the desirable mother “Cadillac”.
Dream #22: “I was at a farm-like place – small I think – I had just bought the place – I was with somebody else. There was a large dirt area the size of a pool – I needed to shovel the dirt out. I was surveying the thing and this other guy came over looking at the middle of the pool type thing and called my attention to a huge boulder I was going to have to get rid of – it weighed a couple of tons. The guy had a combination of grass clipper and electric razor – he said he could use the side extension blade for the rough stuff and I thought – ya ya – I’ve used it before. I thought there was shrubbery around the boulder to use it on – some was in front. The front of the boulder was a projection lamp or screen and I thought maybe I can cut the stuff in front.”
Comment: This is a difficult dream to think about without the use of the Kleinian models of projective processes, anal omnipotence, omnipotence as a potentiator of an “I can do it” state of mind, and an “analytic” model of the transference.
The arc of this dream’s emotional states seems to start with hopeful desire (i.e. for a farm/home/pool), followed by someone pointing out the obstacles to achieving those desires (i.e. dirt needing to be shoveled, the boulder needing to be moved, and shrubbery needing trimming), and ending with what I would describe as an “arrogant” state of mind (“ya ya – I’ve used it before, I can cut the stuff in front”).
Now this is where it all gets trickier. The person pointing out the main obstacle (i.e. the boulder) has a “combination grass clipper and electric razor”, clearly not suited for moving a boulder. The patient seems confident that he can do all that is needed himself, i.e. trim the shrubbery blocking the “projection lamp or screen”. One can surmise that the man in the dream is thinking the boulder needs removal but the patient is thinking at some level that all that is needed is to make the projector work.
So my interpretation to the patient was that the dream was about our relationship and his increasing recognition of our different approaches. I was felt to be making a big deal of his turning to his own bottom, imagining that he could make everything he needed including food and pleasurable sensations, and then feeling that he did not need me. I was felt to be saying that his turning to his own bottom was actually a huge obstacle to his growth (the boulder) and we were going to have to eliminate it.
But what he was really beginning to recognize as the biggest obstacle was the “projective processes” (i.e. the boulder is actually one giant projector) that he relied on so heavily. That he could project any unwanted state of mind out of himself, or he could “get inside” anyone and take possession of their desirable qualities whenever needed.
I said that it was wishful thinking that to do an analysis, all one had to do was alter (trim) how one’s hair looked, as if hair was the equivalent of states of mind. I added that I was felt to be taking away his “magical maneuvers”, which he had used all of his life, and a part of him didn’t like that at all.
What I felt was tricky was his concreteness which allowed a misuse of logic. It is not valid to say that states onf mind are in your head and hair comes out of your head so they must be the same. That bit of concrete confusion allowed him to say that states of mind can be modified by hair trimmers, which in turn resemble hedge/shrubbery trimmers, which he can use to then do his own analysis by going back to projecting anything he needs to get rid of. At some level he was beginning to recognize that this logic is “baby level” and irrational, but he also saw that it would be hard to give up.
Dream #23: “…I was walking along a ditch bank, not much water in the ditch, when I saw a coin in the mud. I bent over and reached down in the mud and pulled it out. I wondered if there were more and reached around in the mud and found a whole bunch of coins. I was really pleased and looked around to make sure no one else saw me and might try to take them if there were more there. I woke up in a really good mood.”
Comment: This is anal omnipotence personified, early in an analysis. The patient can make anything they want or need, with their own bottom, which is never more than an arm’s length away. What could be more joyous!
Section 6 – Schizoid Withdrawal Dreams
Dream #24: “I was high on a hill looking way below out to a body of water that goes off to the horizon as far as the eye can see. I notice a boat near shore – there is nothing on the deck – it’s just flat – the front and back look the same. Then I begin to realize there is a small child on it – I say to my wife – I wonder if that’s X [their child]. Then a huge wave washes over the boat and she is washed off the deck – I run down and dive into the water and get her and pull her to shore…”
Comment: This is the sort of dream that can be taken in many directions, all of which might have value, but it is difficult to know which to pursue without a context or association or emotion.
At face value, the dreamer is at some distance from the action (“high on a hill”) but with a panoramic view with often has a hint of seeing the world from a grown-ups point of view when compared to a baby’s short stature and limited perspective physically and emotionally. The scope of the view is vast and with a gigantic expanse of water that not infrequently seems to represent the unconscious inner world with its wide array of underwater, unconscious components including people and emotions of all shades.
When the dreamer brings his gaze closer to home he sees something very disturbing and immediately turns to his wife to ask if it is their child. That is followed by a giant wave and his heroics to save the child.
The context for this dream was that this was a rather emotionally aloof man who was married with a child who had a brief affair with a co-worker during his wife’s pregnancy, something about which his wife was unaware. He had become depressed and his wife had insisted that he go to therapy because his depression was not improving, and she assumed that he was ambivalent about being a father and staying married, both of which were true. He had this dream after his wife insisted on his seeking help and before our first session and reported it on the first session when I asked if he ever remembered dreams.
Our understanding of the dream had multiple levels that were explored many times over two years of treatment. The most straightforward one was that the wave represented his guilt over his destructive act (the affair) that threatened to harm his infant daughter.
At a characterological level it depicted his tendency to look off into the distance and remove himself from his own immediate internal situation. He had left it up to his wife their decade of marriage to “contain” the emotions for both of them hinted at by his asking in the dream if that was their child. I got the feeling that his “splitting off” his feelings made it difficult to know if he should “care” about a drowning child if it wasn’t their child.
At a genetic level the dream seemed to depict his ambivalence toward his younger sister who was only 14 months apart from him in age. I suspected that he must have had murderous ambivalence about her existence, represented by his willingness to wash her out of this life with a massive wave.
The most curious element in the dream is the boat that is ”…just flat…”, and “…the front and back look the same”. This depiction is significant because this man had been an avid sailor and knows a lot about boats. We came to feel that the flat deck represented his feeling that his mother was emotionally “flat” and that the front and back of her were treated as if they were the same in his mind. In parallel, he treated the front and back of his own body as if there was no difference, meaning that his poop and buttocks were no different than mother’s breasts and milk.
This latter idea seemed linked to his turning away from his mother, and his own emotions, leaving him fundamentally confused about which direction to go in life (the boat could go in either direction since front and back were the same).
The element in the dream germane to the transference relationship to me was that the turning to his wife to ask if it was their child suggested tome that he might tend to allow me to be responsible for all emotions and expect me to also contain the caring baby parts of himself, seeing the world through my eyes and not experiencing it through his own. This did not turn out not to be a particular problem as he seemed to have an honest aspect of himself that would accept the truth when it seemed to make sense.
Section #7: Dreams Prominently Featuring Unconscious Envy
Dream #25: “…I noticed a bump in the back of my hand and sqeezed it and all of a sudden bees started coming out of it and I was terrified they would start stinging me…”
Comment: When baby elements from one’s internal world are violently expelled, projected, split off, fragmented, etc. they often return as minute little persecutors, threatening to do to oneself what they had as urges or motives inside the self before being disowned and projected.
In this patient’s case, the patient was very distressed to see a nasty, envious side of his personality that was always making “biting” remarks about others. He had always seen himself as the good guy while despising his father’s “mean” streak and feeling triumphantly superior to him.
Dream #26: “My husband and I were meeting our friends Bill and Mary to go to a Disney Hall performance. Mary – who is very chatty – was talking with people and hanging around too long. I suddenly realized I had lost my wallet or purse. I was concerned about my driver’s license and credit cards. Mary kept talking. At one point my husband said to me “you are always losing your wallet”. Then this is where it gets confusing – there was a woman who was responsible for my wallet missing. This crowd of people had found her and they were abusive – spitting and shouting, etc. Somehow my wallet was found but I thought I should cancel my credit cards because these people had had it.”
Association: Bill and Mary are really nice, they are about 10 years older, and have been married for a long time, have three kids, and seem really happy.
Comment: This is an interesting dream to me because it is a variation of a common thread in dreams, losing one’s wallet, purse, driver’s license, etc. I often get the feeling that these “lost” elements have something to do with an attack on the dreamer’s sense of identity or feeling of safety, essentially a loss of “this is who I am” sense of security. It commonly evokes in me the question, as I listen to the dream, why would your secure “sense of identity” be lost or undermined at this moment, as depicted in this dream.
As I listened to this dream, I could not help feeling that the couple, Bill and Mary, were “fancy” people, i.e. socially connected people of importance going to a socially important and fancy place, “Disney Hall”, to listen to “fancy, grown-up” music. Simultaneously, I also felt that Mary was being subtly denigrated as too “chatty”, “wouldn’t stop talking”, sort of suggesting that she was a shallow, social gadfly. It is at this point in the dream, i.e. of becoming maximally irritated with Mary, that the patient loses her purse or wallet.
A bit of background will add to our understanding of this dream. The patient was the fourth of five children, had an enviably competent mother who was socially very popular and happily married, a sort of life of the party type, and the patient’s siblings were all fairly successful in childhood and life. One of the patient’s primary motives for therapy was not being happy with her life, uncertain about career, marriage, or if she wanted to have children (she was at an age where it would be common to start a family). She had been in treatment for about a year when she had this dream.
I experienced the dream as having two phases, the viewing and reacting to others phase, and the “confusing” phase of a woman taking her wallet. Most commonly, when someone loses their wallet in a dream, they don’t catch and then “verbally abuse and spit on” the culprit. I thought that the husband saying “you always lose your wallet”, suggested that the patient had a growing sense that she did all of this to herself and that the thief was a part of herself.
So that was what I took up. I said that I thought she was having a very rough time as she increasingly recognized how hard it could be for her to be around anyone who had all of the things she wanted in life, a successful career, happy marriage, children, being popular, etc. She was beginning to see that her inability to stand being around that kind of enviable success was robbing her of an ability to be a success, as she was afraid everyone would be as mean to her as she felt toward them when they were enviable.
This was not a new idea to us, but her dream seemed to lay out the anatomy of that dynamic in a potentially useful way, i.e. connecting envy, subtle denigration of others, and a fear of being envied if one’s envious wish to rob other’s is seen. It creates a vicious cycle that undermines growth in life.
In my experience, it takes a very long time for a patient to fully digest a dream like this that lays out the anatomy of a fairly large dynamic in their character structure. It is the sort of dream that one comes back to multiple times over an extended period, sometimes years. We were able to use it to understand elements from her childhood, her current life, and relationship with me.
I would summarize the dynamic in the following way. The patient felt very envious (and jealous) of her mother, and some of her older siblings, growing up in her family. She had a powerful urge to rob mother and siblings of anything they were felt to have that she particularly desired but lacked. The urge to rob them was such an odious thought that she unconsciously settled for subtly denigrated those enviable qualities. That thread private denigration could be detected in her recounting of her childhood, and at times in her misinterpretation of my motives in the therapy.
Because she also loved her mother and siblings, her envious hatred was sufficiently frightening to her that she had to “split it off and disown it”. That process diminished her capacity to “be all that she could be”, essentially robbing her of her of part of her identity.
In the dream that envious, spoiling, thieving part of her is depicted as the woman who had taken her wallet or purse, and was now being treated back in the same way as the patient privately reacted to people who she envied and robbed of their good qualities by spoiling them. One can see how she feels she can’t trust herself to not do this destructive stuff, so she has to “cancel” the credit cards because they had been in the possession temporarily by this bad part of herself.
It is interesting, but not surprising, that even if the dynamics of the envious part of self are recognized fairly early in therapy, they seem always to be the last thing left standing that still needs analysis. In fact, in less prominently envious individuals, it is the last area to come up in the analysis before the analysis can be said to have produced a fairly thorough exploration of all of the important areas of mental function needing modification.
Section 8: Manic Defense Dreams Against Depressive Anxiety and Guilt
Dream #27: “…I showed up for my final exam in a math class and I couldn’t find the class and I felt horrible because I realized I hadn’t studied, I hadn’t gone to any of the classes all semester, and I knew I would fail…”
Comment: This is the quintessential type of dream about the persecutory anxieties and depression that are generated when one is manically running away from psychic reality and refusing to “add it all up” and face what is going on inside one’s unconscious inner world and then dealing constructively with external reality.
Dream #28: “My dad and I were driving somewhere in a car. He was in the passenger seat and I was in the driver’s seat. I realized that my feet wouldn’t reach the pedals and I woke up.”
Comment: I had been commenting to this woman for some months that she didn’t seem to want to allow any dependence on me or the therapy, often cancelling sessions at the last minute, asking for changes in time for some important reason, all while consciously thinking that she valued the once per week relationship with me. This dream was our first breakthrough and allowed me to demonstrate to her that she feared giving up control even though she was too young, according to the dream (feet would not reach the pedals), to be running things on the own. Multiple associations of needing to feel self-sufficient with problematic consequences aided me in convincing her to increase to twice a week. The therapy finally settled in to doing real work.
Dream #29: “There were two penises together touching each other”. Analyst asks for more details. “My penis was next to another penis – they were side by side – the other one looked the same as mine.”
Associations: “It seemed like one penis was going to feed the other – like ejaculate into it. It doesn’t make sense there would be two penises side by side.”
Comment: This dream was from a heterosexual man who was somewhat embarrassed and confused by this dream. The context of this dream was that he had gotten a poor review at work and was feeling depressed, deflated, and inadequate.
I said to him that the dream probably represented how he had imagined coping when he was a baby. If he could just have possession of both of mommy’s breasts he wouldn’t need anyone else. By the time he became an adolescent, and discovered that his penis could generate not only wonderful sensations but was also sort of a “milk secreting organ”, he could turn to it to not need mom or anyone else. He could feed himself wonderful sensations and simultaneously empty out any unwanted feelings or states of mind.
He was reminded of a period in early adolescence when he and his older brother would “jack off and see who could come first”. I responded that he felt he needed some reassurance that he could survive what felt like a setback at work, and that perhaps I stood for his older brother in this situation. That would imply that he needed to feel he could literally take in my potency in life (i.e. putting our penises side by side and equating them), to augment his feeling of lacking potency at the moment.
He seemed visible relieved by my comments and confessed that upon awaking he had wondered if the dream meant that he was “gay”. I understood him to be implying that my ideas, which explained his very primitive, part object level dream in a manner that made some sense to him, as a relief compared to his simplistic, concrete assumption that it meant he was a “latent homosexual”.
It is worth noting that although this dream is essentially a “manic dream” in the sense that it tries to deny his feelings of smallness and inadequacy, it does not have a quality of a hostile “turning away” to self-sufficiency that was present earlier in his analysis. Instead, it has more of a quality of needing reassurance of being able to survive the painful feelings of infancy and “this is all I know how to do to cope”.
From the discussion and emotional tone of the session, I sensed that he was in fact more unconsciously concerned about ever being an effective adult male. What might have once led to vicious attacks on the parents and their relationship, out of envious hatred or jealousy, was giving way to a concern about his proper growth and a relinquishment of manic denial need and dependence.
Dream #30: “I got a phone call from my old boss, Mary, to remind me that we had a 1:00 pm appointment where I was supposed to meet her new staff. I felt slightly proud underneath like I was wanted or needed. I said I would be there but as I started to think about it I recognized that even though it was fairly early in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to take care of all my obligations and still make it at 1:00 pm.”
Context: The patient had suffered a serious illness recently from which he was recovering. Prior to the illness, he had left a career in which he felt highly competent and successful (and Mary was the younger replacement for his position). The patient had this dream the night before the first session back after I had been on vacation.
Comment: This dream has multiple levels at which one could focus a discussion, and could be seen arguably as with a manic dream or a depressive position dream.
The first point to be made, based on this patient’s current life circumstances, is that it is hard to face the reality that you would like to be more things than reality is allowing. Obviously, anybody would rather be a big, successful boss whose wisdom is valued. That is far preferable to feeling that you have been “put out to pasture” on your way to becoming a “helpless baby again” (i.e. his illness and slow recovery).
I made that comment to him that his career had been the antidote to his childhood feeling of being unloved or valued, and the dream seemed to take him back to his feeling of being valued. I added that it was also making him aware of a state of mind that took him away from his current life and family (i.e. the morning obligations he would not be able to perform if he went back to work?
His response was to say that “I also think the dream is somehow about coming here because I would have had to miss this session. I then remembered that he had called the day before and left a message saying that he was scheduled to see me the next day and asked if the appointment was still on? So I interpreted that the dream might also represent his hedging his bet, if I had forgotten about him and lost interest in being his therapist/parent during my vacation, at least someone wanted him in the dream. His response was to say that it had crossed is mind when he called me that I might have forgotten his appointment.
He then went on to say that his recovery from his illness was going much slower than he had expected. His small granddaughter had comment “… for a grandfather – you’re not very strong”. I responded that he was feeling like he was decaying, feeling unloved and unwanted, and that the dream was reminiscent of how he had dealt with such feelings in the past, but he was now sadder and wiser, trying valiantly to face a reality of aging that was very upsetting but had to be faced. His response was to say “Yes – it is really hard and I am aware of needing support”.
Section 9: Oedipal Dreams
Dream #31: “There is some kind of celebration – I am with my childhood neighbor Leo [on whom the patient had a guilty crush during adolescence] and his younger sister Joan. Leo and Joan are in the water with sharks nipping at their feet. They decide to get out of the water into a boat – they seem to be held above the water by some kind of apparatus for a while. Then they are in the boat. There are two men – they seem to be scientists from Auschwitz using the sharks to just round up people from the water and get them in the boat to be used in experiments by the two men.
Then there is a shift in the dream to a scene where there is a man and a woman who have been experimented on – the man’s penis has been cut off almost to the base and the woman’s genital has been mutilated so that it was cavernous. The two people realize that the way to save themselves is to have a baby. The man tries to ejaculate from his stump and the woman starts having a liquid coming out of her vagina. I am thinking that this going to get worse as the two men continue the experiments – they will induce the man and woman to vomit and decide to use the vomit for another experiment.”
Comment: This dream has all of the elements of a “B” grade horror movie. The young woman who had this dream had enough therapy to know that she had a significant amount of resentment toward her parents and her siblings. She was not overly bothered by the dream’s violence but more focused on the peculiar images of mutilated genitals combined with “making a baby” and “vomiting”, etc. She was still a virgin and had not dated much during her childhood as her fairly religious parents has discouraged it.
What I chose to take up in the dream was the transference implications of our work being some sort of sordid Nazi experiment in which our work together was in danger of being a cruel moralistic torture of each other rather than something that led to the birth of a “brain child”. I said that there was a part of her that saw our relationship as one where we took turns “vomiting” our states of mind into each other but that we were not allowed to come together in a more constructive, loving “meeting of the minds”.
Somewhat to my surprise, she then associated to the neighborhood friends Leo and Joan and said that they were both happily married and Joan had recently had a child. I took that association to suggest that she agreed with my interpretation at a deeper level and that she knew her view of parents was distorted and interfering with her own growth and development.
It is worth noting that one could go into detail regarding possible meanings of the mutilations in the dream, all of which are likely “early infantile, part object views” of mom and dad’s bodies, but I felt with this patient, at that point in time, that would turn the session into a perverse horror flick and enact the phantasies rather than learn from the process of how two people interact properly.
Dream #32: “I looked into a building window – I was outside. I saw a long metal table – I decided to go in. There was a table almost like a gurney or autopsy table. On it is a body that is twice as long as a normal body – I suddenly had this very depressing realization that I was not going to be able to leave the building until I had eaten the entire body.”
Comment: The English analyst Roger Money-Kyrle is quoted as saying that “Children put their parents together in every possible way except the right one.” This was a patient who had so ruined her parent’s relationship that it was a monstrous perversion of a loving relationship. The patient had become painfully aware of her attacks on the parents as a good couple and then had this dream. She felt relief at the interpretation that she was going to have to face, accept responsibility for, and digest what she had done to them – essentially smash them together in a distorted, dead cadaverous relationship – before she could finish her analysis.
Dream #33: “My husband and I were in bed and about to be intimate. Somebody was outside the bedroom door and was feeling mean and envious. The person could see through the door. Then the scene shifted and I was out on a the field of an Ivy League school where the teams were playing and a man, maybe the coach, was in a bad mood and arguing with another man.”
Comment: She felt significant relief when I said that a part of her is upset when anyone is lovingly enjoying being together with anyone else (the couple, the teams playing) because there is always someone who is feeling left out, angry, and destructive. Were then explored in greater detail why she herself often felt so left out and angry, always imagining that everyone else was “coupling” up happily while she was left out and miserable.
Section 10: Sibling Rivalry Dreams
Dream #34: “I was in a house with my parents and sisters getting ready for a party. I had to move the bed in one of the bedrooms. There was a toilet in the room but the waste would not go down. It came out of the bottom of the toilet instead. Now there was waste on the bedroom floor! I was trying to make the bed with nice linens. My sister was there with her dog and I was worried that he would get sick from the waste. People were coming for the party. I used the toilet again… holy shit…I just made a mess! The toilet still wasn’t working. I put a sign on the door letting people know it is out of order.”
Comment: This unmarried woman was fairly out of touch with her resentment and anger toward her family members, but it was expressed regularly with an ongoing sarcasm of the “geez – I’m just kidding – don’t take it so personally” sort. This dream was provoked by a wedding shower for the patient’s younger sister that the patient was flying back home to attend. One can see that she has a powerful urge to spoil it, literally “shit” all over it, but in the dream sees herself as trying to be a loving, helpful sister, trying to keep from poisoning everyone.
I took the dream up in relation to the patient’s sincere desire to be a loving sister that was undermined by a part of her that humiliated that her younger sister was getting married before the patient who should have been getting married first.
I did not bring it back to the transference at that point because she was so preoccupied with leaving town and tolerating her envy and jealousy that were being provoked by the immediacy of seeing them. I did feel that the same envy and jealousy would be provoked by anything that suggested that I had a life separate from her, in effect favoring my wife and/or children over her.
Dream #35: “I was at a party in a big house. Bill (her ex-husband) and I were arguing. He said something about an ultrasound … he and miss white trash (a woman Bill was dating) are having a baby! I was furious and wanted to break a glass dish. There were a lot of pregnant women in the living room, so I warned them that I am going to throw things and they had better leave so that they don’t get hurt. Then I repeatedly threw the cordless phone into a pillow that was in Bill’s favorite chair…I tried to get the antenna to hit the center of the pillow.”
Comment: Clearly the idea of her ex-husband having a baby with someone other than her seems to provoke murderous emotion. The rage seems by equal measures to be directed at the male (“antenna” and “Bill’s favorite chair”), the female (“miss white trash”, “a lot of pregnant women”, and the new baby (“ultrasound”, “pregnant women”, and “pillow”).
One could take this as a dream about siblings and their births, or about the parents who make them. I felt that this dream emphasized the hatred of the baby that was inside the “center of the pillow” and her envy of anyone who got to be the “special, unborn, inside baby”, something that she had idealized in her mind and longed for. It was interesting that the reason why she and her husband had divorced was that she saw him as “lazy”, leaving her to do all the work and make the money, while he got to be the baby.
Much of her resentment in childhood, being the middle of three children, was that her dad did not rescue her and make her “his little wife”, and that now I was also failing to take care of everything so that she could have relief from her envy and jealousy.
Dream #36: “…there was a family party with my parents and siblings and their friends…suddenly terrorists came over the back wall and started shooting and killing everybody…”
Comment: This depicts the natural tendency of most people to disown the destructive side of their personality and to feel it as foreign to their sense of identity. The woman who had this dream was about to go back East for a family, holiday visit and was frightened of her own envious and jealous feelings that were inevitably going to resurface.
Section 11: Dreams From the Psychotic Part of the Personality
Dream 37: “My shadow is chasing me all the time and I’m afraid of getting caught and there are people who can distort or change time and space and I’m running and can’t get out of it.”
Comment: I take this dream to be a depiction of the patient’s feeling that he cannot escape the “crazy” part of himself, no more that one can outrun one’s shadow. The ability to “distort or change time and space” was once seen by this patient as a desirable bit of omnipotence to cope with his disturbed childhood, but not was felt to menace his desire to grow-up in the world of reality.
Dream #38: “I’m looking in a lake and my shadow is looking at me.” Associations: Sometimes in my dreams I get stabbed over and over. Sometimes my shadow tells me I shouldn’t be here anymore and should kill myself – I know he’s not real – if he was, then let him do it.”
Comment: This dream is from the same patient as above, the night after the above session, seemingly elaborating on the struggle he is having with the crazy part of himself. Apparently, he feels pursued relentlessly by that part of himself that seems to be urging him to suicide. His response to this “death instinct” element from his unconscious inner world (“looking in a lake”) is rather concrete, as if to say if it is really separate and can kill me, let me see him “do it”.
From a theoretical level I took this more as the destructive side of his personality fearing that it would be put out of business permanently if the patient no longer saw it as powerful and in control. While there is always a suicidal risk with such patients, more likely by unconscious accidental behavior, I did not feel this patient was actively or acutely suicidal, but more exploring how his personality worked. This is in contrast to Dream #10 that was mentioned previously where I thought the patient’s dream did indicate and immediate, active, suicidal risk.
Dream #39: “Weird, terrifying dream – in elevator – doors open – grandpa said ‘You’re special in other ways that people can’t see you – whether you think it or not’. The doors open and I’m in really weird mental institution – like art gallery – guided in pairs – I’m screaming or weeping or laughing. One one painting was this eye – the part around the iris is blood red and I got sucked into the painting. Then I was in my room and like a series of days it was done. I’d come in and not remember it. Every day it was more finished. I got scared – what now? Then someone came through the painting – a big black man, arms out vertical – like floating – standing much taller than me – like up to the ceiling. Then I get pushed out of the painting and warped somewhere. Then I was back in front of the painting – like the Cheshire Cat. I was screaming – then I see another patient who was screaming. I say this is enough for today and a woman asks me if I can go further…it was sort of like rehabilitation, like to hell and back – makes you more of a person.”
Association: “It reminds me of a science fiction TV show I used to watch – where people are corrupted by power – automatically become bad – eyes turn red and could learn things instantly”
Comment: This is a psychotic dream in a person who was not actually psychotic at the time of the dream but had had a very disturbed infancy and childhood. It has very omnipotent, magical elements in it; extremely intense, terrifying feelings and images; and extreme time, space, boundary confusions. Interestingly, he seems to have a capacity to limit how much he stays in contact with this side of his personality as depicted by saying “..this is enough for today..” even though the analyst mother asks if he can “..go further..”.
Dream #40: “…I went to the back of my mom’s station wagon to get the grocery bags, there were bowling pin type things in the bags and I started pulling them out and tearing them apart with my teeth and there was blood and guts everywhere…”
Comment: This adult male had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a psychotic depression and had this dream on the first night of his admission. It represented the degree of murderous violence he had felt toward his mother and her inside babies. The dream was not “psychotic” is the sense of its structure but it depicted a degree of primitive violence that might be typical of someone who was psychotic.
Dream #41: “…I looked at the clock, which said ten, and I thought that can’t be because I’ll miss my 9:30 appointment and then I looked back again and it was only 9:00 and I was relieved…”
Comment: This dream represented the psychotic aspect of a neurotic patient who, when reality became too painful, simply went temporarily insane and altered reality.
Section 12: Dreams Struggling with the Depressive Position
Dream #42: “I was saying to my daughter that these schools are too dark for a proper learning environment.”
Context of dream: Dreamer had been upset and depressed about a project going poorly at work. She had been lying down at home on the living room couch that evening and her daughter said “Mom – you look dead.”
Comment: This dream can be interpreted at multiple levels and/or areas:
– At an external reality level she is concerned about her mothering of her children, she is too “dark”, i.e. depressed and pessimistic, interfering with her children’s capacities to see life in a “good light”.
– At an internal, psychic reality level she is being like (i.e. identified with) her damaged internal mother which is interfering with her ability to move ahead in life.
– At an infantile, genetic history level, her mother was very disturbed and was unable to provide a proper learning environment for the patient to grow in a healthy manner. The patient was afraid she herself would never escape the orbit of her infantile darkness as evidenced by her struggle at work that day.
– An even more primitive offshoot of that was a baby phantasy that she was bad and her mother was unable to love her and “see her in a good light”.
– In relation to therapy and the transference, the dream could be taken as a complaint that I am not fixing her so that she has not been brought to life on my couch. It might even depict an envious attack on the light of the analysis preventing a proper learning environment from being created by me.
We actually took up the dream as relating to recent discussions regarding the inability of her “adult” self to look after pained, “good” baby parts of herself that wanted to grow but were being consistently undermined by a highly competitive, enviously greedy “bad” part of herself that was particularly operative when a rival at work won an award.
Dream #43: “I was in a car with my parents but nobody was driving the car. I was in the back seat but somehow I took over driving it.”
Comment: This dream led to a discussion of his essential view that his parents were irresponsible, self-centered and had left him, an only child, to fend for himself from early in life. The being in the back seat seemed less to represent anal omnipotence, although there was some of that, but more to be a pun on how his existence took a “back seat” to his parents’ focus on themselves. What was particularly prominent in his associations to the dream was how incompetent and inadequate he felt in life and how he felt like he was put in an impossible position in life, “You can’t drive from the back seat!”
What I felt was particularly significant, as he recounted this dream, was the mood in the session. It was one of sadness, not one of blame and therefore a justification for “turning away”. The mood was almost the opposite, one of facing his childhood, his pain, and the consequences of how he felt in life. There seemed to be a recognition that it was now his “own responsibility” to drive his own car, as an adult , separate from his parents. The image of the parents in the car but not driving it reflected his need to accept the loss of childhood, his wish to be taken care of, and that time marched on and he had to move on with it.
Dream #44: “My left contact lens (which he later added was tinted and made his eyes look more attractively green than their natural hazel color) was really hurting my eye. I took it out and put it into my mouth to lubricate it and it broke into a bunch of pieces and I felt horrible”.
Comment: This is a variation on the same type of persecutory dream, but with an emphasis on a loss of a good capacity, eyesight, as a result of a hostile misuse of it. The dream occurred as the patient was going on a trip with his father back to his childhood home which he had not seen for twenty years. He was feeling unconsciously depressed about being with his father (who tended to show off), reliving his unhappy childhood, leaving his wife for the weekend.
After some discussion of these issues and associations, I commented that the patient was feeling “down in the mouth” when comparing himself to his father, as his self-esteem and pride were disintegrating because he was feeling so painfully small and filled with frightening hatred toward his father. We were able to take this same dream up in the next session, in the transference, discussing his envious hatred of my “cleverly” interpreting with the phrase “down in the mouth”. I cannot say whether I was projecting into him my “bigness”, just as his father tended to do, by using that phrase at that moment, but it is a reasonable possibility.
Bion was known to say that someone was “depressed by persecution” and/or “persecuted by depression”. Both of those ideas seemed to apply to this patient. He wanted to be a “loving” person but he was depressed by his instinctive tendency to “turn away” when his envy was aroused. The automatic nature of this “turning away” reaction, with its attendant phantasy of being manically self-sufficient by turning to his own bottom for food and comfort, was very “persecuting” to him in a manner similar to how a drug addict who wished to quit drugs would feel by the lure of heroin or cocaine when in emotional distress.
This patient still had considerable work ahead of him in analysis, but the dream seemed to convey the struggle that patients have as they work at what Donald Meltzer described as the “threshold of the depressive position”.
Dream #45: “I was walking down a very narrow path and if I moved to either side I was immediately shocked on both sides.”
Comment: This is a dream that is very difficult to interpret with a feeling of relative certainty about the correctness of the interpretation because it is too compact and lends itself to multiple ways of thinking about it. For example, the word shock could refer to being tortured or it could refer to being emotionally startled.
But if one looks for the dream’s most emotionally prominent feature, it would seem to be that the patient feels that he is going through life at the moment of the dream where there was a very narrow range of emotional operation (“path”) available to him. So the key issue is: What are the two “sides” of the “narrow path” representing?
I happened to know that this patient had worked hard at giving up omnipotent self-sufficiency but was still struggling with the anxieties that loving feelings would lead to great loss and emotional injury, recreating great losses from childhood.
With this in mind, I chose to interpret the dream as depicting the struggle the patient was having as a result of trying to allow loving feelings to predominate in his personality. On one hand it made him vulnerable to the “emotional shock” of potential loss, as a result of allowing his loving feelings to effectively “put all of his eggs in one basket”. When he allowed his loving feelings to predominate, the destructive part of himself felt that it was threatened with being put out of business and murdered off so it threatened to torture him from the other side.
This dream can be taken to depict the essential conflict of the “threshold of the depressive position”, turning toward “caring” and tolerating “ambivalence”, or “turning away” to manic denial of caring.
Section 13: View of Therapy (Transference) Dreams
Dream #46: “I see a decapitated head and arm in some kind of series of rooms and there is an executioner with a hood over his head, no shirt on – he has been carrying out a series of beheadings and I’m apparently to be the next. I’m given a choice of axe or sword and I choose the sword (because it’s faster, cleaner, one sweep) (I’m reminded of a tour of the Tower of London). There is no chopping block, I’m supposed to walk thru the doorway and he’ll remove my head and I won’t see it coming. So I walk toward the doorway – a little apprehensive but not terrified and decide to shut my eyes – so everything is black. Then I feel the Karate blow to the back of my neck – a blunt blow – then I feel like I’m falling forward and I realize that it is my head that is falling forward and I’ll only be alive or thinking for another few seconds – then I start to feel this incredibly warm sensation from my abdomen going up to my shoulders – it rises to my shoulders and peaks and then there is nothing. I awake feeling very anxious.”
Comment: This dream also made me anxious. I felt the reference to his therapy sessions with me was unmistakable. What puzzled me was why he would see therapy as so murderous a proposition and why he seemed so fatalistic about it, as if he had no choice but to die.
What I took up with him was that this was a dream, written by a baby part of him, that felt hopeless after birth, and did not see how life could be anything but one giant pain until one could stop being out in the world where the pain hopelessly outweighed the pleasure. I said that since he had never fully convinced himself that being born and out in the world was “worth it”, he had to put that suicidal part of himself into me, to keep from giving up on life. I said I thought the dream poignantly conveyed what we were going to have to struggle together with if we were to be successful, namely that one or the other of us was going to have to tolerate feeling murderous.
Dream #47: “The dream starts with me at my old job … there is something about me coming to see you – but you are my optometrist or ophthalmologist – my eye doctor. I am coming to get new glasses or contacts. I walk in – it’s set up like an optometrist’s office and the first thing I notice is a pint of vodka or gin. I thought gee – Chris must be having a drink or taking a nip during the day. There was no label on the bottle. I’m on friendlier terms than in reality – I say I need new contacts – so you take my glasses and do something on a machine and give them back to me and say this should be better. I thought wow – he can do this and I was flirting with you. I rubbed my leg against yours – as if this was perfectly normal.”
Comment: This dream has two key elements, a denigration of the analysis and analyst, and a manic denial of an unequal, therapist/patient relationship where the patient is dependent on the analyst for needs she cannot meet on her own. The analyst is now degraded to an alcoholic (the bottle with a clear liquid), maybe not even a medical doctor (optometrist instead of ophthalmologist), who uses a machine instead of his mind to do his work, and who is on an equal, erotized footing in an erotic transference that denigrates the proper psychoanalytic feeding relationship of the baby part of the patient to the analyst/mother.
This dream occurred in the latter part of the analysis as the patient was becoming more clearly aware of envious competitiveness that had been split off and denied for years while being the good, dutiful daughter.
Dream #48: “I have to teach a class on computers – it is supposed to start at 8 am – I don’t know where it is, I don’t know anything about computers, I feel horrible”.
Comment: This patient had an 8:00 am therapy session. He was from an older generation that is often not so computer savvy, and he was no exception. I took the dream to imply that he was denying how difficult it actually is to do my work and takes years of experience and effort to become competent at it. If he equates it to working on a computer, then he can learn to do it himself and not need me.
My interpretation to him was that the therapy was making him aware if his tendency to feel small and inadequate if he couldn’t do it all himself and would have to be dependent on me. I did not choose to bring up his envy of me expressed by the idea that he would “teach a class” instead of be the student.
Section 14: Dreams at the Threshold of Old Age
Dream #49: “I was someplace with people around. Johnny was there and it seemed like other people from that period of my life. He said he was going to kill me and he had a gun. I thought to myself that I don’t have any way to escape and I don’t have a gun or something to protect myself. I woke feeling a little panicked.”
Association: Johnny and I were good friends through high school and into college. He committed suicide in college.
Context: The patient recently had a serious illness that was requiring extensive rehabilitation that was going more arduously that the patient had anticipated.
Comment: I asked the patient, for clarification, if Johnny had the gun in his hand or if the patient could see it in the dream? The patient said he didn’t see it but Johnny said “I am going to kill you”.
I said that Johnny in the dream clearly represented a part of himself (same age, close childhood friend, etc.) but the problem for us was to decide he stood for a destructive part threatening to encourage suicide or if he stood for “death” menacing him as a result of his illness and approaching old age.
Without hesitation he said “It is the second one”. We went on to have a detailed discussion of his fear of death and realization that he may never be like he was before his illness. This in turn lead to his description of what he has to live for but also his awareness of the limits of the time remaining.
[Note: I think that the death instinct and bad part of self are always operative in the unconscious inner world throughout the lifespan. Ideally the adult self has a preeminent and predominating role in modulating the pain that the baby parts of self are capable of suffering.
As one approaches old age, with all of the losses, physical deterioration, and impending death with less time remaining each day, the bad part of self and the death instinct (i.e. urge to be unborn and immune to mental pain and anxiety that comes from caring about life) begin to reassert themselves. This resurgence is most visible in dream life. “Death” itself becomes personified and the hint that it is death is commonly reflected in the dream by a sense that it is unrelenting and/or inescapable.]