Dream #1 – Helen
Helen came in for counseling because of her persistent anxiety and obsessing. She was a pretty woman who had been a pleaser since childhood. She lived on other people’s terms, not her own. She was afraid that if she failed to be pleasing enough, she would be punished by a look of disapproval which, based in her childhood experience, ultimately leads to painful emotional abandonment.
Helen used to have anxiety dreams, which we understand as the consequence of unsolved problems in her life. Her inability to solve problems was frustrating, which means it made her angry. Her out of control anger turned into anxiety. This was her new dream:
Helen: “I was afloat on a raft, in the water. I was afraid to get off. I might drown. Not scared. I said to myself, “OK, I’ll just stay on the float. So I did. It was alright.”
Helen had this dream of floating after some months of counseling. It is a dream of problem solving. There was some pressure, tension and stress in the first moments of the dream. Even in her sleep, Helen was able to use her newly discovered adult judgment to make a responsible choice in a timely manner. She was not out of control; she was in control. There was no cause for anxiety. She was not dependent on others to help her; she was independent. She did not need someone else to validate her judgment; she was able to validate it herself. It was good enough. She was not trying too hard to succeed. She wasn’t having good intentions for herself; she had a real intention to let go of her old dependencies and take life as it came. She did not wake up screaming. She actually felt calm living on her own terms in the present. The dream ended peacefully. She remembered it the next morning as being pleasant, for a change. She wrote it down and brought it in.
We were able to compare this totally new dream with her previous dreams and she could see for herself that she could not have had this dream four months before. She could appreciate her success in outgrowing her old self-doubts and replacing them with feelings of confidence, security, competence and all the other components of self-respect. The problem of depending on others had been solved by replacing her self-doubt with self-respect.
It is significant that Helen, who in the past had to be perfectly pleasing to avoid the disaster waiting to happen, remembers her solution to the problem as being “alright.” She didn’t have to obsess to find a perfect solution. It was good enough. Her judgment was good enough and so, by extension, was she. Problem solved.
Dream #2 – Rob
Rob: “What a dream! It was emotionally engaging! I woke my wife, I was moaning, groaning! It was fairly simple at first, but then it got intense. My sister and I were kids again, still young, in our house. It was daytime. Mom around. We were playing. Dad’s at work. We went to the house next door. Something was terribly wrong! Their kids were abandoned. It was the worst scene, a wreck. There was a dead horse on the floor. Dog eating it. Filth. No mother. Their father had left them. It was so weird — Those two children were like, not attacking us, but uncontrollable. They could break their way out of the house. I was scared but not afraid I was gonna die, I was dealing with this monolithic force, unrestrainable. It came from the kids. It was demonic. My response was to attempt to control them, but they were impossible to control! Not overwhelmed. I woke up. It saved me from being overwhelmed. I knew it was a shadow of me and my sister. When I woke up, I felt relief. Totally amazed at the power that was evidenced by the bad kids. I noticed it pushed me to the limit.”
This dream came after several months of counseling. Rob had strengthened himself in his independence, his security, his feeling of belonging to himself and to the world. These successes strengthened his personhood to the point that he could tolerate the pain of this dream. The anxiety in it arose from his out-of-control, scary, forbidden anger at his father for abandoning him and his sister. His childhood was difficult. One could even say it was a nightmare for two little kids who could not understand what had happened to them or why. They had no way of finding out what they could do to relieve their pain. They must have blamed themselves for his leaving, as kids do. They had problems they could not solve.
Rob: “We did feel abandoned by our father! It was the worst possible environment for us to be in, nothing we could do. We were left coping with the intense emotional reaction to it, in our own home — no place to go with it”
Rob had strengthened himself to tolerate this level of pain from the past. His organism was ready to tolerate the pain. He had talked to his sister the day before the dream. He remembers saying to her, “Dad would be 89 today.” An anniversary is often the impetus to dredging up unfinished problems from the past.
Dream #3 – Vicki
Vicki: “My mother, brother and I in China, a big gate, a bronze plaque telling the history of the monument. It’s interesting. There was a massacre here. My brother was wading in a moat around the monument.”
Vicki’s history was a bloody massacre of children being abused by an unstable father and a negligent, helpless mother. Now it’s in the past. She can be objective: “It’s interesting.”
Wading in the water was like a baptism (rebirth, a new beginning for her brother — and her). Through her dreams, Vicki remembered several positive memories that she did not remember earlier in her therapy.
• “A hat store, fruits, flowers we could put on the hats, with my mom. It was fun.”
• “My dad took me to a woman client who made furniture for doll houses, fascinating, tiny martini glasses, tiny sugar bowls. It was fun.”
• “I remember seeing the Northern lights over the prairie around our house. Fascinating. Colorful. Mysterious. Unpredictable. Play of lights and colors.”
• “Color and form everywhere, creating.”
• “Women. No men. They were independent, had their own careers, doing very well. Homes. Having fun. (This describes Vicki’s successful, creative career in the colorful jewelry business which she is actually beginning to enjoy and be proud of.)
Shortly after her positive dream, Vicki had a breakthrough. She received a special delivery package from the man she had just broken up with. She dreaded opening it. He was returning all the mementos of their time together that he no longer wanted to keep. Rather than destroying them, he sent them to her. She found the courage to open it. Included in the package were photos from the last roll of film they had taken together. There were shots of a display she had created for an exposition out of town. A magazine had just called wanting to do a story on her career in the field of primitive art, but she didn’t have a photo to illustrate their story. She would have had to call a photographer, recreate the display, rent a studio, all at considerable expense in time and money.
Now she had the photos in her hand. She made copies and sent them to the magazine for their article. She was two weeks ahead of their deadline and had saved herself all that time, money and aggravation. To her, it seemed like a miracle of timing and luck.