regarded dreams as a reflection of psychic activity. A dream,
he felt, should be regarded seriously and analyzed to see how
it would fit into a person's conscious living. He felt that people
should analyze their own dreams, think about them and meditate
on them in order to get something out of them.
A dream is an involuntary and spontaneous
product of the unconscious mind, and is usually obscure and difficult
to understand because it is made up of symbols and pictures. In
attempting to understand the dream-language, Jung uses a method
of sort of similar to deciphering symbols. The first step in understanding
a dream, he considers, is to establish its context. This means
discovering the significance of the various images it presents.
For example, one's mother might appear in a dream. Everyone has
a concept of what mother implies, but for each person the image
of a mother is different, and the significance of this image will
even vary from time to time. The thought of mother may for one
person be associated with love, care, and protection, and for
another with power, anger, or frustration and so the meaning of
a dream of mother can vary accordingly. As far as possible, each
image or symbol must be taken in turn till its meaning for the
dreamer is established as nearly as possible, and not until this
has been carefully done is one in a position to understand what
the dream may mean.
A series of dreams makes a more
satisfactory basis for interpretation than a single dream. The
possible themes which the unconscious may be presenting can become
clearer, the important images are underlined by repetition, and
mistakes in interpretation are corrected by the next dream.
Dreams can be interpreted on an
objective or on a subjective level. In the objective case the
dream is related to what is going on in the environment; the people
appearing in it are taken as real, and their relationship to,
and possible influence on the dreamer are analyzed. In the second
case the dream figures are taken as representing aspects of the
dreamer's personality. It depends on the circumstances of the
moment which side the emphasis shall be placed. A woman dreaming
of her father may need to face a problem connected with him or
some aspect of her relationship to him, or she may need to recognize
the male principle (personified by the father) in herself. Generally
speaking, the subjective aspect of dreams becomes more important
in the later states of analysis when the personal problems have
been seen and understood.
Some dreams have considerably more
than personal significance. These more significant dreams are
often vivid, and make use of surprising and even incomprehensible
symbols, and their relationship to the dreamer is difficult to
trace. These dreams are classed as collective dreams, and to understand
them, one must often use historical and mythological analogies
to find out what the symbols meant to other men in other times.
It may seem strange at first to think that these could have any
relevance to ourselves; we have cut ourselves off from the past
to such an extent that it is difficult to realize that the experiences
of remote people can still have meaning for us. Yet it is so;
unconsciously we still think like our distant ancestors, and to
understand this is to deepen our experience, and open up new possibilities.
A collective dream will present
"archetypes" from the "collective unconscious"
and have significance for others as well as the dreamer. There
is probably some reader who has told such a dream at the breakfast
table, and noticed its effect upon the hearers, for the archetypes
always have a certain impact on people. It is also important to
note that the unconscious constantly uses different symbols for
what the consciousness regards as one and the same thing.
As mentioned before, we find today
that important dreams are repeated if they have not been understood,
or if they need to be emphasized.
Another fairly common belief is
that dreams reproduce the events of the day before, especially
if these were significant or striking. Careful recording, however,
shows that dreams rarely repeat events in an exact manner; they
add or subtract something, round off the experience, or can be
shown to be compensatory in character. This tendency to compensate
a conscious attitude is an important characteristic of the dream,
and must always be taken into account when attempting to understand
it. As an example of this, Jung quotes a young man who dreamt
his father was behaving in a drunken and disorderly manner. The
real father did no such thing, and, according to the son, behaved
in a somewhat ideal way. The young man had an excellent relationship
with him - too good, in fact, for his admiration of his father
prevented him from having the necessary confidence in himself
and developing his own different personality. In this case the
dream went to the other extreme, showing the father in a most
unfavorable light. It was almost as it the dream were saying,
'He is not so marvelous after all, and he can behave in a quite
irresponsible manner. There is no need for you to feel so inferior.'
The unconscious was drawing attention to a relationship based
on an idealistic view of the father which was hindering the son's
growth into manhood.
Dreams also work the other way
round; if we habitually undervalue somebody, we are likely to
have a highly flattering dream about him, to see him, for instance,
in a much higher position than the one he would normally occupy,
or doing something with ease and skill where we know he should
be incompetent and clumsy.
also bring hidden conflicts to light by showing an unknown side
of the character, as when a mild, inoffensive person dreams of
violence, but more frequently the dream language is less direct
than this. For instance, there are hosts of sexual symbols well
known in myth as well as dream: 'the bull, the ass, the pomegranate,
the horse's hoof, the dance, to mention only a few.
Dreams sometimes express hidden
wishes, but it is too simple to class them all under this heading.
The 'wish' dream is usually easy to spot; when, for instance,
the hungry man dreams he is eating a wonderful meal, or the thirsty
that they see sparkling water.
There are also forward-looking
or 'prospective' dreams. A simple example of the 'prospective'
dream is that of getting up and dressing, when one is really asleep
in bed and the alarm has gone off; but there are others which
are more striking than this, like that of the woman who was shortly
going to move to a new and unknown district who dreamt correctly
all about the house she would live in, down to the smallest detail,
even including the reason why its present owners were leaving
Occasionally dreams seem to be
clear warnings of danger, as for example that of the mountain
climber who dreamed he was climbing higher and higher and then
gaily stepping off into space. One would have thought that such
a dream would have made the least superstitious of persons stop
to think, but the man in question simply laughed. Not so very
long after he was killed in the mountains, a friend actually seeing
him step off into the air. To dream of death, however, does not
necessarily indicate a fatal accident; there is symbolic as well
as actual physical death. Only a knowledge of the dreamer and
his immediate circumstances will show on which side the emphasis
is rightly placed.
Sometimes dreams reproduce things
seen, heard, or read and forgotten long before, or recall distant
experiences. It is often difficult to trace whether a lost memory
is really being recalled, or whether the experience actually happened,
but this is not of great practical importance; what is relevant
is why the dreamer had such a dream at this particular moment,
and why he felt he had that particular experience.
One curious feature of dreaming
is the way that close friends or members of the same family, particularly
husband and wife or parents and children, will dream the same
dream without previously having told it to each other. Still more
curious is the way that children dream about their parents' problems,
when these have been carefully hidden from them. The dream is
not usually a straightforward statement, but is symbolical and
often picturesque in manner.
The most striking dreams are those
which seem to arise spontaneously from the unconscious, presenting
something completely strange with a vividness that compels attention.
Sometimes these may be the unconscious aiming at a complete change
of the conscious attitude, and they can be so impressive that
the dreamer is in fact changed by the experience without any interpretation
The dream is of value in analytical
practice because it gives a picture of inner, and also often of
outer conditions of which the dreamer is unaware. The first dream
that a patient brings to analysis often gives a striking summing
up of his or her problem, and even a hint of how it may be solved.
It is this forward-looking aspect of dreams that, among other
reasons, leads Jung to insist that dreams should not only be used
for reductive purposes. Dreams do not only uncover forgotten memories
and present difficulties, but appear, especially in the case of
individuation dreams, to have a goal in view. Dreams at the beginning
of analysis are often relatively clear and simple, and have an
immediate effect. As the analysis proceeds the dreams usually
grow more complicated and difficult to understand. It is at this
stage that mythological themes often occur and that a wider framework
than that of the dreamer's personal experience and associations
becomes necessary. Sometimes the dreamer has no meaningful associations
and can find no relationship to the dream situation; it is here
that mythological parallels can be helpful. These will usually
throw light on the collective meaning of the dream, and its relevance
to the dreamer can then be worked out.
Jung never imposes an
interpretation on a patient. He looks on it as even more important
for the dreamer to understand his own dream than for the analyst
to do so, while ideally the interpretation should be the result
of mutual reflection and agreement. Much of his work lies in helping
patients to deal with their own unconscious material, and they
are encouraged to record their dreams carefully, and even to illustrate
them either with pictures or models in wax or clay. No artistic
ability is needed for this; in fact it is better to approach the
work naively, for one is less likely to falsify the picture. The
expressions of the unconscious are often most primitive, and their
power is lost if there is too great an attempt to fit them into
aesthetic concepts. By working on dreams in this manner the patient
(though he is still likely to overlook unpleasant implications)
can develop his independence and learn, to some extent, to understand
the unconscious himself. He makes more real the fantasies that
are activating him, and so he knows better what they are. Even
the mere painting of a picture can have an effect, curing a wretched
mood, or bringing a release of tension. Through active co-operation
of this kind the danger of only understanding dreams as fantasy
is avoided and dreams become not only sources of information,
but also of creative power.