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Dreams as a Portal to the Self

» Mental Health Library » Treatment Approaches » Jungian Psychotherapy » Featured Article

By Jan Nakao, LCSW

Jan Nakao, LCSW

All of the early pioneers of depth psychology, Sigmund Freud, C.G. Jung and Alfred Adler were courageous men who explored the territory of the unconscious. In 1900, after graduating from medical school Jung discovered Freud’s book called The Interpretation of Dreams which stupefied him. After returning to the book 3 years later he said to Freud, “I discovered how it linked with my own ideas.” Jung’s growing appreciation of Freud lead to their 6 year collaboration during which time modern psychoanalysis was born.

Jung studied over 80,000 dreams and found them to be a very rich resource. Dreams are independent, spontaneous manifestations of the unconscious, which register subliminal experiences and contain wisdom by capturing the organic whole of the individual environment.

Dreams are neither deliberate nor arbitrary fabrications; they are natural phenomenon which are nothing other than what they pretend to be. They do not deceive, they do not lie, they do not distort or disguise…they are invariably seeking to express something the ego does not know and understand. (Sharp, pg. 47)

Jung distinguishes his approach to dreams from other schools of depth psychology. First, he links dream to spirituality and considers them a portal to the Self. The Self being a transpersonal power which transcends the ego. Jung says, “The Self appears in dreams, myths and fairy tales as the the figure of the superordinate personality such as the king, hero, prophet savior, cross etc… may also appear as a totality symbol, in the form of a circle, square, cross etc….

Secondly, dreams compensate our conscious attitude when it is out of balance. Dreams compensate the imbalance in the psych when its gotten too far in one direction. An example which illustrates the compensatory nature of dream was told at an Easter dinner when a gentleman, a pastor of a church told me that he had several dreams in which he was no longer blind. After losing his eyesight 20 years ago, this man wondered if the dreams were telling him he would one day regain his sight. We could wonder whether or not the psyche was responding to his conscious wish to see again by restoring vision in his dreams.

Thirdly, Jung viewed dream as an expression of an interior drama that can be interpreted objectively or subjectively. He would choose to view a dream objectively if the dream referred to people or events in the world that actually occurred in outer reality. If someone had a dream in which they were screaming at a neighbor for throwing garbage on their property we would try to understand the dream objectively as a comment on the actual event.

If a dream is understood subjectively, the images of the dream would be viewed as symbolic representations of elements in the dreamer’s own personality. Jung said, “The whole dream is essentially subjective, and is a theatre in which the dreamer himself is the scene, the player, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public and the critic.” So we would interpret this dream as all aspects of the dreamer.

I will illustrate these ideas of interpreting a dream subjectively or objectively with an example from my own life. I became interested in traveling to Hiroshima, Japan to explore my family roots where the first atomic bomb exploded. I had relatives who were killed by the bomb. During my stay I visited Peace Memorial Park, which is the park the city built to honor those killed by the bomb.

The dream was short, but nonetheless powerful. I enter the gates of Peace Memorial Park, when a woman approaches me and whispers in my ear, “You are both a perpetrator and a victim.”

The dream gave me a lot to think about. Should it be interpreted subjectively or objectively? For the sake of argument I would like to look at it both ways. If we were to interpret the dream subjectively, or on a personal level, we would view the dream as representing elements of my own personality. The dream could be saying to me that I am a victim of the bombing and all that this entails. An objective interpretation of this dream would be to see this dream as a collective dream, a dream that does not belong just to me, but to all of us, the human race in general. Jung referred to dreams that touch upon mankind as belonging to the part of the psyche called the collective unconscious, the structural layer of the human psyche containing inherited element, distinct from the personal unconscious.

Finally, dreams portray the psychic development of a person over a lifetime. Jung called this the process of individuation and is one of Jung’s contributions to developmental psychology. Individuation is the conscious process during which a person learns what makes him or her unique, and at the same time no more than a common man or woman. It is the acknowledgement of who we truly are. In Jungian analysis or psychotherapy the goal is to help assist the client in furthering and developing the individuation process.

About the Author...

Jan Nakao, LCSW is a clinical social worker and a diplomate Jungian Analyst in private practice
in Evanston, Il

Last Update: 4/10/2015

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