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Freudian-Express: Dreams, The Royal Road to the Unconscious

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If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, "I had the craziest dream last night," I would be in Paris right now staying at the George V, drinking champagne and eating platters of foods not found on the menu of Applebee's. Most of the time, people that share their "crazy" dreams with me tend to tell me their dream to illustrate how crazy their dreams are and not to actually understand it. They tell me, "There was a bear, a pig and a guy who looked like Simon Cowell, only he was really my mother, and we were on the Teacup ride at Disneyland and we had to make the teacups go really fast or Sarah Palin was going to start dancing on top of the Matterhorn," and then they look at me, expecting me to affirm their sense of what a wacky dream it was and how their dream is proof that dreams are just wild and meaningless. Instead I calmly and quietly ask them, "So, what do you make of it?" The dreamer usually looks at me like I have asked them to explain advanced physics to them, replying, "I don't know, it's just crazy. " And that is usually the end of it. The dream is then discarded and no further inquiry occurs.

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Let me ask you this: what if you got a package delivered to your house? What if you knew that this gift was made for just you? What if everyday such a package arrived at your door? And, let's further imagine that this gift came in a box that was somewhat challenging to open. This box wasn't instantly accessible. You had to spend some time unpacking the gift. Oh, and the catch is that you have to do it--you couldn't give this gift to anyone else to have them unpack it for you. Why? Because this special gift can only be accessed fully by the person it is intended for. Every day people receive such special delivery packages from their psyches in the form of dreams and because it takes a little time, psychological elbow grease and a question or two about each image and object the dream/gift remains unopened.

As a Jungian and Psychoanalytically-oriented therapist, I hear a lot of dreams and I do have some special tools in my package-opening toolkit. I can ask some questions to help people to get the box a little more quickly. Maybe I can help the dreamer see some connections with my magical Jungian X-Acto knife and my Psychoanalytic scissors. I can help the dreamer see how this dream relates to their last dream and to the one they had four weeks ago or even four years ago. But ultimately, the work of unpacking the dream is the dreamer's. It is the dreamer's work to ask herself about each image, object and occurrence. If we were going to use the dream described in the first paragraph, that dreamer would ask himself, "What does a Teacup mean to me? What do teacups do? What are my memories of the teacups at Disneyland?" And then we would do that with bears and pigs and even Simon Cowell. Your associations to bears, pigs and even Simon Cowell are different than mine and your psyche knows that. Your psyche chooses images that it knows you will understand. It wants you to understand the dream and so it speaks in symbols that you will understand if you just take the time to unpack your association.

For me, when I think of the teacups at Disneyland I think of a feeling of delightful disorientation. I think of surrendering and even actively trying to create a feeling of dizziness. However, if you asked my husband about teacups he would tell you that they make him feel sick and that he does not go on them for that reason. I bet every person reading this piece has a different association to teacups and that is why there is not just one way of reading a dream and why dream books are useless.

If you turned to a dream book and looked up teacup it might say: "To dream of teacups signifies pastimes that you enjoy and find pleasant." Well, I suppose that is one way of looking at it. However your associations are MUCH more important and relevant to understanding what your psyche is trying to tell you than anything a dream dictionary has to say. And I might be able to help a client remember how they had described their job situation as a "tempest in a teapot" and help them explore how that may or may not relate to this dream.

Perhaps for the dreamer, his association to the bear is the "bear market," and the pig makes him think of hunger. Simon Cowell might remind him of his mother, the critical mother. That is a very different dream than the dreamer who relates these images to Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and of a desire to sing and perform. 

I wish I could tell you what that dream about the teacup means; I can't because I don't know. And I don't know what your dream means, either. You do. You are the expert of your dreams. I am not writing this post to highlight any expertise that I have in dream work. I am hoping to make you aware of the incredible gift you receive from your unconscious, hoping I can encourage you to unwrap these gifts and to spend time learning the language of your unconscious. I believe you will find that the time it takes to unwrap your crazy dream will be well worth it. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious and I think he was right. My advice to you? Go to sleep. Dream. Wake. Write that crazy dream down in a journal and ask yourself the simple questions, "What does x mean to me? What does x remind me of?"

Copyright Tracey Cleantis 2011

Tracey Cleantis is a writer and a licensed marriage and family therapist.

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