Understanding Dreams

When dreams mix the public and the private.

Posted Oct 17, 2020

In times of intense public discourse and even turmoil, prominent symbols from our national discussion often appear in people’s dreams. However, because everyone has their own unique personal history, these symbols represent different feelings and experiences for different people. Lucy’s dream of missing her ballot, which triggered strong emotions, ultimately brought her back to a very personal issue that evoked equally strong emotions in a different area of her life. 

The Dream

Last night I dreamt I was in a classroom. The teacher was walking around collecting voting ballots and I didn’t have mine. I was the only one in the entire class without the ballot to turn in and everyone else had theirs completed. I just remember everybody looking at me and waiting for me to turn my name in and I didn’t have it!

The Discussion

Starting with the symbol, I inquired, “What comes to mind about voting? Can you define it for me?”

Lucy responded, “It’s where you can voice your opinion and your choice.”

I offered, “In the dream, you are missing your ability to voice your opinion. Does that resonate about something in your life recently?”

“Yes. You see, I was in a relationship with my ex already a year ago, but in the last two months we’ve been together again, but as friends. The thing is the reason we had broken up was because at the time there were a few incidents where he drank too much. Once it had happened a few times, I decided he had a drinking problem and I moved on from the relationship.

“Since we rekindled a friendship in these last months since the quarantine, I see he doesn’t drink to excess at all anymore. He says it was because at the time he was fresh out of college and still in that party spirit. I trust him, I think, and I really like being with him. I’ve been considering getting back together.”    

I suggested, “So do you think that’s why you don’t have your ballot to pass in? Have you voiced your opinion to him yet?”

She agreed, “I have no vote yet because honestly I haven’t decided yet.” Lucy added, “The problem is I have a few friends, who I am not confident will support the possibility of us getting back together. Especially one friend in particular, who I can already imagine will be lecturing me about how she helped me through such a difficult time with my ex, and my letting go of him. I haven’t told any friends because I’m not anticipating their approval, and I worry what people will think.”

What We Can Learn

Voting takes place in the privacy of the booth. Just like the vote, in the end it’s each individual’s personal decision who that we decide to spend our time with. In her dream, Lucy engaged a symbol she feels strongly about—her vote in the upcoming election—and created a scenario that provoked a strong emotional response—a shameful public situation where everyone was watching and judging her. As soon as she examined this symbol, she jumped to the situation in her own life that she feels strongly about, but is worried about how people will watch her and judge her for it. 

Lucy and I talked about her fear of being judged by her friends. It turns out that she is the youngest in her family and would always wait for her mother and sister’s approval before making decisions. She fell into this pattern with her friends, too. So this dream, which juxtaposes a public shaming with what should be the private decision of voting, brought home to Lucy how inappropriate the dynamics of her childhood relationships are in her present situation. 

When life throws us situations, we tend to react with whatever our knee-jerk response is. These knee-jerk responses often come from childhood and may no longer be appropriate in whatever the present situation. By tapping into unexplored parts of your mind through your dreams, you can learn to recognize your habitual associations and responses, and make more considered decisions. 

As a matter of fact, the day after we analyzed her dream Lucy contacted her ex-boyfriend and “voiced her opinion,” telling him how she feels about him. She let her friends know as well, having made the decision for herself but asking for their understanding and support.