Saturday, November 5, 2011

Perspective on a dream

A middle-aged man going through a divorce shared this dream: “I am watching ancient statues walk toward an opening in the ground. It is a well, and when they get to the edge, they are lowered into the water where they are reclaimed. It all seems very purposeful. Some of the statues are green with age, and broken. Some have to be carried.

“This is all happening on the edge of an arena enclosed by high, white stone walls that have steps that go down to an the arena. I look down into the arena from above and sees two white cars racing around a track. I know that the cars are very expensive, and owned by a wealthy man, who allows people to drive them. The two cars collide, and I wince thinking that the accident will be very costly. But apparently the man has anticipated this problem, and has made the cars in such a way that they can be snapped back together, so that people can race around without fear of destroying the cars. I am relieved to see the cars restored to their previous state.”

When asked about feelings, the man replied “sad,” “somber,” “sober,” and “courageous” to describe the willingness of the statues to submit to the dissolving of their prior forms. But he went on to say that he felt “excited,” “competitive,” “afraid,” and “relieved” to describe the scene in the arena.

In formulating a theme or process narrative, the dreamer and I considered, “Some things are coming to a purposeful end without anyone expressing regret.” In the second part, however, he decided that the theme was something like, “Someone observes an apparently destructive process that can be easily reversed, because someone has anticipated it and made it possible.”

The dreamer related the first scene to his marriage, which had been coming apart for two years. He had given up thinking that the relationship could be salvaged, had fully embraced an attitude of letting go, and had recently welcomed the divorce. But the second scene seemed to capture the relationship dynamic in a new relationship with an old friend. At first, he was concerned that the relationship simply mirrored some of the conflict that he’d experienced in his marriage, and was considering ending it for that reason. But the surprising resilience of the white cars seemed to suggest to him that a wholly different process was unfolding–one that could be destructive, but not in any permanent sense. What’s more, the dreamer realized that the relationship was always playful, even if it times it seemed to be ending.

When we looked at the dreamer’s responses to the dream, there wasn’t much to consider, except that the dreamer initially concluded that the cars had been totally destroyed. Only later did he realize that they were made to absorb the forces of the collisions. He realized that he often felt fatalistic whenever he and his friend argued, and would sometimes speak precipitously and hurtfully about his sense of hopelessness. He decided that the dream accurately portrayed the conflict between him and his girlfriend, but revealed a deeper foundation that could weather the storm. In applying the dream, he decided to tell her about the dream, and to make a commitment to avoid fatalistic pronouncements in the midst of their arguments. She had always felt that it wasn’t as bad as he believed, so she was encouraged by the dream, and by her partner’s realization.

Most of this work was strictly process oriented and followed the FiveStar sequence of steps, meaning we considered the feelings, theme, and dreamer responses before we examined the specific content. However, the white cars captured the sense of newness and beauty in their relationship, and became a source of reassurance for the couple. Indeed, the contrasting imagery between the first scene and the second allowed the dreamer to see the vast differences in the two relationships: his marriage (old forms and memories as depicted by the statues) that had to be “reabsorbed into the earth,” and his new relationship could be embraced for its capacity for resilience and renewal. The wealthy owner of the car suggested the presence of higher power in their relationship–something that both of them had felt since meeting.

Therapists who use a psychodynamic model–and that means most of us from time to time–are often on a mission to help their clients answer a simple question, “What is similar and what is different between the new and the old?” Clients in distress often assume that when a relationship is superficially similar to an old, unhealthy relationship, that the two relationships are alike. This conclusion can be quite tragic, because a promising new relationship can be rejected on the basis of superficial similarities without appreciating the deep differences. This dream sets the stage for the dreamer to experience the differences between the old and new, and thus performs a profound service for the dreamer. Of course, a process-oriented dream work method will get to the heart of the differences, because the dreamer’s conclusions (i.e. that the old and the new relationships are both destructivce) will be called into question when the dream work examines first of all how these assumptions may reflect habitual reactions. Once the dreamer has to face the possibility that he has rejected the new unfairly, the dream imagery can be analyzed either to support or refute the dreamer’s conclusion. In this dream, the white cars are “proof positive” that the relationship process in the new relationship was, contrary to the dreamer’s reflexive assessment, more positive and resilient than he had thought. You need always to consider the subjective reactions of the client/dreamer alongside the “facts” of what is happening in the relationship as you search for an accurate and balanced answer to the question, “What is similar and what is different?”

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