Carl Jung taught that the structure of a dream is similar to that of a drama, comprised of four different stages:
- Exposition: The opening scene, which introduces the place, characters, and situation that the dreamer will face–the issue or problem as expressed through metaphor.
- Development: The emergence of the plot.
- Culmination: Something significant occurs, and the main character responds.
- Lysis: The result or solution of the dream’s action. The lysis signifies how the dreamer might deal with the problem or issue that was expressed during the exposition stage. In effect, the work of the dream has produced a solution or result for the dreamer.
Jung considered the lysis the most important part of the dream because it showed where the dreamer’s energy wanted to go. Daryl Sharp writes, “Where there is no lysis, no solution is in sight” (Jungian Psychology Unplugged).
While some dreams are too short or fragmented to lend themselves to interpretation, the manifest (or remembered) dream can be important. Such a dream contains within itself the actual meaning of the dream; one needn’t understand its esoteric symbols in order to glean the meaning. The dream is a message from the unconscious, spoken through symbols meaningful and peculiar to the dreamer.
A person wanting to interpret a dream may, like Jung, use the method of amplification. This involves elaborating on a dream image in order to find its significance through association. Ask the dreamer the following questions:
- What personal associations do you have with the image or symbol? What does this image mean to you? What else? And what else?
- What feelings do you have associated with this symbol/image/person in the dream?
- What hidden parts of myself might this dream image represent?
- Is there a cultural significance to this dream image? If so, what is it?
- Are there any archetypal meanings to this image? If so, what are they?
The conscious situation of the dreamer is also quite important. The dream is not an isolated event and cannot be detached from the dreamer’s everyday life. Therefore, a number of conscious attitudes will begin to cluster together within the unconscious. Dreams tend to compensate for these conscious attitudes or personality traits, which will otherwise be repressed, hidden, or forgotten. For example, if the dreamer is repressing his feelings of anger or rage in waking life, he may dream rage-filled, angry dreams to compensate for this. The dream has a balancing effect by producing another point of view for the dreamer.
Another method of Jung’s that helps with dream interpretation is that of active imagination. The dreamer, once awake, meditates, concentrating on a specific dream image. He then allows the image to develop freely without making a conscious effort to change it, in effect “dreaming the dream on.” This method is particularly helpful when a person is dealing with a series of dreams, or a recurrent and troubling dream.
Finally, one should look at the people in his dreams, because dream people are personifications of one’s complexes. As such, they show our complexes at work in determining our attitudes, which in turn cause our behaviors.
Resources. Dream interpretation isn’t as simple as Googling symbols. In fact, dream interpretation from a Jungian perspective is as complicated and unique as the individual himself. One of the best sources for interpreting dream symbols and images from an archetypal position is Jung’s last psychological work before his death, Man and His Symbols. Anyone wanting to establish good insight into symbolism ought to own this book.