As I noted earlier this week, a basic tenet of analytic psychology is the compensatory nature of dreams. That is, through dreaming, the psyche regulates itself by compensating for its conscious attitudes and thus striking a balance between the conscious mind and the unconscious. In his book Dreams, Jung uses the example of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as recounted in the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel. At the height of his monarchy, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a “tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great.” Jung comments that the tree becomes personified and it is “easy to see that the great tree is the dreaming king himself. Daniel interprets the dream in this sense. Its meaning is obviously an attempt to compensate the king’s megalomania which, according to the story, developed into a real psychosis” (Dreams 37). This is a good example of a compensatory dream, in which the individual has become overbearingly powerful not only in actuality, but especially in his own mind; the dream shows the tree being cut down, which is what the psyche sees must happen if Nebuchadnezzar is to achieve any sort of wholeness.
The Reductive Dream
Nebuchadnezzar is a good literary example of a person who is not living on his true level. He is an inflated individual, given more credit or power than he is really due. The opposite may happen, where an individual is actually more able or powerful than he or she lets on in real life; in that case, the unconscious would probably compensate through somewhat inflated or grandiose dreams.
Jung suggested that dreams must also have a reductive function, since there “are many people whose conscious attitude is defective [. . .] as regards expression of their own character” (Dreams43). A person may have the conscious attitude and adaptive performance that exceed their actual capacities as people, making them “appear to be better and more valuable than they really are” (Ibid. 43). Such people have achieved outward respectability or even eminence, but haven’t grown enough inwardly to warrant their outer status. The individual’s unconscious in such a situation will be likely to buffet the dreamer with images of his faults, failures, or downfall in order to achieve psychic balance.
Occasionally, an apparently telepathic dream occurs. Telepathic dreams anticipate or foretell an event, and there are many historic accounts of telepathic and prophetic dreams. Although such events are often powerfully emotional to the dreamer or the individuals represented in the dream, sometimes the anticipated event is quite commonplace. For example, the dreamer may see someone in a dream whom he later encounters in actual life, or an unimportant letter may arrive. Freud saw dreams as wish-fulfillments, but Jung differs, stating that the dream portrays the actual situation in the unconscious. Today, some people theorize that people have the power to draw events to themselves, which is one way of looking at telepathic dreams. A more traditional and commonplace view of telepathic dreams is that they are simply gifts of the spirit and to be taken as such.
I’ve had several telepathic dreams in my life. According to my mother, the women in our family have been gifted with “second sight” for many generations. For example, when my grandfather was killed in World War II, my grandmother knew long before she was officially notified, because my grandfather appeared to her and told her. In another example, as a child I dreamed that my best friend received a rare black and white hamster as a birthday gift; the following week, she actually did receive a black and white hamster for her birthday. I’ve dreamed, too, of two of my adopted children before their arrivals, even dreaming the birth of one and awakening from the dream at the exact moment of his birth, a fact we learned only later. Finally, in one of my most profound telepathic dreams, I once dreamed of angels refusing my dying grandfather entrance to heaven, saying that it wasn’t time for him to enter yet. He miraculously recovered and lived another 10 years. All these are examples of telepathic dreams.
A Dream Interpretation
Jung gave many examples of dream interpretation in his voluminous writings, often analysing himself. In my first article about Jungian dream interpretation, I listed the four steps of dream interpretation: exposition. Look at the setting of the dream, including what has been happening in the dreamer’s conscious life. This is exactly what Jung did when analyzing his own dreams. For example, at one point in his life, Jung was working with patients and began to have conflict with an analysand, Mr. A. Jung concluded that the cause of the conflict was Mr. A., but soon after coming to this conclusion, he had the following dream:
“I consulted a lawyer on a certain matter, and to my boundless astonishment he demanded a fee of no less than five thousand francs for the consultation–which I strenuously resisted.” The attorney of Jung’s dream was an unimportant reference to an acquaintance from Jung’s student days. However, Jung’s psyche had pointed him to an exposition that indicated that the setting was, in fact, important to his unconscious. This suggested that the period of Jung’s student days was significant to solving his current problem, for during this time Jung got into many arguments and disputes with others. As Jung associated the elements of the dream, he realized that the brusque manner of the attorney in his dream reminded him of the personality of his current client, Mr. A. In effect, Mr. A. was now hiding behind the lawyer in Jung’s dream, therefore Mr. A. was asking too much of Jung and was clearly in the wrong, as Jung’s conscious mind had already concluded.
Also in the dream, the attorney demanded five thousand francs; this indicated to Jung that Mr. A. was greedy. Feeling very satisfied with himself, Jung analysed his dream in his own favor, at first blush coming away feeling self-righteously smug about how well his unconscious and conscious minds had worked together. But there was just one problem: that niggling thing about greed. What was Jung’s personal experience with greed—his own greed? Jung recalled that he had been greedy for attention as a student, sometimes getting it by arguing and debating with others. He had almost forgotten to look at the similarities between himself and the dream attorney and Mr. A., his client. What parts of Jung were like a demanding, greedy attorney and a draining, tiresome client? Ah, of course: the parts that had manifested in Jung during his student days. That part had merely gone unconscious, just waiting to erupt under the right circumstances. His client, Mr. A., had heralded the right circumstances.
One reason I admire Jung so much is his humility and candor. Jung was often his own best critic, hard on himself but loving enough to accept his own frailties. His conclusion about the attorney dream was that he had been unconscious to his own inner, argumentative, greedy attorney and that this unrecognized part of his psyche had gotten into the driver’s seat and was driving the analysis with Mr. A. The conflict wasn’t Mr. A’s fault, it was first and foremost Jung’s fault. Had Jung not recognized his reaction, thanks to his dream, he would probably have made some analytic errors that didn’t serve his client. But he was able to resolve his own conflict, which was personal, and stop the transference and counter-transference happening between he and the client.
Dream Analysis: Proceed with Caution
Although there are numerous rules of thumb one may use when analysing dreams, there’s no objective rule book for interpretation of dreams. At best, each individual contains the reference work for his or her own dreams and other unconscious content. No one can do your work for you, in other words.
Jung cautioned against giving the analyst’s opinions or insights too much weight. The analyst him- or herself must have gone through a thorough analysis before attempting to help others, lest the analyst project his or her particular psychological makeup onto the client. Jung wrote that everything that is unconscious is projected, and that therefore we are all subject to having our unconscious conflicts come back in our faces. Even analysts are at risk.
One of my favorite Jung quotes about dealing with dream interpretation is this:
Everyone who analyses the dreams of others should constantly bear in mind that there is no simple and generally known theory of psychic phenomena, neither with regard to their nature, nor to their causes, nor to their purpose. We therefore possess no general criterion of judgment. We know that there are all kinds of psychic phenomena, but we know nothing certain about their essential nature. We know only that, though the observation of the psyche from any one isolated standpoint can yield very valuable results, it can never produce a satisfactory theory from which one could make deductions. (Dreams, Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 45).
The intense feeling of aloneness and loneliness that often arises in middle-age or during the third half of life is real, because we finally have lived (and survived) long enough to understand that it really is all about the individual journey. When Jesus Christ said that “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” He wasn’t just turning a pretty phrase. I think he meant it, and that it is.
There within each of us: a kingdom.
Jung, C. G. Dreams. 1974. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.