Interpretation of dreams in Jungian psychology

Dreams and their interpretation!

Since ancient times, human beings have had a strong interest in understanding dreams. By obtaining information from those moments in which consciousness fades (while we are sleeping), we come to apprehend things better and even solve problems, create artistic works, or make scientific discoveries.

In his work, the Odyssey, Homer mentions two very particular doors: the ivory door and the horn door. According to the myth, the dreams that come to us through the horn door end up coming true, while those that come through the ivory door are deceptive and do not correspond to future events.

The myth makes reference to the Oniros, sons of Nix, the night. The Oniros are the thousand personifications of dreams, they live in the caves on Erebus and are responsible to send dreams to mortals through the two doors (ivory or horn) It is our work to discern if those dreams are misleading or relevant to us.

For Jung, almost all dreams (Except for traumatic ones and those that allude to extrasensory perception) are compensatory. That is, its function consists of passing information from the unconscious that is both, necessary and relevant, to consciousness.

We all dream every night, even if we forget about it, and if we make a conscious effort to record and analyze our dreams, we will soon begin to remember them more frequently. This way, we will be able to use of their wisdom.

In Analytical Psychology, the dream is the clearest expression of the unconscious mind. It is a psychic creation that we find outside the continuous development of conscious facts. This makes dreams the most appropriate way to understand the mechanisms of the unconscious and bring their contents to light.

This way, we can consider dreams as objective facts, that are not the creation of the conscious mind and therefore remain independent from dreamer´s expectations and desires.

Freud and Jung had different views on dreams interpretation mainly because their conception of the unconscious was very different. Following his estrangement from Freud, Jung was ready to develop his own theory. Unlike Freud, Jung does not consider dreams to be a mere disguise, he believes that the dream represents what it says.

On the other hand, Jung treats oneiric images like open symbols, whereas for Freud they are signals. Furthermore, Freud considered that dreams were forged with experiences that the conscious mind repressed, but for Jung, in dreams we can also find material that has never been present in consciousness.

Dreams are different from the content of the conscious mind because they lack logic and coherence. According to Jung, dreams are not produced by the cerebral cortex, inactive while we sleep, but by the sympathetic nervous system, which is always active. This hypothesis has been supported by later experimental studies.

The difference between dream material and conscious content also lies in the “irrationality” of dreams, since they are not subject to physical or temporal limitations and often depict fantastic creatures. Past, present and future are frequently intermingled in dreams.

In Analytical Psychology there is a process to figure out the meaning of dreams, but first we must understand dream language.

Dream language is composed of non-verbal images, which can be complex and vivid. We can say that dream language is figurative, that is, we consider that dream images represent something else. (For example, dreaming of a dove as a symbol of peace.) We can also find metaphors, exaggerations…etc.

In some dreams we identify references related to a mythological language, alluding ancient events or beings. This links the way we consciously express our thoughts with a more primitive view that is tied directly to emotions. For Jung, these dream contents that come from the collective unconscious, are more vivid than abstract manifestations, and they allow a wider field of associations.

The first rule we must follow if we want to interpret a dream is to avoid assumptions, like assuming that the dream predicts the future. This can occasionally happen, but usually, dreams refer to the view of the unconscious psyche regarding a behaviour of the dreamer.

The dream means what it says but through the language of symbols, this is an open language, not suitable to be translated using a ‘dream dictionary’. The meaning of the symbol in a dream can be discovered only considering the context of the dream and the interconnections between images.

A dream can have a subjective or objective meaning, depending on its focus. Usually, a subjective interpretation is appropriate if the dream figure refers to someone not really significant in the dreamer´s life. An objective interpretation however, will be used if the dream figure is someone really relevant for the dreamer.

Dreams won´t tell you what to do, but they will put light on a problem.

We can summarize dream interpretation in a process or sequence:

–    It is important to record every detail of the dream immediately after waking up, so we must have a notebook and a pen handy. If we delay this step, we will end up forgetting a lot of important details about the dream.

–    Second, we must write the personal associations, like facts, ideas, feelings… etc, and all the reflections that occurs to us related to the dream images, making a deliberate effort to make more connections. Jung recommends staying close to the image, instead of doing “free associations”

–    We must also write the archetypal parallels around the dream images. This is the information that does not come from personal experience, but that comes from the collective unconscious, like the ones we find in myths. Dreams with archetypal parallels are known as archetypal dreams and may contain a message for the global community.

–    Then we need to write down how is the conscious context related to the dream.

–    Later, we connect the dots and find links between the amplifications and the conscious situation. Amplification involves the use of mythic, cultural and historical parallels to widen the materials. This way, we make clearer the dream context.

–    During all the process we make sure that we are following the guidelines, like using symbols, avoiding assumptions, considering that the dream means what it says, refusing giving instructions to the dreamer (tell him what to do), etc.

–    Determine if the dream is subjective (refers to the dreamer) or objective (refers to the figure that appears in the dream)

–    Determine if the dream is reductive (it explains the reasons of the problem) or constructive (offers a possible solution or helps with psychological development)

–    Determine if the dream is compensatory (the unconscious provides information needed by the conscious mind ) or non compensatory (traumatic or extra sensory perception dreams)

–    Define which is the problem / issue related to the dream.

–    Try to give an hypothesis of an interpretation and verify it with the dreamer.

Dreams can constitute a valuable source of information and we will gain a lot if we start to pay more attention to them.


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