Thursday, 1 December 2011
The Meaning of Dreams
In a previous post I explained the basics of dreams; what dreams are, how and when we dream, possibly why we dream and the importance dream interpretation plays in our waking conscious life. Read it here.
I find dreams fascinating, both my own and other people’s, as I think they offer a window into our innermost minds, metaphorically sending us instructions we are not always tuned in enough to take on board. In this post I want to share an example of how dream hypnosis can be used to further understand our dreams, using the fundamentals of Gestalt Psychology, also explained in the previous post.
I have been given permission to share a session from a fantastic woman from Ireland, although I will keep her name anonymous. She initially came to me for hypnotherapy to treat a phobia, but her recent vivid dreams soon came up in our conversation. She described a dream/nightmare that she had been having repeatedly for a number of months but could not understand why she was having it. I asked her to close her eyes and recount the dream as if she was having it all over again. Her description of the dream went like this:
I find myself in an old house, all made of wood in a setting similar to what I imagine would be somewhere in the Caribbean or one of the southern states of the USA. I am looking after children in the house, many children – all by myself. I am trying my best to look after all these children when I look out one of the windows and I see crocodiles…they are moving around in a large pond or a swamp outside and I begin to feel nervous…what if they come inside? I begin to go around shutting the doors but as I do so the crocodiles are coming inside…they are breaking through the walls! I try to stop them by closing more doors and putting chairs in the way – but they keep coming, through the toilets and through the walls…everywhere I look they are coming. The children have disappeared I don’t know where…I run up the stairs looking for them but all I can see are the crocodiles coming closer towards me…and then I wake up.
What could this dream possibly mean? What do the crocodiles and the young children in the old house represent to this woman? In my opinion the answer cannot be found accurately in any book or dream dictionary. The only way to find out what these dreams meant was to get the answers from the woman herself; it is a unique insight after all.
I completed a hypnotic induction in no more than a few minutes until I was certain she was in a comfortable, no more than light stage of hypnosis. I then got her to recount her dream again, exactly as if she was having it all over again and to commentate on what was happening. Somewhere in the middle of the dream I asked her to pause her vision as if she was pausing her DVD player at home. I told her that she was no longer going to be viewing the dream from her own point of view, but instead from the view of one of the children, as if she was indeed one of those children answering me. When she indicated she was ready to continue, I asked her what she was doing in the house. (the dialogue has been shortened and condensed to make it more blog friendly).
‘The lady is looking after us all’ she replied, slipping seamlessly into the role of a child.
‘Why? Where are you parents?’
‘I don’t know, they are not here. She is the only one who takes care of us. We live here in the house’
‘Is it nice in the house?’
‘Yes it is. Until the crocodiles come and they only want to harm us’
‘Why do they want to harm you?’
‘They are evil. They come and they want to eat us. The lady tries to help us but there are too many of them’
I get the woman to pause the vision and switch characters again, this time to one of the crocodiles.
‘Why are you attacking these poor children and the lady?’
‘It’s our swamp’ she answers in a deeper, meaner voice.
‘But the people live in the house not the swamp’
‘The house is next to our swamp. And we’re hungry’
‘Isn’t there anything else you can eat?’
‘Isn’t there another swamp you could move to?’
‘No we are happy here’
I pause the dream and switch characters again, this time to the house itself.
‘Why do the crocodiles break through your walls so easily?’
‘I am old and weak. I don’t have the same defences I used to. No one takes care of me any more’ (the woman apparently has no trouble speaking as an inanimate object)
‘What about the woman?’
‘She does her best, but she has all the children to look after. She has no time to look after me’
‘Could you be repaired?’
‘I suppose so. But the crocodiles come all the time; they make so much damage I would not know where to begin’
I ask the woman to change character back to ‘herself’ again.
‘How do you feel about this situation? You have the children feeling scared, the house feeling neglected and in a state of disrepair and the crocodiles disliking you as their neighbours. It seems you have a lot to think about’
‘I don’t like the situation. I try to look after the children but it’s hard work, the house is falling to bits but I can’t deal with it. The crocodiles won’t leave us alone. I feel scared for us all, I feel unhappy’
‘What if you asked the crocodiles to leave you alone?’
‘They won’t. They just said they are hungry and are happy where they are’
‘Why don’t you ask them? Speak to the crocodiles now and tell them what you want’
‘I want you crocodiles to leave my children alone and stay away from my house!’
‘Ok good. Now switch and be the crocodiles, what would their response be to you?’
‘This is our home. Why should we move?’
(I continue switching her back and forth to make the dialogue work)
‘Because you are making us all very unhappy’
‘That’s not our fault. This is our home and we are only doing what comes naturally to us’
‘What you do feels evil to me and the children’
‘We are not evil. We just live like we are supposed to. We don’t mean to be evil it is just the way we are’
‘So…maybe you are not evil. Maybe we are just different’
‘Very different. But this is our home’
‘But there must be other places you can go instead of my house? Your swamp is very big and there is plenty of room’
‘Yes it is. But your house is easy. We don’t even have to try at all to get inside the walls just crumble. The children are easy to eat and there’s nothing to protect them. That’s why we come’
I ask the woman to pause the dream, feeling that some kind of conclusion could be drawing nearer. I speak to her directly again.
‘So the crocodiles only come to your house because the defences are so weak, leaving you and the children vulnerable. What do you think about that?’
‘The crocodiles are only doing what they do naturally, they won’t change but it is up to me to keep my children safe’
‘Are there different ways that you can accomplish that?’
‘Why don’t you speak to the children – tell them what you can do for them’
‘I am sorry that you have been scared and the crocodiles have been tormenting you’
(once again the dialogue is switched back and forth)
‘We feel safe with you, but not when the crocodiles come’
‘Don’t worry, from now on I am going to make sure the crocodiles can’t get in so easily. And if they can’t get inside the house so easily they will soon go away to a different part of their swamp – away from us so we can be happy in our house’
‘Thank you! That would make us very happy! We would feel much safer in a better house’
(me) So maybe now you could talk to the house to let it know what you are going to do.
(switch dialogue to the house)
‘I have neglected you for a long time, and it has left me without security. My children have suffered and so have I because the crocodiles have found this easy place where they can come and eat as much as they like when there is plenty of other places they can go to. I want to make you a strong house again, so strong the crocodiles can’t get inside and we can be happy again living inside’
‘That would be great for me. No more crocodiles coming through my walls and up through my toilets! If I was strong again like I was before I would keep us all safe’
The session continued with a small amount of dialogue before I took her out of the dream and gently brought her back out of the hypnosis. I allowed her to settle for a few moments before beginning the debriefing. What was to be made of all that?
She was clearly moved by the experience and I could see right away that the session had made her look at the dream in a whole new way. It had shifted from being a nightmare about crocodiles attacking her and the children in the old house, to a dream being about parts of herself.
I asked her what she thought about the experience and whether she thought it had been a useful practice. She agreed right away that it had been very useful, and said with confidence that she saw exactly how the dream related to her personal life. I asked her what she thought the different parts meant and she said the crocodiles were her depressions and fears, waiting on the outside always hungry and ready to take advantage. She said the children felt like her vulnerability – needing protection and not being able to cope on their own without being looked after. The house was her defences and stability, and she felt sure she had let these dwindle over the years, allowing her fears, or the outside world, inside and allowing them to cause her distress. The woman said that she herself in the dream was like her conscious being, trapped and without anywhere to run, desperate because she did not know where to begin to solve the problem, or without any real understand of what the problem even was.
The metaphor of her dream was finally pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. That realisation in itself of the problem, and the meaning of the persistent dream, was enough on its own to ease this woman’s discomfort. Because she could see her situation in a new light she was able to begin thinking ways around it, keeping the crocodiles away by making herself stronger.
I heard from this particular woman just twice more, once more in session and then a follow up email. She reported a new feeling of clarity and direction in her way of thinking, and she felt a great sense of change for the positive in that, knowing what she must do to improve herself. The next session was a week after the dialogue reported above and the follow up email more than a month after that. She said that she had not had the nightmare again, nor any other nightmares for that matter, and as far as I know she hasn’t had any since. Why? Because the subconscious problem that was not being dealt with consciously finally got dealt with! The blockage was unblocked leaving her with an altogether clearer mind that allowed her to sleep peacefully.
Do you have a dream you cannot quite explain? Have you had recurring dreams that you can’t seem to stop? Why not take advantage of my festive season special and get a hypnosis session absolutely free… Email me to find out more.