Why Pay Attention to Dreams?
Since ancient times, people of all cultures have sought and found meaning in their dreams. We seem to intuit that the mysterious images and strange situations that we experience nightly must mean something. Depth psychologists, particularly Jungian analysts, give particular attention to dreams, considering them to provide direct access to the unconscious.
We all dream several times each night, even when we do not remember doing so.
Dreams are a natural activity of the unconscious. People deprived of REM sleep (the deep sleep state where dreams occur) will experience impairments in cognitive and motor functioning and eventual hallucinations.
It is often said that dreams don’t lie. When we are awake, our perceptions of ourselves, others and events are filtered through the prejudices and biases of the ego, or conscious personality. Our egos perform the job of enabling us to function through elaborate systems of self- protection, called defenses in psychology. These defenses are necessary in order to live our lives in society. They enable us to maintain self-esteem, reduce anxiety and show an appropriate “face” to the world.
But we pay a price for operating too exclusively out of the ego’s defenses. That price may be imbalance, rigidity, being cut off from our emotions, body knowing or creativity. In sleep, the control of the ego is suspended. Without the filtering of the ego’s defenses, our dreams show the current state of the psyche, from the perspective of the unconscious. As a result, accessing our dreams can be a way of correcting or compensating any imbalance.
The language of dreams is a language of symbol, metaphor and image. Because we are educated to rely on the language of logic and linear thinking, it takes training to understand the language of our dreams. Each dream is like a snap shot or short film depicting some aspect of our unconscious psychological state. By paying attention to our dreams and learning to understand their language, we gain access to hidden or buried parts of ourselves. Ongoing dream work creates a dialogue between the ego and the unconscious, enlarging the ego and enriching our conscious personality with expanded self-awareness.
Dreams in Jungian Analysis
Dreams often take a special importance in Jungian analysis. Analysts have years of specialized training and experience in working with dreams. As the analyst and client work on the client’s dreams together, valuable information often becomes available to assist in better understanding the client’s personal psychology. This can deepen the analytic work and open doors to self awareness that simply would not be accessible if we rely exclusively on information that is consciously available to the client.
Some people in analysis do not remember their dreams. This is not a problem. At times, there is so much going on in daily life that there is simply not enough psychological energy available to remember dreams. At other times, an individual may be more in tune with her or his inner life, so that dreams are not as necessary. Finally, for some people who have suffered trauma, dreams cannot be easily accessed. Analysis can be just as productive when the dreams are not remembered. In lieu of a dream, we might take a strong emotion or body sensation as the starting point to access the unconscious.
Suggestions for Remembering Your Dreams
- Prepare by keeping a pen and paper next to your bed. You may even want to put a small flashlight on your bedside table, in case you wake up with a dream during the night.
- Before sleeping, make the conscious intention of remembering a dream.
- When you awaken, lie still for a few minutes, in a relaxed state. If you recall any image from your dream, stay with that image and see if you remember more.
- Write whatever you remember, even if it is just a single image. If you remember a long dream, you might jot down key words and images, so that you can remember the entire dream later. Some people prefer to speak the dream into their cell phones as soon as they wake up.
- Once you are fully awake, write the entire dream with every detail you remember.
- Writing the dream is essential, both for remembering the dream and for working with it.