As I have noted in the initial essay in this series on dream interpretation (Bergquist, 2022), a dream can serve many functions—sometimes several functions at the same time. It might fulfill a forbidden desire, help to resolve a longstanding conflict in our life or just provide us with some late-night entertainment. Potentially one of the most important (adaptive) but quite controversial functions of a dream is to alert the dreamer to some issue that they might not want to confront during their waking life.
Just as anxiety can signal that there is something threatening inside us, so a dream might provide a signal that some issue outside of us can be challenging. This issue might concern a specific interpersonal relationship, or some puzzling problem related to their work life. The range of issues that dreams might address is quite wide—and impressive. We are trying to ignore this threatening issue or are diminishing its importance; however, our dream tells us in dramatic fashion that this issue must be addressed.
In this essay, I wish to address this function of issue-identification by reporting on three dreams that I have collected from colleagues over the past several months. After providing the content of each dream and a bit of the background regarding the dreamer at the time they had their dream, I turn to the interpretation of dreams offered by Erich Fromm, and noted psychoanalyst who broke off from the traditional psychoanalytic school to offer insights regarding not only the human psyche but also the societies and cultures in which people life. In The Forgotten Language (Fromm, 1951), Fromm offers several important proposals (and potential insights) regarding how dreams can assist us in identifying and addressing the challenge of difficult issues that we are facing while falling asleep. But first the three dreams.
Sarah is a 46 year old executive working in the insurance industry. She considers herself to be “emotionally intelligent” (to use a term now in corporate favor) and to be a good team player. Yet, as she is getting ready for bed, something is disturbing her about her work life. She doesn’t know what has “gone wrong” – only that she has not been looking forward to going to work during the past couple of months.
Sarah reported the following dream:
“I was meeting with one of my colleagues from work. He had a razor in his hand and, as we talked, he began cutting my face. It didn’t bleed and I felt nothing. He was very gracious in talking with me about work-related matters; however, after we finished our meeting, I returned to my home and looked in the mirror. I saw that my face was covered with these cuts. I screamed and suddenly woke up.”