Home Personal Psychology Sleeping/Dreaming Dreamer Beware: The Insightful Dreams of Sarah, Dan and Katherine

Dreamer Beware: The Insightful Dreams of Sarah, Dan and Katherine

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Is there some manifestation of a committee of sleep operating in our lucid dreams? If we have the capacity to recognize that we are dreaming when we are in the midst of a dream, then do we somehow have the capacity to create a mechanism for oversight over our dreams? Can we dream about dreaming? If we can create hypothetical situations and plan for the future when we are awake, then perhaps we can not only reflect on our dreams when we are dreaming (lucid dreaming), but also do some planning regarding the content and purpose of the dream when we are asleep. Can we dream about planning to dream? If we can construct meaning when encountering a seemingly random cluster of events when awake, then we might be able to find meaning in the seemingly random events that cascade through our dreams. Perhaps we can mold meaning out of the images appearing in a dream just as we can mold a bowl or statue of a mythic figure out of clay when we are awake. In short, we might find that there is a committee of sleep that is somehow operating via self-organization when we are asleep.

Regression in the Service of the Ego

The presentation by Erich Fromm of dreams as a problem-identification and, sometimes, a problem-solving venture was a daring departure from conventional psychoanalytic thinking about the function and purpose of dreams. Even those who diverged from the traditional psychoanalytic focus on the Id and primary processes, with a refocusing on the Ego and secondary (reality-based) processes tended to consider dreams to be Id-driven and highly irrational.

The noted Ego psychologist, Ernst Kris (1953) introduced the concept of “regression in the services of the ego”—yet reserved this creative and problem-solving function for purposefully creative acts such as painting, caricature, and comedy. Kris considered dreams to be under the control of the Id and not engaged in any kind of purposeful manner. Yet, from the perspective offered by Fromm, dreams are often providing regressive services (such as the use of metaphor and fanciful narrative) that do serve the ego. Dreams can provide insight about interpersonal relationships. They can offer highly creative images that translate during waking hours to works of art, innovative products and the solving of complex problems.

In the Service of the Ego

Given this framing of dreams as regressive operations in the service of the ego, we can apply some of Kris’ insights regarding the artistic enterprise to the interpretation of dreams. First, as the name implies, regression in the service of the ego means that the Id is not in charge. While dreams might serve an important Id-driven expressive function, they need not be restricted to this function. Both Sarah’s and Dan’ dreams, for instance, might be expressing some of Sarah’s and Dan’s aggressive instincts, they also might be suggesting that this aggression is coming from outside these two dreamers. Sarah and Dan need not blame themselves (inwardly directed aggression) for their negative feelings. There is someone else in their life that is making them feel wounded and hurt—though they might also want to reflect on their own role in bringing about this aggression.

Similarly, a dream might be serving a Super-Ego-driven repressive function, yet also providing a pathway toward constructive action. Katherine’s dream, for instance, could serve as a warning against Katherine becoming too attached to her boyfriend or even (in classic Freudian fashion) too sexually active with her boyfriend. The shattered mobile is intended by Katherine’s super-ego to dissuade her from any intimate behavior.

However, even this repressive function may be engaged alongside an Ego-driven function: “let’s be careful about getting too involved with this boyfriend before you find out more about him.” The reality-based caution may enable Katherine to be thoughtful in her decisions about intimate involvement with someone rather than being irrational and “trigger happy” in throwing the x&&%%#$$ out of her life after dropping her precious mobile.

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