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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According to Fromm, these same benefits accrue from our production of dreams. We can similarly be guided by insights found in our dreams. Much as in the case of Sarah, Dan and Katherine, we “would do well” (as Deirdre Barrett notes) to listen to our dreams, discern what is valid, and act upon the insights conveyed in the dream.

Representation of a Problem in the Dream

If dreams do provide insights, then how do we discern what is valid and what is “noise” (random images) or even sources of distraction (Freud’s defensive mechanisms in action)? Fromm offer several ways in which to engage this discerning process.


First of all is the matter of exaggeration in dreams. The poetic and dramatic elements in dreams are not buffered by reality. They often (if not always) offer an extreme version of what the problem is and what it can do. Put in other terms, dreams often offer the “worst case scenarios” (or sometimes a best-case scenario). Fromm, 1951, p. 167) frames this dynamic feature of dreams as one of exaggerated quantity:

“Dreams are like a microscope through which we look at the hidden occurrences in our soul. A comparatively small trend in the complex texture of desires and fears may be shown in the dream as having the same magnitude as another one which is of much greater weight in the dreamer’s psychic system. A comparatively small annoyance with another person, for instance; may give rise to a dream in which the other person falls sick and thus is capable of annoying us, and yet this would not mean that we have such a strong anger against that person that we ‘really’ want him to be sick. Dreams give us a clue to the qualities of hidden desires and fears but not to their quantities.”

Sarah’s dream might illustrate this point. Her colleague isn’t literally cutting her. It is metaphoric. Furthermore, the damage being done might not be as great as portrayed in Sarah’s dream. As Fromm suggests, it is not a matter of quantity. It is a matter of “making a point” by offering a dramatic staging of the issue being addressed. Thus, in discerning what is valid and useful in a dream, one should not judge the magnitude of the dream’s presentation but instead look to the underlying message that is being conveyed in a dramatic fashion—much like one does when considering the primary message being conveyed in an “over-the-top” Wagnerian opera or highly sentimental love song.


A second element in the discernment process concerns redundancy. Dreams have a way of being persistent. An important issue or theme is being conveyed in several different ways in a single dream or is being conveyed repeatedly in several dreams. French and Fromm (1964) considered this redundancy to be a sign that a focal, unresolved conflict is being represented repeatedly in our dreams. Does it take repeated messaging sometimes to get our attention. In one of my previous essays, I suggested that focal conflict was to be found in Katherine’s Pelican dream (Bergquist, 2023a). Fromm (1951, p. 192) similarly notes that there are recurrent dreams:

“. . . which some people report as going on for a period of years, sometimes as far back as they can recall. These dreams usually are expressive of the main theme, of the leitmotif, in a person’s life, often the key to the understanding of his neurosis of or the most important aspect of his personality. Sometimes the dream remains unchanged, sometimes there are more or less subtle changes, what are indicate of the inner progress of the dreamer—or of a deterioration, as the case may be.”

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