[Written around 2007.]
All good self-therapy needs dreamwork, because dreams provide the most basic and clearest clues to the working of our unconscious. If we wish to resolve our unconscious issues – which is the point of self-therapy, after all – we have no better tool in our armament than dream analysis.
Yet so few forms of self-therapy – including the Twelve Step Programs such as AA – even give lip service to dreamwork. No surprise. Dreamwork is hard as hell, and in fact is the road straight into hell. And when you consider the number of people who, out of unconscious pain avoidance, don’t even remember their dreams, except perhaps an odd fragment here and there, and thus are left out in the cold when it comes to analyzing them, you see why most self-therapies don’t push dreamwork. Also, when you consider that most who do remember their dreams have no idea where to begin when analyzing them beyond reading interpretation books written by people cashing in on their own limited insight and the public’s naïveté, the picture gets clearer.
Dreamwork is difficult, there is no doubt. It is hard to make sense of dream symbols that are often bizarre, disconnected, contradictory, emotionally charged, painful, violent, politically incorrect, and sometimes overtly perverse, disgusting, and if actually carried out in reality, criminal. And it is even harder when the self-therapist doesn’t have the best grasp on his own inner emotional dynamics and history. That’s the rub with dreamwork: to be good at it you already have to know yourself and your unconscious dynamics quite well. That’s why doing dreamwork effectively is not for everyone. Of course, many take feeble stabs at analyzing their dreams, or play as armchair quarterbacks in their own dream analysis process, but all too often they just get lost in taking dream symbols literally, taking the people in dreams literally, viewing dreams as portents of things to come, and not connecting all symbols and people to the unconscious, split-off, disavowed sides of oneself, and especially one’s childhood history.
I sometimes wonder if a person can really accomplish any deep self-therapy if they are not ready to do dream analysis. If a person cannot on his own find some coherent order and logic in his dreams it is very difficult for him to sort out many of the deeper dynamics in his life. What would be his base of reference for reality? What could he know to be true within himself? How could he be sure that he was not completely misinterpreting his inner dynamics and seeing himself radically out of context or proportion?
That said, I think there is a value in even attempting to analyze one’s dreams, no matter how feebly. After all, even the best dream analysts can never be fully sure of all the meanings of a dream, and sometimes miss the boat entirely. The Dream Genius – that part of us that creates our dreams – is complex and multi-layered. As such it is possible to understand a dream’s surface dynamics but miss its deeper meanings, but no matter: even understanding surface dynamics is better than understanding nothing. Just trying to sort it out gives the self-therapy process a value.
For instance, a person who considers himself to be happy and peace-loving but has consistently violent dreams can avoid this split-off side of his unconscious if he never looks at his dreams. But if he studies his dreams even cursorily – and of course accepts that everything in his dream has something to do with his own personality – he cannot help but acknowledge that there is in fact a terribly violent part of himself, and beneath that, and more importantly, a violated part. Talk about a doubly humbling dose of reality.
But if a person who wishes to do self-therapy is not ready to do dream analysis – or has no remembered dreams to analyze – all is not lost. His job then is to put his life in the best possible position to remember his dreams. He can do preparatory work, the work of pre-self-therapy: living the healthiest lifestyle possible, which in this case includes getting himself into a good and natural and consistent sleeping routine, discontinuing drugs and alcohol, sleeping in the same, comfortable bed every night (and preferably sleeping alone to minimize distraction), removing as many external stressors as possible from his life, and then while awake and conscious making as much of a focused commitment as possible to himself to get out of bed in the middle of the night when he wakes up so that he can write down his dreams, and write them down fully. And then he has to be able to make the commitment to himself to analyze them as soon as possible.
Dreams are a sign of the unresolved issues bubbling and festering beneath our surface, and as long as they’re there, it’s a sign that our psyche and spirit are desperately trying to heal. Freud, who seemed to be only a marginally good dream analyst – and didn’t take his own process of dreamwork too seriously, almost certainly because it was too difficult and painful for him and would have had too many painful consequences for his denial-laden life – did, however, write one great line regarding dreams: “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.”
Right he was, and if we want to achieve the royalty of spirit that is our birthright, we do ourselves a good turn by lacing up our walking shoes and hitting the road.