I took a nap and I dreamed about my father passing away. He was laying in a coffin, but in real life he is still alive. This dream was a nightmare for me I was crying and very afraid.
Dear Dreamer: I’m so sorry! Those dreams are awful. You wake up confused about who’s dead and who’s alive, and maybe worried that the dream is a premonition of an actual event. As you’ve adjusted to daily living, you’ve probably come to find that your father is alive and not in literal danger. So what does this dream mean for you?
Without having spoken with you, I would gander a couple of strong possibilities: your father complex is dying due to some new events or awareness in your life, and/or you have an unconscious and confusing death wish for your father. Let me explain.
If you’re anything like anyone alive, your relationship with your father is complicated. In your own particular blend of feelings that all children share, you love your father and are angry with him. You are hurt from past events and also grateful for things. Unconsciously, you balance out all of your conscious beliefs about him with their opposites. For instance, a woman may dream of her father all the time but in therapy will proclaim to have had a very good childhood with him, with nothing more to say. After months pass, however, she may begin to have conscious memories of his angry episodes or feeling his cold tone filter throughout the house. Consciously, she liked her dad. Unconsciously, things were much more complicated.
Carl Jung’s notion of a “complex” is a little like what acupuncturists work on when they’re seeking to clear a stuck point in the body: it’s a bundle of energy in your system that, when triggered by a word or a life event or even a nostalgic smell, can release all sorts of information. Until it’s triggered though, a complex sits there quietly, unconsciously, invisible to everyone except in certain patterns of behavior. Your “father complex” is your bundle of memories and experiences related to your father and other influential men in your life–including cultural images of the father or men in leadership positions. As an adult, some aspect of the way you view all men is filtered through this complex. A male guru, for instance, may appear all-knowing to a woman with a positive father complex. On the other side, for women who grew up with an angry, unpredictable father, even the kindest, simplest man may appear conniving.
So I would ask you, in what ways has your father complex been triggered lately? Have you begun dating a new man? Do you have a new male teacher? Or has your relationship with your father in life changed in any way? Listen to the image: The father is passing away. The father is dead. The father is going to be buried. What does that evoke for you? Perhaps you’re moving through a chapter of growth and you are gaining your own authority and leadership within yourself, or perhaps you’re able to be that much more present with a male partner now because you can see him more clearly for who he is. If you take some time to journal about this dream, letting your mind wander and your body experience the image, some significant insights are likely to arise.
As I said above, the second major possibility to explore is that you have some unconscious death wish for your father. To get into this tricky territory, let me quote Carl Jung on a woman’s dream of her dead mother:
…there does exist in our dreamer the tendency to be rid of her mother; expressed in the language of the unconscious, she wants her mother to die. But the dreamer should certainly not be saddled with this tendency because, strictly speaking, it was not she who fabricated the dream, but the unconscious.
Note that Jung is careful to emphasize what I want to emphasize with you: “The very fact that she can dream of such a thing proves that she does not consciously think of it. She has no notion why her [father] should be got rid of.”
Knowing absolutely nothing of your particular situation, it is hard for me to venture a guess as to why your unconscious may be harboring some infantile death wish for your father. Again, however, I wonder if your current romantic relationship status may have something to do with it. Are you seeking to enter into a relationship of which you feel your father would disapprove? Are you considering marriage and therefore–forgive my awkward heteronormative take here–needing to psychologically supplant the primary man in your life? Consider the deep cultural roots around the replacement of the father with the husband–think of the tradition of fathers “giving away” their daughters in wedding ceremonies.
Whether it’s a secret death wish or simply an increasing awareness around the father complex in your life, your dream suggests a threshold time. Some significant aspect of your life is changing. The image of death says as much. It is not a sleeping image or a wounded image, it is not a near death, but death itself. Old social customs and mythological tradition holds that when an old king dies, a new king is born and begins his reign. Consider this. The ground is being prepared for a new paradigm; an old ruling paradigm is falling away and a new one is coming.
Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!
I’ve often said, if only to myself, that Lena Dunham has made a career out of portraying the same neuroses of the twenty something years that I have made a career trying to fix (or perhaps, “heal”, “ameliorate”, “support” would be better verbs). I’m a fan of Girls, even if I squirm in discomfort throughout most of the episodes–it’s all just too accurate, too unfortunately spot on. So when Lena’s new memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, came out I was excited to read it. And reading it, I was delighted to see her stance of self-reflection on all the events–sexual, neurotic, physical, dietary–that she shares with us on HBO. When depicted there without a witnessing eye, it all just looks like such haphazard misery (which it is). But with greater awareness and some modern feminist perspective, Lena sheds light (see below for pun) on what her wiser self thinks about the trials of coming of age in the modern era.
In her explorations, luckily for us, Lena also divulged a recurring dream. After essays in Section II all about the body and her relationship to it, she ends with this:
My most frequent recurring dream is one in which I suddenly remember I have a number of pets living in my home that I haven’t tended to in years. Rabbits, hamsters, iguanas, stacked in dirty cages in my closet or beneath the bed. Terrified, I open the door, and the light touches them for the first time in ages. Desperate, I dig through the clumped, wet, wood chips. I’m afraid they’re decomposing there, but I find them still alive, thin and milky eyed and filthy. I know that I loved them once, that they had a better life before I got so distracted with work and myself to let them shrivel up and nearly die. ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,’ I tell them as I clean their cages and fill their bottles with fresh water. ‘How can i make it up to you?’
Your dream is quite telling, and its regular recurrence suggests it’s revealing an issue of particular importance to you. You intimate a sense that the dream is related to your desire to have children, and your fears. After a diagnosis of endometriosis, you’re contemplating the possible necessity to have children in the near future, but you share your resentment too of these theoretical babies. That they’ll interrupt your life, that you’re not quite ready. “I can feel them. The babies. . . .They’ve come too soon, and I can’t do any of what I had planned. All I can do is survive.”
This dream may be about your mother instinct, about the fear of your ability to care for these babies, though I think it’s less to do with future kids and more about how you care for the subtler parts of yourself. As you note in your dream, something changed when you became so distracted with work. Those sweet creatures that live in your home with you, those creatures that depend on your conscious self for survival, they became neglected, buried in darkness, earth, and wood. If–speaking in sweeping dream interpretation generalities here–the “I” in the dream is your ego consciousness and your house is symbolic of your whole being, what are those parts of you that have become so neglected, under nourished, and unseen? Where have you hid them, and why?
I wrote an interpretation last year that shares a number of themes with your dream: thirsty iguanas and other animals in the house and backyard. It was a dream, like yours, pointing towards the persistent, undeniable demands of one’s animal nature in a modern life. Just because we pretend in all our work, intellectualism, and consumption of information, that we’re not connected to our bodies, doesn’t mean we’re not. And just like with babies, the occasional snack, glance, and moment of physical affection won’t cut it. More attention, more awareness is needed.
Your dream suggests that you have let your self-care slide, and you are terrified to face that neglect. The very good news, though, is that your dream indicates you’re already taking steps to heal. Nervous and scared, you go to face what you have done, entering the dark closet and shedding light on what was once in darkness. You are coming to consciousness, illuminating an area of your life that maybe you had hoped, if you paid it no mind, would just go away into the dark recesses of the earth. Luckily those aspects, although atrophied and weak, are still alive and grateful for your renewed attention. Your apologetic attitude towards them is a good sign too: though you’re horrified that you neglected yourself in this way, you are increasingly aware of your need to be gentle with yourself and your body, and increasingly sorry that you checked-out for so long.
You’re no stranger to admitting neglect of your body. Many a moment in Girls circles around this (semi-fictional) theme, and you share more personal stories in your book. What’s new in the book, however, is a revelation of your increased awareness about the importance of caring for your body, lady parts and all. Even though they are hidden and unseen, things like your instincts and your organs, critical for survival and well-being, must be as tended to over and above emails, deadlines, dates, and drinks with friends. They’re voices aren’t always as loud as the ping on your phone or the shouts of work and relationships, but it is critical that you listen. Your dreams can help you in that arena. If you ever see a suffering animal, pay attention. Ask it what it needs and don’t run away.
If the animals you encountered had been oceanic, animals like fish and octopus and whales, I would think you were being drawn to attend to issues of your emotional life. Animals that swim suggest something related to the waters of the mind and feelings. Earth bound animals, on the other hand, may point more directly to the well-being of the physical body. Jung viewed animals like iguanas, snakes, and crabs in dreams as prognostic indicators of organic issues. Iguanas, in their dragon-like quality, might relate particularly to issues of motherhood within the body as the Dragon in mythology relates to the Mother and the tricky life path of destroying the Mother Complex.
Wonderful that you have provided these animals with fresh water. You’re providing them with new life, new emotional energy and loving attention. You are providing yourself the same. You ask the animals at the end of the dream “How can I make it up to you?” I would encourage you to meditate on this very question in waking life. Do not shy aware from the discomfort that may arise when you go into that sad, frightened place within yourself, aware of the neglect and lack of awareness that was once rampant. Instead, listen. Keep opening that closet door a little wider, keep shedding light on the issue, and don’t turn your back on them again. Increasingly, these animals will find new life and you’ll notice it, joyfully, in every moment of yours.
Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!
Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their 20s and 30s. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com