Tagged: complexes

“First They Took my Tooth and Now They Want my Eye!” A Dream Interpretation.

Dear Satya:

Q: I am in an academic setting, like a boarding school, and I am not allowed to leave. My mom is there. Two authority figures (at least one of whom was a man) are telling me that they are removing my eye. I am protesting and showing them that I already gave a tooth. They are very adamant and even my mom is saying that I have to do it. I’m furious and frustrated in the dream and continue to argue with them to the point where I am weeping and screaming.

A: Whew! This dream is quite upsetting! I feel chills when I read it, and can imagine you waking-up nervous and terrified. What do those people want from you??

Exploring this dream with you provided a reminder of what’s laying just below the surface of our awareness. We let ourselves acknowledge some of what we’re experiencing in our day-to-day lives, and a lot of the rest of what happens we choose to avoid or aren’t able to fully integrate. You initially shrugged and laughed when you shared this dream: “I think it’s about my student loan debt,” you told me. Hrm. I had my doubts. The emotions in this dream are far too strong to associate with the stress of student loans, unless you anticipate you’ll be on the street soon as a result.

What does resonate with the stress of student loans, however, is the feeling of being owned by someone else because of what they expect from you. The feeling that you are obligated to continue giving of yourself, despite having given a lot already. How does that ring true for you in other ways? When we discussed this, deep waves of emotion began to come to the surface. Things began to sink in for you. You’re a new mother, and between your beloved baby and your husband and the expectations at home, you’re being pulled in a million different directions. There’s a sense of infantilization, of imprisonment. Just take a moment to imagine the feeling of being in a boarding school today and being unable to leave! Just that opening feels a bit like a horror film. Then the dream continues, and you wake up crying and pleading for the authority figures to stop. The injustice of what is being asked of you is palpable.

You did not anticipate feeling so emotional after sharing the dream. As we talked more about what’s been going on in your life, some of the stress shifted into the truer, softer emotions underneath. Emotions that haven’t had much chance to be felt or seen will build-up and “harden.” In the same way that your shoulder may tighten due to stress, thoughts and emotions that aren’t integrated fully can begin to form a knot, a psychic complex, showing-up as characters in your dreams. Exploring the images from dreams can start to loosen-up those knots and allow the emotions caught within them to release.

I asked you about the appearance of your mom in the dream. Why her? As the lone familiar figure in your dream, her presence is likely to be particularly telling. We explored the history of her marriage to your dad and what similar themes may be getting activated for you now. You know some of the history of what was happening in their relationship when you were a baby. Are there feelings of carrying too much of the weight at home? Feelings of losing your independence? You nodded. Much of your former life as a single woman feels unrecognizable at the moment. We discussed this, and discussed what you’ve had to give-up.

There is a great deal of symbolism within the particular images of giving up a tooth, and forcibly losing an eye. These are big ones! As I’ve explored previously, losing a tooth in a dream can point to major life changes (we know those are present), and losing an eye can point to a sense of disorientation, of being rendered blind. You might feel that your ability to vision, to dream, to imagine a new life is being stolen from you. Your imagination, your artful creative side may feel rather distant at the moment. These images also point to the familiar Talmudic saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” pointing to notions of equal justice. It makes me wonder further, is there a sense of your needing to atone for something? Maybe a latent guilt that should be explored? Or does it suggest Gandhi’s response, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” maybe pointing to battles with your husband that will only hurt you both? These questions take us down another path, but there’s much here left to explore.

My advice? Don’t shirk the emotions around what’s happening in your life right now. Do your best to feel what’s happening these days, even if there’s not much time for it and it seems unimportant to do so. You may not be able to fully control events these days (I’m not sure we ever are), but the way they’re affecting you is real. Talk with your mom about her emotions when she was in this phase of life. Explore, even when it feels silly, your own emotions around what’s happening at home. Allow yourself to feel sad versus just getting mad and frustrated. The loss you’re experiencing is real. The adjustments to this new phase are big. Allow yourself to really listen to the softer layers of what’s going on inside your chest, and behind your eyes. You might be surprised that it will soften the actual events and communication at home as well.

Do you have a question about your dreams? Send me an email! satya@quarterlifecounselor.com

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Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their late teens, 20s, and 30s. For more information about therapy services in Portland, visit: www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com

Too little ego, too much persona: the Messiah complex and the Borderline state

I spent a considerable part of this Sunday morning reading the latest issue of the New Yorker Magazine (a particularly excellent issue, I might add), and as my lens on life is clearly psychological, I could not help but note that in every article, the psychology of the actors was the prevalent (if not always mentioned) topic at hand. Be it in regards to the Dalai Lama’s form of leadership and consultation of oracles in order to make decisions, or Mark Zuckerberg’s desire to be a part of the in-crowd and struggle with understanding power that led him to create Facebook, one can note the personal psychology that moves each of us in different directions and — often without our conscious choice — rules our lives.

This fact was most apparent in the story about Rachel Yould entitled The Scholar, by Jeffrey Toobin. Rachel was a beautiful, charismatic and brilliant young woman. She was extremely high achieving in seemingly everything she did throughout her young career, but she then seemingly reached a point where she was unable to accomplish her goals and began investing only in acting-as-if, with greater and greater plans set for herself and her future and less and less actually achieved.

While at Oxford, Yould struggled to complete even chapters of her dissertation, failed to impress her professors, and began to conceive of schemes by which she could borrow more and more money from the US government in student loans while continuing to press forward on her ambitions. Living off of enormous debt, she resurrected a journal called the Oxford International Review and found her way into interview a number of esteemed international players, including Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Hamid Karzai, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Wesley Clark. But, as Toobin reports, the O.I.R never amounted to much beyond a confused, bloated publication, overflowing at every end from un-edited material and ideas of grandeur. As Yould’s now ex-husband comments: “She had very big plans for O.I.R., and I don’t really understand what those plans were. She just blew it way out of proportion. I saw it as a scholarly journal, but then she wanted [to] take it further into an organization where students from around the world had a change to get together and share thoughts. I didn’t get it.”

The story continues into various layers of complication. Ultimately, she is jailed for having defrauded the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, while also weaving a story of having suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her father. (I do not want to diminish the possibility that her accusations against her father are true, though as Toobin paints it, it seems unlikely.)

What I am compelled by is the tragic personality type that can be extraordinarily brilliant, pretty and charming, and clearly capable of accomplishing a great deal, and yet also a fraud twisted-up in her own stories and accusations, and without any close companions or true relationships. (How many of the people whom we look-up to or whose accomplishments we admire are examples of this type?) Toobin nails her psychological landscape perfectly: “With ferocious intensity, Rachel strove first for accomplishments, then merely connections, and, finally, just status, and she made no lasting friends along the way.

In my thesis on early ego development, I argued that this personality type in adulthood is the result of an ego that is not fully formed in childhood and not fully differentiated from the unconscious. Thus, the ego has incredible access to that part of the Self in which everything is possible and almost magical, and the person is charming, artistic, intelligent and talented, invariably referred to as charismatic. But when it comes to true human relationships and to building a solid life for the long-term, the individual does not have enough of a core identity or self-confidence to accomplish those tasks.

As analyst Marie-Louise von Franz (1980) wrote, rather than the ego complex shutting itself away from Self to move into the first half of life from childhood as is developmentally appropriate, for individuals in this borderline state,

the process is disturbed and consequently the ego does not polarize away from the rest of the unconscious personality, but gets vaguely mixed up with it, and then you have a strange personality, either childish or very wise, more or less conscious than other people, and hopelessly unconscious too. (pp. 79-80)

Individuals stuck at this point of ego development therefore may seem to have it all together and receive acclaim for their accomplishments, but after years pass it will come to light that their accomplishments were based on endless debt and their life is littered with failed relationships. It is as if one takes a loan from life and it is not until years pass under the guise of a well-established persona that one’s life catches up with them.

As the story of Rachel’s failed publication suggests to me, there is a secretly harbored and well-entrenched belief of grandeur and the sense that in the future, all disbelievers will be proved wrong. Again, von Franz (1981) characterizes this state perfectly (in discussing the ego of a particular kind of man):

[There] is often, to a smaller or greater extent, a savior or Messiah complex, with the secret thought that one day one will be able to save the world; that the last word in philosophy, or religion, or politics, or art, or something else will be found. This can progress to be a typical pathological megalomania, or there may be minor traces of it in the idea that one’s time “has not yet come.” The one situation dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatsoever. There is a terrific fear of being pinned down, or entering space and time completely, and of being the one human being that one is. (p. 2)