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!
Q: What about dreams related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? How do you interpret those?
A: This is a really critical question and, while it’s not a standard dream exploration, I think it’s an important inquiry. For our readers who are less familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), this is the diagnosis that returning soldiers are often given, along with many other individuals who have experienced a traumatic event and/or endured stress over a long period of time. When the body cannot just “shake off” a bad situation, the experience can sort of get stuck, and its residue can be very hard to get out of our systems. Reflections of that residue can show-up in dreams. PTSD often includes symptoms such as a pervasive feeling of unease and negativity in the world, restlessness, sleeplessness, anger, irritability, paranoia, confused thinking, and often lots of nightmares. Nightmares related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are in many ways very different animals from other nightmares and recurring dreams in that they are so persistent, viscerally real, and often relatively true to events actually experienced.
Dreams related to PTSD can feel like a skipping record or a repetitive movement. There is a sense that rather than the unconscious engaging in it’s normal, healthy digestion and processing of events (as can be seen in a great number of dreams, and as I tend to explore here), something is broken and blocked. Nothing is moving, there is no end game, things are just stuck and repeating. Repeating. Repeating.
So what does one do with these dreams? First and foremost, if you are being woken in the middle of the night even occasionally by disturbing dreams, it would be valuable to go talk with someone to sort through where they’re coming from. In general, no amount of ignoring or avoiding these dreams will get them to go away. Not all scary dreams, even recurring ones, are related to a diagnosis of PTSD, but their existence suggests that you could be supported in your well-being by working with someone on them.
Working with PTSD dreams can involve interesting techniques of “re-dreaming,” consciously recreating a negative dream by altering the images and events. This work should be done with the support of a trained person, but the overall structure of this technique begins with re-telling the awful dream and then finding more comforting images within your psyche to offer healing. The symbols are unique and ingrained in each person, but one might replace an image of death with one of life, an image of violence with one of a comforting scene. This happens more intuitively than you might imagine, and the very act engages the unconscious just as we do in sleep, but through intention instead. In this way, one can help to jump-start the psychic rebirth cycle that is natural to all of us. With a little conscious charge, one can support the unconscious skipping-record to get back on grove.
Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!
Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in Jungian psychology and the years of Quarter-Life. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com