I studied the psychoanalysis of dreams, over ten years ago now. It was perhaps the most fascinating module that we were taught on a Photographic and Digital Arts degree at Westminster University. Being generally less tainted with a lot of the pretense that surrounds other subject maters like semiotics and the signified for example. I found artists retorts about “receding perspectives and how that affects my inner child” to be a load of creative waffle. Then I would find myself using similar language and therefore being either conditioned through good education or being converted into believing such abstract comments. I am now older and have perhaps let go of my ego and objections to such flamboyant expressions. In fact, I respect my peers in the art worlds flippant or overtly profound remarks, even find them amusing at the best of times. So you will notice that I have selected words like ‘ego’ and ‘inner child’ because these are psycho analytical terms. I am not a psychotherapist, or drug prescribing psychiatrist, I am a photographer through and through. Now, in the present day currently working in the art industry.
But, a couple of years ago now, at breakfast a close friend of my wife and a young woman I respect and love enormously revealed a wonderful account of a recurring dream she has been experiencing.
I return to writing this little article, if you will, sometime after the aforementioned and very well esteemed young woman decided to reveal to us all her recurring dream. Her openness in itself could be termed an example of emotional IQ firing on all cylinders. Here was another human being, just like myself exposing my inner most personal secrets to random strangers as a young, loved but misguided youth. Some would say this openness is a personal quality, but it can leave you exposed. Yet, in this setting we were amongst close and trusted friends, all between the ages of 24 and 31 and I was the eldest at the table. Oh how the psychological tables had turned in my favour. So let’s give this ‘lady’ of mystery a name shall we? For the purpose of this story she will be known from this point onwards and forever more as Grace. A virtuous name indeed.
Grace has a quiet but gripping demeanor whenever she tells her tales, she entices us and engrosses us with empathetic comments like “you know when you’re dreaming and it all seems somehow so real”. Everyone around our dinning room table is listening. But, it is I who fires responses back like “yes and they always seem so vivid don’t they?”. Grace continues…
“Well I keep having this recurring dream, where I am driving with my brothers and granny in a rural but unspecified location. Suddenly I lose control of my car and we find ourselves hurtling off the verge and then plummeting off the side of the road until we hit a lake. The car begins to slowly sink, becoming more and more submersed by the minute. I look around the car and see that my eldest brother has already taken the quick initiative to open his door and escape. Water begins gushing in from where he leaves the car door ajar. My other brother just sits panicking a little, looking around him as if working out what to do next. Then I turn to my Nan who has a cut on her forehead and seems dazed. Instantly I release her seatbelt and reach across her to try to open her door, regretting this as soon as I have realising the more water in the car the quicker the rate it will take to sink, rendering us all potentially drowned, apart from James who is now nowhere to be seen and must have swam to safety. I realise the only way I can save her is to get out myself and swim around to her. The water seems to be pouring in quicker and so I shout to Robert who has also now opened his door – “Robert dammit help me save Nan!”. Then the oddest retort comes from him, he just smiles and plunges himself into the water swimming away from the car. Not his normal kind-hearted and generous spirited nature at all. I struggle to push my car door wide enough open against the great force of the water against it. Once I finally get out and Nan’s weight is the only body left in the car, it begins to tip downward in her direction. This means I now have very little time to rescue her. Swimming around the front of the car, I manage to get to her side, but the door has been pushed shut again by the water and so I tug with all my might to open it once more. Granny is more conscious now and clearly panicking from within the increasingly flooded car that is now steadily sinking. I figure I have about three minutes at best before the car is taken by the lake and becomes entirely submersed, then it will be too late I think to myself.”
Another friend at the table asks “so do you manage to save her?” We are all engrossed by now.
“That’s just it”, Grace continues, “I wake up before I know what happens next, whether I can save my Nan in time or not.”
“Well that’s a cliffhanger if ever I heard one” the friend replies.
So what is clearly obvious, is this is an anxiety dream. It could also be suggested that Grace has a sub-conscious desire to hold her family together, to protect them, to be their saviour even. Perhaps there is something in the fact that her two brothers abandon her Nan, something of the sibling rivalry, or even that Robert and James are happy to let their Nan die, as she is already old and frail. So they choose, some would say sensibly, others selfishly, to save themselves rather than endanger themselves in an attempt to rescue Nan from the sinking car. The fact is, there must be an underlying reason why we all have these vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams. They are all created through thought processes occurring in our sub-conscious or unconscious brain. As Freud asserted in The Interpretation of Dreams, every action or thought we have is motivated by our unconscious in some way. He, I believe rightly so, claims we all adhere to social convention and have a tendency to repress our urges. Some people of course re more overt than others. But it then makes complete sense that these suppressed feelings are in turn released through our dream world.
Freud categorizes aspects of the mind into three parts:
Id – centered around primal impulses, pleasures, desires, unchecked urges and wish-fulfillment.
Ego – concerned with the conscious, the rational, the moral and the self-aware aspect of the mind.
Superego – the censor for the id, which is also responsible for enforcing the moral codes of the ego.
Ref: Dream Moods – Dream Theorists – Sigmund Freud –
When we cannot remember our dreams from the previous night, our superego is in play, censoring the visual and mental experiences we encountered in the dream world. When we are awake our superego is in a similar way suppressing our impulses and desires. In the case of Grace’s story, her ego at the table is trying to rationalise her somewhat disturbing dream.
When we dream we become our very own auteurs, we can be our very own Tarantino or Fellini. Except we have little if no control over the film we are creating in our heads. We cannot alter the camera angle, change the plot, or add emphasis and drama through pace or music. Perhaps Freud would have argued otherwise, claiming that it is our sub-conscious that is in fact controlling every aspect of our dreams. Sometimes we are left feeling affected by our dreams for days or even weeks to come after. In turn sharing with friends or relatives our thoughts about how we have experienced the dream both whilst it was happening and afterwards can only be therapeutic. SO the morale of this little anecdote is lets discuss our dreams more. Let us all in fact be more in touch with our emotional IQ, be more open with those we trust, in turn we can only be reaching a more harmonious existence.
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