The Structure of Dreams
Dr. von Franz, how much of dream interpretation is scientific and how much is an art?
I think there is something of both in it. There are helpful rules of thumb which are purely technical or scientific which you can apply, and whenever I don’t understand a dream I go back to them. I say, “Now what is the exposition of the dream, what is the setting up, what is the association?” And you can generally get quite far with the technique. But naturally, there is a kind of practitioner’s skill which you develop and can’t impart to a beginner. It is like an old carpenter. He can tell a young carpenter how to use the tools and how to measure and how to cut the wood, but there is a certain touch of the wood which he cannot c6nvey. The beginner has to work twenty years with wood, and then he’ll have the same kind of touch. When one has interpreted many dreams and puzzled about many dreams, one gets a certain hang of it, so to speak, a professional skill which has to do with feeling, with a mediumistic feeling, with an empathy into the other person.
Is there a technique for approaching a dream to discover its meaning?
In Jungian psychology, we have a technique. We compare the dream to a drama and examine it under three structural headings: first, the introduction or exposition-the setting of the dream and the naming of the problem; second, the peripeteia-that would be the ups and downs of the story; and finally, the lysis–the end solution or, perhaps, catastrophe. And if I don’t understand a dream, I use that scheme. First I say to myself, “Now, what is the introduction?”
The first sentence of a dream generally gives the setting and introduces the major characters. For example, a dream might begin, “I am in my childhood home with my friend Bob.” You take the first sentence and ask the dreamer for his associations. “What was your childhood home like? How did you feel there? Were you happy there? How long did you stay there?” And then you ask about the friend, “How is your friend Bob? What was he like? . . . Oh, I see, he was a bore, but you did all your childhood mischief together. ” And then you insert these associations into the text, which then becomes, “I am psychologically still in my boyhood situation, and I am with a part of myself which is boring, but also mischievous. ”
Once you have that translation, you have naturally to think about how it applies to the moment of the dream and to the dreamer’s life. In what way does the dreamer still have one leg in his childhood home? Where in his life situation is he still reacting as he reacted as a boy? You have to assume that the dream is speaking about that corner of his personality.
After you’ve looked at the exposition in this way, you then go on to the naming of the problem. Let’s say a car comes up the driveway and two dark burglars jump out. Now you have a dramatic development, which means a specific story is now being told. The two dark men would be an invasion, something which is breaking in. Burglars very often represent something breaking into one’s conscious system. So the dream would then translate, “In the corner of his psyche where the dreamer still has childish reactions, something from the collective unconscious is breaking in.”
In this way we slowly go through the whole dream. Now the ending of a dream, the lysis, is always what the dream is driving at: a solution or a catastrophe. I know these rules of interpretation so well that I follow them half unconsciously. But I always pay particular attention to the last sentence of the dream, which gives the unconscious solution if there is one. Some dreams just peter out and they are not favorable.
They mean that the unconscious itself has no solution. But, otherwise, whatever happens at the end of the dream is the solution. If you wake up with a cry, for example, that’s the solution. That’s what gives you the waking shock. That has to be especially realized. And so I always ask the dreamer particularly about the ending of the dream.
If you want to interpret your own dream, it’s best if you write the dream on one half of the paper, and then for every word in the dream write down your associations opposite. By associations I mean whatever comes to your mind spontaneously. Then try to see if you have made a connection between the dream and your associations.
For instance, if the first sentence said, “I am in my childhood home,” that means where I am still childlike, and “a burglar is coming,” so something is breaking in, you would have to ask yourself the question, “What is it? Why does something break into my psycho logical system?” And you would also have to think of the day before and what happened then, inwardly and outwardly. You might, for instance, have had some disagreeable experience the day before, and those burglars may refer to that disagreeable experience. Or, you might have had a negative, destructive thought right from within; that also might be represented by burglars, something destructive or negative suddenly breaking into your system.
So you try to remember what happened yesterday, outwardly and inwardly, and then you can probably make a meaningful connection. Then you say, “Aha, it refers to that thought that I had yesterday, or that experience, and it shows me that I behaved in the right way or in the wrong way. ” It corrects one’s attitude.
And some dreams are much more explicit than others.
You’ve been describing a method of approaching dreams through personal associations. But there are also dreams in which the dreamer has no associations.
There are so-called archetypal dreams that have a mythological meaning, and with them generally people have no associations. If you ask, “What do you think about. Jupiter?” They reply, “Oh, Jupiter, it’s a star. ” They don’t know what to associate; they have no personal things that come to them. In that case you take the associations of mankind. “What has mankind fantasized about Jupiter?” Put that into the text of the dream.
You’ve said that every element in a dream represents some aspect of the dreamer’s psyche. Yet there are dreams that reflect outer reality. For example, people may dream that someone close to them has died and later discover that the death actually occurred. How can you tell whether the dream is referring to outer or inner reality? If, for instance, a man dreams that his wife is stealing his car, how do you determine whether the dream is referring to an outer problem in his marital relationship or a problem within himself?
That is the most ticklish problem of all. The dreamer will often be inclined to think, “There, you see, that’s exactly what she is doing. She is forever taking away my ways of moving about. She is always interfering.” And one is not so sure. It might just as well mean that it is a projection: namely, that his own feminine side is stealing the car, and that he projects that onto his wife. He thinks his wife does it, he sees it in her, while in fact, he is really doing it unconsciously to himself.
To interpret these dreams correctly, one has to know the whole marital situation and have an idea of the wife’s objective behavior. Then one can evaluate whether it is a projection or whether it refers really to the wife. Sometimes it refers to both. The problem is whether to interpret the dream objectively or subjectively: objectively, referring to an outer object, the wife is really stealing the car; or subjectively, referring to the subject, the feminine side of the subject himself is stealing his own car with his left hand so to speak. Generally, I would say that about eighty-five percent of the dream motifs are subjective, and therefore I recommend interpreting most dreams subjectively. One should always first ask, “What is it in me that does that?” instead of taking the dream as a warning against other people.
We talked with many people on the street who felt their dreams were important and tried to find a meaning in them. Why is it so difficult to interpret your own dreams? I know analysts who have been interpret ing other people’s dreams for years but cannot interpret their own.
Because the dream never tells you what you know already. It always points to something you don’t know, a blind spot. It’s like trying to see your own back. You can show your back to the doctor and he can see what’s the matter with it, but you can’t see it. And your own psychological blind spot is like your back or your ass, so to speak, you sit on it but you cannot look at it. That’s why sometimes even if the dream tells you obvious things, you can’t see them. You need another person to tell you and then you think, “O Lord, naturally, that’s it. ”
It’s very difficult to interpret one’s own dream. If one has to, one has to, but it is most helpful to have another eye on it, even somebody who doesn’t know about dreams. For while you’re talking and explain ing the dream to the other person, often its meaning suddenly becomes clear. Jung, for instance, had nobody to interpret his dreams, so he often told them to a man who knew nothing about dreams. Jung said laughingly, “Just the off-the-point remarks of this man made me feel, ‘No, it isn’t that, but I know now what it is. ‘ ”
Many people use dream dictionaries to help them interpret their dreams. Are these books valuable in interpreting dreams?
I think these books are very, very bad. They get you off the track because they give a static interpretation. A snake means an illness, or means the death of a relative; breaking teeth means the loss of parents or whatever. There are now modern dictionaries which are a bit more differentiated, but still they have a fixed meaning.
The dream symbolism in our experience is very much more individ ual. You need the individual associations. What’s important is always what the symbol means to the dreamer and what the dreamer has experienced with it. You can sometimes be inspired by looking at one of these modern dictionaries to see what all the possibilities are-the possible meanings of the snake, or the possible meanings of the peacock-but then you have to return to the dream and ask, “What does it mean to the dreamer?” and that is always much more specific.
In your analytical practice, do you work with anything else?
I work mostly with dreams. In our way of thought we operate with dreams because the dreams come out of one particular individual and are unique to that person.
The great danger of all psychological helping professions is the potential to interfere with the other person’s life. Think, for instance, of the idea of what is normal. A therapist may have an idea of normality and think the other person should become normal. That’s interference, that’s a power attitude. Perhaps destiny or God, or whatever you want to call the greater powers in the world, don’t want this person to be normal. So how does he know that the patient ought to be normal? On top of that, what he thinks is normal? A therapist’s bourgeois ideas of normality should not be forced upon a poor human being who is destined to be very different.
When a human being comes to you with a problem, if you’re honest you have to say, “I have no idea where the problem comes from.” Any ideas that you have about the patient are just prejudices. In fact, you have to say, “I have no idea why you have a psychological problem or even what the problem is. ” We cannot know a human being’s destiny. For instance, the other day, I saw dreams of a little seven-year-old girl which were the dreams of a dying person. Now, actually she had had a cancer operation and will probably die within two or three years. I didn’t know it when I saw the dreams. They were most unusual. She had the dreams of an old, wise personality. So you see, you cannot have theories about how a human life ought to be or should be. Dreams are the only things which come out of the patient himself, and if we try to understand the dreams with as few prejudices as possible, we may find out what the psychological depth of that patient tells him about himself. We, the psychotherapists, are only the dream translators.
Analysis amounts to saying to a man who is too juvenile, “Your own psychic depth thinks that you are a bit too juvenile, and that is damaging your health.” That’s not my opinion; that’s what we have extracted from the man’s dream. Often that hits home because the patient feels that it’s not the analyst’s opinion. When a dream is interpreted properly, it clicks with the analysand, and he says, “Yes, that’s it. ” He is impressed, and that is likely to give him the motivation to change his life. While if you advise the same man, “Listen, you are behaving too much like a young man and it’s not good for your health,” he won’t listen, because he has heard all that before. You see, if his own dream laughs at him in this way, then there is a better chance that he will really change his behavior. I can tell you that in the actual case of the man who was too juvenile, he blushed, and that showed the message of his dream hit home.
And so, in our school, we follow the dreams. We work with the patient to discover their meaning and we leave it there. Working together in this way, the patient doesn’t feel he has been put into the straitjacket of the analyst’s conception of normality or adaptation. He follows his own inner intimations, what his own psyche tells him. So analysis is educating people to be able to hear their inner voice and follow it with the help of dreams. ~The Way of the Dream, Page 30-40