Polarities in Dreams

Compass - polarities in dream interpretation

A dream is the conversation you are having with yourself concerning a very specific situation in your life this week you are attempting to problem solve. Further, the solution to what’s bugging you comes to you in your unconscious mind before it gets to your conscious. If you understand what you were saying to yourself when you had the dream, you can propel your problem solving. That’s where I come in. I help dreamers understand the language of metaphor.

Jung proposing that all the parts of the dream represent different aspects of the dreamer begs a discussion of how polarities appear in our dreams. In fact, establishing the polarities in a dream often leads to the ‘answer’ or strength therein.

The solution to an issue is often found by helping the dreamer explore a reaction somewhere in the middle of two polarities. We humans are self-regulating, and we regulate ourselves through our dreams. For example, if we are experiencing an extreme feeling, idea, or behavior in our waking life, the complete opposite will often appear in the dream. In essence, just the appearance of the complete opposite forces your reaction to “pull” itself towards the middle.

Let me translate this into plain English. Let us propose your dream tonight was triggered by the fact that somebody hurt your feelings today but you stood there not saying even one word about how it made you feel. You didn’t speak up for yourself at all. Well, don’t be surprised if you go to sleep tonight and the person who you associate with as having the most assertive personality appears in your dream.

If that happens, we would be looking at a polarity. The very assertive person you dreamed about is the antithesis of how you behaved when someone was rude to you today. As for the solution, we don’t change our behaviours overnight. It does take a little work, but if you’re someone who has difficulty expressing yourself, you dreaming about that very assertive person is your unconscious’ way of tapping you in to the potential you have to speak up! You’re not going to turn into that personality type overnight, but the polarity can help you reach towards more of a balance. Maybe the dream will even inspire you to speak up say, just a little!

Dream Interpretation

In his Interpretation Of Dreams I love that Freud said, “Dreams are quite incapable of expressing the alternative ‘either – or; it is their custom to take both members of this alternative into the same context, as though they had an equal right to be there.”

So when you are trying to say to yourself either I’m going to say nothing or I’m going to blast that person, your unconscious brings people (or a plot) that create a polarity. And hopefully, the solution lies somewhere in the middle of the two.

Harriet’s Dream 
Harriet dreamed her brother-in-law was murdered. In waking life, he had just telephoned the day before. Actually, she almost didn’t answer the phone when he called because she was busy. Now, in the dream, Harriet felt so relieved that she had spoken to him. “If I had not taken the call”, she said, “I would have felt so guilty!”

(This dream was a day or two after Mike Tyson had bitten someone’s ear off. In the dream, he was the murderer.) Her brother-in-law’s wife had to tell their mother the sad news.

Although Harriet felt complete panic because her brother-in-law was murdered, in the dream she also felt a sense of relief that she had answered the phone the previous day. When I asked her to describe her associations to him, she said her brother-in-law is a sensitive, loving, caring person, and added, “He is also extremely organized and efficient.”

Asked about his wife, Harriet offered, “She’s more easy going and carefree, loose and relaxed. She keeps her house messy.” Already, we see two polarities present themselves. One is of “panic” versus “relief” and the other is “orderly” versus “messy”.

The Mirror 
The dream was about Harriet’s husband’s recent decision to move to downtown Seattle, Washington, from their home in rural Maine.

On the one hand, Harriet felt “relieved” to move back to city life, after being bored where they lived. Then again, “panic” was setting in because, like her brother-in-law’s wife, Harriet’s house was in a state of “disorganization”. She felt panic because the move was coming up very quickly.

In a metaphoric way we could say that the ability to be organized part of Harriet’s personality was murdered.

When mapping a dream, here is how I illustrate polarities:

Brother-in-law _____________________ sister-in-law
organized/orderly___________________ disorganized/messy 
panic____________________________ easy going/carefree (Relief)

Let’s discuss anxiety versus action. Anxiety happens in our head. It’s something we conjure up with thought. In this case, Harriet’s anxiety comes from contemplating her move, which in fact isn’t happening at this actual moment. It’s going to happen, but not yet. Action on the other hand, means making a physical movement right now. Harriett can start organizing and packing right away. The truth is when you are in motion there is no anxiety. Anxiety is future oriented. The movement gets not only your body in motion, but it focuses your thoughts on what you are doing in the moment.

Harriet was sitting still in her state of panic and disorganization. A dream’s goal in presenting polarities is typically to help the dreamer move off the extreme behavior he or she is holding on to and move towards the middle of the spectrum.

Look at the action or movement in the dream. Even though she was distracted, Harriet took care of business when she answered the phone. Her taking “action” had Harriet feeling relieved. There’s the solution right there. Harriet needed to become more like her brother-in-law, and take action. Adopting her brother-in-law’s style of organizing her house for the move would serve two purposes: to become so busy she had little time to panic, and to get ready for the move!

In Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, Lee talks about the curative power of awareness, saying,
“Now, if we are willing to stay in the center of our world and not have the center either in our computer or somewhere else, but really in the center, then we are ambidextrous. Then we see the two poles of every event. We see that light cannot exist without non- light. If there is sameness, you can’t be aware anymore. If there is always light, you don’t experience light anymore. You have to have the rhythm of light and darkness. Right doesn’t exist without left”
(Bruce Lee, 2001, as cited in Farnam Street blog).

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