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How Do Our Dreams Help Us Cope During Stressful Times?

From Understanding Dreams Blog with Psychology Today

Find out how this dream helped the dreamer connect her past and present.

Dreams can help you connect your past and present. They remind you that your life is one connected whole, and that people and events from your past can help you with difficulties in your life right now.

Jacklyn’s dream shows how this works. Her baby was just two and a half months old when the coronavirus struck, and the quarantine hit Jacklyn hard. She wasn’t able to visit her parents for ten weeks, a strange time for sure, being a new mother and not able to lean on her own mom for help with her newborn.

The Dream 

“I’m at my childhood home, which is across the street from a park that has a small mountain. I used to see that scene from my bedroom window as a child. In the dream I am with our newborn, walking over to the park and as I arrive, I can’t believe everything has changed! They have a built-in Jacuzzi there! In the dream I am imploring my husband to come across the street and see everything new there.” 

The Discussion 

There are six points of entry to interpreting a dream: feelings, action, play on words, symbols, repetition, and plot. Jacklyn started by exploring her feelings: “The dream had more of a strangeness as opposed to a nightmarish feeling. I was mostly stunned by how everything was changed.”

Moving to the symbols, I asked Jacklyn for her associations to a Jacuzzi. She answered, “My parents go back and forth often talking about the possibility of installing one at their country place. But so far it hasn’t happened. It’s an ongoing story that we don’t know the end to yet. I also associate a Jacuzzi with my safe place. I am so relaxed there, obsessed with hot water and there’s nothing I love better than soaking away the days’ events in my safe place.”

I inquired, “What comes to mind about your parents’ country home?” Jacklyn offered, “My parents rented a home every summer since we were children and I absolutely loved my summers there and still even today love being in the country. It’s so relaxing for me.”

While describing her childhood home from the dream, Jacklyn said, “I loved my childhood home. And I loved that little park across the street! My sister and I spent many afternoons playing there and I used to love looking at the park from my bedroom window. I felt safe there.”

Finally, Jacklyn’s own words helped her connect to the events that triggered her dream. I asked, “In the dream you say, ‘I can’t believe everything has changed’. Is there some situation you are facing in which you are experiencing a change?” 

“Well,” Jacklyn smiled, “of course I just gave birth, but with this virus, we are all experiencing change. And who knows when it’s going to end?” “Yes,” I agreed and repeating another sentence she had said, “To use your words, ‘It’s an ongoing story that we don’t know the end to yet.’ How are you managing through these changes?”

“I miss my parents. I haven’t seen them in almost three months! They are missing these early days getting to know the baby. Then there’s the support and help. My mom would be giving me a break! It’s my first baby and hard to experience without my parents close.”

What We Can Learn

Jacklyn’s dream shows how the six points of entry work together in helping with the interpretation of a dream. Jacklyn and I started with the feelings, moved onto the symbols and finally examined the exact words she was using as a play on words. Ultimately, all these elements were important for understanding her dream.

Jacklyn’s dream also reveals the power of repetition. There are three separate associations all meaning “safe space.”  Two of them come from her childhood: her early home where she felt safe, and the family country house, which was “so relaxing.” One is from her present life, where her Jacuzzi is her “safe place” and where she feels “so relaxed.” 

The dream exposes a contrast between the tension of a situation where “everything has changed” and which is “hard to experience,” and the safe spaces from Jacklyn’s past and present. She needs to tap into those safe spaces to help her through this “ongoing story that we don’t know the end to yet.” 

The safe spaces from her past clearly suggest her connection to family. By keeping frequent contact with her parents and family through Facetime or Zoom, Jacklyn can preserve a greater sense of safety and continuity in her life at this time of uncertainty. The symbol of the Jacuzzi reminds Jacklyn to make full use of the things she has around her, like her own Jacuzzi, that help her feel safe in the moment. 

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