We dream of our parents throughout our lives. As adults, dreams of our parents often relate to unresolved issues around our parental complexes. As such, these dreams can alert us to where old attitudes are holding us back.
Following is the transcript of the dream discussed in Episode 222 — Hansel and Gretel: Overcoming Trauma
A dreamer today is a 37-year-old female who was a bookseller and here’s her dream.
“I’m on an ocean beach looking out to my one-room house that juts out on a dock above where the waves break. The house could use some work and a coat of paint, but there’s a feeling of pride as I gaze over it. I look down and notice I’m wearing a peasant dress, which is not at all my style and better suited for a little girl. A craggy cliff looms to the left side of the beach. From around the cliff, two sea monsters appear swimming, nearing my house on the water. I wasn’t afraid of them, but watched them calmly. As they approach, they begin to rock the walls of the house, and I continue to watch powerlessly as they wrest it from its dock and tear it out to sea. The sea monsters retreat over the horizon and the house begins to sink. I am then inland but not far from the beach, at a pub in a seaside town. I see my parents in a booth, engaged in a fiddle contest. They are my parents, I know this to be sure, but they are monstrous apparitions, soft as puppets and with frightfully large heads. I try to tell them about my house and that it is gone, expecting some kind of comfort or perhaps an invitation to stay with them. They glance my way but they don’t acknowledge me or that I’m in distress. The fiddle contest goes on uninterrupted. The barkeep tells me that if I’m not there for the fiddle contest, then I will have to leave. The dream ends as I struggle to breathe.”
For context, she writes, “I recently committed to buying an apartment in New York City, something I never expected to do entirely on my own. The down payment alone will wipe out my bank account, which causes me some worry. But I have a good job and expect to be able to manage the mortgage payments. I long for partnership, for someone to share the most intimate joys and struggles and though I’m always dating and meeting new people, a longtime connection with the kind of depth for someone to really know me has been out of reach.” Her main feelings were, at first a peacefulness and pride than loneliness, powerlessness, a desire to be loved, and abandonment.
She has a few associations and writes, “I have a comforting relationship with the element of water, and with the tarot, and was recently shown a pack of tarot cards made by a lover that featured two sea monsters. My parents are musicians and as a child, they would often leave me, the eldest daughter, to care for my siblings when they were out at gigs. Now, in my late 30s, after a long struggle with addiction, and recovery, without much support from my family, I’m finally discovering who I really am which means acknowledging parts of my history that I can no longer ignore.”
So, my first curiosity, just starting at the very beginning, is the dream ego’s orientation to the one room house. I’m on an ocean beach, which is often a liminal space, because the water and the land are meeting at this point in this kind of churning, dynamic place. She is looking out to her one-bedroom house that juts out on the dock above where the waves break. She’s not in it, but she’s looking at it as an object.
And it seems to be very precarious. I don’t have a really good sense maybe of how this but it literally juts out and the waves break beneath it. I think we’ve all seen real estate kind of like that — sort of breathtaking.
Somebody gets sucked out into the ocean and…
Yeah, but it feels like she now has something. She has a one room house. It needs a coat of paint, but she’s proud of it. But it’s precarious.
Very precarious. You know, the situation reminds me of the story of the three little pigs and they have to set out on the road as they enter their adulthood. It’s time for them to live independently and the first little pig builds his house out of straw, and the second one out of sticks, and the third one finally out of bricks. So, from her context and setting out into a more independent life now in her 30s and coming to terms with some life issues, it feels like her dream house, is that first attempt to build a structure that is independent, and that’s just hers. But the foundation is not solid, it’s on a dock. It’s above the water. It’s vulnerable to the elements, etc.
Yeah, it’s vulnerable to the ocean.
And the monsters in the unconscious.
And I think that the dream mirrors this outer situation where it feels very precarious buying this condo in New York City. But I think it probably refers to the inner world as well, that there’s some kind of consolidation of her own stance that is feeling a little shaky right now, because of these monsters. First of all, who can resist a dream of sea monsters? But what do we make of these sea monsters? What I noticed is that there are two sea monsters and later there are two parents who are monstrous. This is another case where I didn’t knowingly pick a dream thinking about our topic, but I think we might have a little bit of a Hansel and Gretel situation going on here, where there was some real abandonment in childhood and that has made it very difficult for this dreamer. She’s been susceptible to addiction, which is one of the things I wish I’d said back when we were talking about the nature of the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. When we are abandoned or abused as children, we often will be more susceptible to addictions later, because it seems like it’s a quick and easy thing to fill us up and we have a lack. This dreamer has struggled, I imagine, with finding some solid ground in her life, because of what may have been experienced as abandonment in childhood. These parents seemed to kind of leave her to her own devices and asked her to take care of her siblings.
And that when she did suffer with addiction, she felt she didn’t have much support and I think that is really imaged in the dream when she goes, interestingly, to a pub. Well, there’s an addictive substance offered at every pub, namely alcohol. And her parents are engaged in a fiddle contests. So, we could imagine that that’s a metaphor for fiddling around. But the dreamer needs comfort and needs some reassurance and need some help. Because her house, her essential sense of self, has just been washed away.
I find myself, despite the traumatic imagery, being curious about perhaps a positive telos around this. If we remember that Gods and monsters are also synonymous, and Gods can seem like monsters when they show up and do something that the ego doesn’t like. So, if we were to just say that the dream ego dressed much like a child, and perhaps from a child’s perspective, has built a kind of a dollhouse, just a one room house kind of hovering on a dock and yes, of course, she’s proud of it in the dream. But it’s also something perhaps that is appropriate for a child. I remember my two sisters having a dollhouse when we were growing up. It was a lovely one room, little representative of what a full-size house might be. But at a certain point, it gets abandoned, because it’s no longer interesting developmentally. But I’m wondering here, as you said, that the house represents the concept of home, which the ego may have been clinging to, reproducing, being overly sentimental about or overly attached to and finally, something from the depths of the unconscious says enough.
It comes up, says enough. It doesn’t harm the ego, but says this concept of what home means it’s going to go. We’re done with this and so it takes it, they swim off and that’s their job is to kind of break down this thing that isn’t working at all. And then it’s followed by the fantasy, the misperception somehow, an image or vision, which isn’t congruent with who the dreamer really is in their fullness, which is then followed by an attempt to regress, which is already suggested with the child’s outfit. Luckily, there isn’t support in the psyche for a regression. The inner parents just kind of ignore it. In one sense, of course, it’s heartbreaking if this really happened in real life. We would hope that our families would rally. But this is a psychological event and so just as we were talking earlier, about Hansel and Gretel, sometimes there’s a ruthlessness that needs to rise up in the psyche, particularly here at midlife 37. Whatever coping mechanisms we’ve been using, she’s left with the absolute sense that it’s all on me. I have to decide, discover, create, build. A reference that I would toss to the dreamer, which I think is a marvelous resource is a book by an Irish analyst named John Hill, and it’s called At Home in The World. It really beautifully amplifies the whole search for need for a place to belong, which I think would be helpful.
I’m also struck at the very end. Her house has been wiped away and then she goes to the pub. Her parents don’t notice her and then we have a little bit player who’s significant, namely, the bar keep. He’s the masculine contrasexual element in the dream. He says, if you’re not there for the fiddle contests, if you’re not there to fiddle around, is the way I imagine it, then you have to leave. So, it builds on what you’ve been saying, Joseph of the telos of the dream is, you’ve got to go. No, you don’t have a house at the end of the dock and no, you’re not going into a pub and staying being allowed to stay, and you’re not going to fiddle around. It may be pretty anxiety producing as it is, because she says the dream ends as I struggled to breathe. It’s really a lot of anxiety. But the telos does seem to really validate what she’s doing in the outer world of buying her own apartment on her own and feeling overextended. It’s a big step and I’m all alone in this, but off you go.
Yeah, I really like what both of you are saying and want to build on it a little bit. There’s this sense that the parental images show up in the dream as sea monsters, and then these monstrous parents that look like puppets with frightfully large heads, which says something about the fact that the relationship with the parents still seems to be governed very much by the archetypal energies of the mother archetype and the father archetype. They haven’t gotten cut down to human size. They still have all of this incredible energy attached to them, like the archetype hasn’t been appropriately mediated. So these parents have sort of this outsized energy about them. That is part of the task of growing to adulthood, is being able to really take it in that your parents are actually just people and to recognize that the archetypal element of it belongs in its own world and that you could have a different relationship with that energy.
But it’s going in the right direction. You know, again, this telos idea that you lift it up, Joseph, because it goes from sea monsters to the parents being monstrous apparitions. So, they are being somewhat humanized. The trajectory is it’s a hopeful and positive trajectory.
And then I think as you both have said, at the end of the dream, it’s like you can’t look for anything there. So, go ahead and go about your own life and make of it what you will. Stop looking back.