“The Practical Use of Dream-Analysis” by C.G. Jung
“Initial dreams are often amazingly lucid and clear cut. But as the work of analysis progresses, the dreams tend to loser their clarity. If, by the way of exception, they keep it we can be sure that the analysis has not yet touched on some important layer of the personality. As a rule, dreams get more and more opaque and blurred soon after the beginning of the treatment, and this makes the interpretation increasingly difficult. A further difficulty is that a point may soon be reached where, if the truth be told, the doctor no longer understands the situation as a whole. That he does not understand is proved by the fact that the dreams become increasingly obscure, for we all know that their “obscurity” is a purely objective opinion of the doctor. To the understanding nothing is obscure; it is only when we do not understand that things appear unintelligible and muddled. In themselves dreams are naturally clear; that is, they are just what they must be under the given circumstances. If, from a later stage of treatment or from a distance of some years, we look back at these unintelligible dreams, we are often astounded at our own blindness.”
“Moreover, it is therapeutically very important for the doctor to admit his lack of understanding in time, for nothing is more unbearable to the patient than to be always understood. “
“To say that dreams add something important to our conscious knowledge, and that a dream which fails to do so has not been properly interpreted – that, too, is a theory. But I must make this hypothesis as well in order to explain to myself why I analyze dreams in the first place. All other hypothesis, however, about the function and the structure of dreams are merely rules of thumb and must be subjected to constant modification. In dream analysis we must never forget, even for a moment, that we move on treacherous ground where nothing is certain but uncertainty. “
“When we take up an obscure dream, our first task is not to understand and interpret, but to establish the context with minute care. By this I do not mean unlimited “free association” starting from any and every image in the dream, but a careful and conscious illumination of the interconnected associations objectively grouped round particular images. Many patients have first to be educated to this, for they resemble the doctor in their insuperable desire to understand and interpret offhand, especially when they have been primed by ill-digested reading or by a previous analysis that went wrong. They begin by associating in accordance with a theory, that is, they try to understand and interpret, and they nearly always get stuck.
Like the doctor, they want to get behind the dream at once in the false belief that the dream is a mere facade concealing the true meaning. But the so called facade of most houses is by no means a fake or deceptive distortion; on the contrary, it follows the plan of the building and often betrays the interior arrangement. The “manifest” dream-picture is the dream itself and contains the whole meaning of the dream. When I find sugar in the urine, it is sugar and not just a facade for albumen. What Freud calls the “dream-facade” is the dream’s obscurity, and this is really only a projection of our own lack of understanding. We say that the dream has a false front only because we fail to see into it. We would do better to say that we are dealing with something like a text that is unintelligible not because it has a facade – a text has no facade – but simply because we can not read it. We do not have to get behind such a text, but must first learn to read it.
The best way to do this, as I have already remarked, is to establish the context. Free association will get me nowhere, any more than it would help me decipher a Hittite inscription.
It will of course help me to uncover all of my own complexes, but for this purpose I have no need of a dream – I could just as well take a public notice or a sentence in a newspaper. Free association will bring out all my complexes , but hardly ever the meaning of the dream. To understand the dream’s meaning I must stick as close as possible to the dream images. When somebody dreams of a “deal table” it is not enough for him to associate it with his writing desk which does not happen to be made of deal. Supposing that nothing more occurs to the dreamer, this blocking has an objective meaning, for it indicates that a particular darkness reigns in the immediate neighborhood of the dream-image, and that is suspicious. We would expect him to have dozens of associations to a deal table, and the fact that there is apparently nothing is itself significant. In such cases I keep on returning to the image, and I usually say to my patient, “Suppose I had no idea what the words ‘deal table’ mean. Describe this object and give me its history in such a way that I cannot fail to understand what sort of a thing it is.”
In this way we manage to establish almost the whole context of dream-image. When we have done this for all the images in the dream we are ready for the venture of interpretation.
Every interpretation is an hypothesis, an attempt to read an unknown text. An obscure dream, taken in isolation, can hardly ever be interpreted with any certainty. For this reason I attach little importance to the interpretation of single dreams. A relative degree of certainty is reached only in the interpretation of a series of dreams, where the later dreams correct the mistakes we have made in handling those that went before. Also, the basic idea and themes can be recognized much better in a dream-series, and I therefore urge my patients to keep a careful record of their dreams and of the interpretations given. I also show them how to work out their dreams in the manner described, so that they can bring the dream and its context with them in writing to the consultation. As a later stage I get them to work out the interpretation as well. In this way the patient learns how to deal correctly with his unconscious without the doctor’s help.”
“No amount of skepticism and criticism has yet enabled me to regard dreams as negligible occurrences. Often enough they appear senseless, but it is obviously we who lack the sense and ingenuity to read the enigmatic message from the nocturnal realm of the psyche. Seeing that at least half our psychic existence is passed in that realm, and that consciousness acts upon our nightly life just as much as the unconscious overshadows our daily life, it would seem all the more incumbent on medical psychology to sharpen its sense by a systematic study of dreams.
Nobody doubts the importance of conscious experience; why then should we doubt the significance of unconscious happenings? They also are part of our life, and sometimes more truly a part of it for weal or woe than any happenings of the day.
Since dreams provide information about the hidden inner life and reveal to the patient those components of his personality which, in his daily behavior, appear merely as neurotic symptoms, it follows that we cannot effectively treat him from the side of consciousness alone, but must bring about a change in and through the unconscious. In the light of our present knowledge, this can be achieved only by the thorough and conscious assimilation of unconscious contents. “
“The unconscious is not a demoniacal monster, but a natural entity which, as far as moral sense, aesthetic taste, and intellectual judgment go, is completely neutral. It only becomes dangerous when our conscious attitude to it is hopelessly wrong. To the degree that we repress it, its danger increases. But the moment the patient begins to assimilate contents that were previously unconscious, it danger diminishes. The dissociation of personality, the anxious division of the day-time and the nighttime sides of the psyche, case with progressive assimilation. “
“The fundamental mistake regarding the nature of the unconscious is probably this: it is commonly supposed that its contents have only one meaning and are marked with an unalterable plus or minus sign. In my humble opinion, this view is too naive. The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains its equilibrium just as the body does. Every process that goes too far immediately and inevitably calls forth compensations, and without these there would be neither a normal metabolism nor a normal psyche. In this sense we can take the theory of compensation as a basic law of psychic behavior. Too little on one side results in too much on the other. Similarly, the relation between conscious and unconscious is compensatory. This is one of the best-proven rules of dream interpretation. When we set out to interpret a dream, it is always helpful to ask: What conscious attitude does this compensate?
Compensation is not as a rule merely an illusory fulfillment, but an actual fact that becomes still more actual the more we repress it. We do not stop feeling thirsty by repressing our thirst.
In the same way, the dream-content is to be regarded with due seriousness as an actuality that has to be fitted into the conscious attitude as a co determining factor. If we fail to do this, we merely persist in that eccentric frame of mind which evoked the unconscious compensation in the first place. It is then difficult to see how we can ever arrive at a sane judgment or ourselves or at a balanced way of living.”
“For dream-contents to be assimilated, it is of overriding importance that no real values of the conscious personality should be damaged, much less destroyed, otherwise there is no one left to do the assimilating. The recognition of the unconscious is not a Bolshevist experiment which puts the lowest on top and thus re-establishes the very situation it intended to correct.
We must see to it that the values of the conscious personality remain intact, for unconscious compensation is only effective when it co-operates with an integral consciousness. Assimilation is never a question of “this or that” but always of “this and that”.
Just as the interpretation of dreams require exact knowledge of the conscious status quo, so the treatment of dream symbolism demands that we take into account the dreamer’s philosophical, religious, and moral convictions. It is far wiser in practice not to regard dream-symbols semiotically, i.e., as expressions of a content not yet consciously recognized or conceptually formulated. In addition, they must be considered in relation to the dreamer’s immediate state of consciousness. I say that this procedure is advisable in practice because in theory relatively fixed symbols do exist whose meaning must on no account be referred to anything known and formulable as a concept. If there were no such relatively fixed symbols it would be impossible to determine the structure of the unconscious, for there would be nothing that could in any way be laid hold of or described.”