Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guilt over parents divorce holding back a person from living her life and finding happiness

A woman in her early thirties, who lives with the father of her second child, but has ambivalence towards making him her life partner, had the following dream:

I meet my old boyfriend who I have not thought about in ages in a restaurant. And we rush and hug each other.

"Now why would I dream of him when I am living with someone else? I have not seen this guy in 10 years. Nothing happened recently that would have made me think of him. In the end the relationship turned abusive, and I went to the court to get Personal Protection Order against him. So there could be no reason for me to dream of him."

"Tell me the whole dream," I asked her.

The dream begins with my calling my mom to go shopping with me. We are in a Mall. We are buying high heel shoes for my mother, which is ridiculous because nothing could be further from our style. I am a tennis-shoe kind of girl, tomboyish, never caring for girlie things. I do not enjoy shopping. I am in and out of stores in 20 minutes, and certainly not the one who goes to Mall, spends the whole afternoon there, eats chocolate and looks for frilly things. But in the dream my mother and I not just go to the shoe shop, but look for other fancy clothes, even fur coats. Also my mom looks younger and healthier in my dream, without the heart problems that makes her look old now.
Then my mother is no longer in the dream and I am working in a restaurant in the Mall. There is is an old couple. I have to bring them ice tea. But every time I try to do it something happens to prevent it. I cannot find the glasses, or the ice, or something else is not ready yet to be able to serve them. I go to other restaurants in the Mall to get the glasses for the ice tea. They are kind of connected to the restaurant where I work, as if they are separate yet part of one, for each restaurant has a different theme. Finally when I get everything together, the couple have already left.
Then I spot my ex-boyfriend. He is eating or having drinks in the restaurant. I approach him nervous and fearfully. [For once, in real life, I thought I had seen him but on rushing up to the person, I found that that was not him.] But he is real amicable and friendly, so my nervousness was unjustified. We hug each other. My two children are with me. Then the dream goes on and on, in which I keep running into him, over and over again.

Based upon her preliminary associations the following construction was made:

Mall is like a meeting place, a fair, where your dream takes you to find a suitable person. You take your Mom with you to the mall so as to escape the accusation that you are abandoning her for the sake of a man. [A woman often cannot give up her attachment to her mother and refuses to make the transition from mother to a strange man. Its roots lie in guilt over wishing ill/death for the mother to escape her influence and indulge in sexual pleasures with men. This psychology is behind many a women choosing not to marry]. So you are buying shoes for her to placate her. The high heel shoes could symbolize a male baby. So your are are going to meet a man in the Mall but for her [mother's] sake. To get a present[baby] out of him to give to your mother.
The patient agreed that the Mall could be a meeting place, but added that she has no interest in sex or meeting men period. She feels no sexual urges anymore.
I pointed out that when people get demoralized or disheartened about finding love in real life, they stop thinking about love and sex in their waking hours, but then these urges return even more forcefully in dreams and sometimes pathologically in neurotic symptoms. If one is finding love in real life there is no need for one to dream about it.
The clarification had an immediate effect. The patient started describing her relationship with the ex-boyfriend who came in her dream. She had liked him very much in the beginning. Unlike the boyfriend before him, her first one, with whom she went out for 5 years, the new one was great in bed, and instinctively knew what to do to give her pleasure. They had wonderful sex for a year.
Patient then admitted that I was right, she still has urges to find somebody to love and the dream was sparked because she had found some old film rolls that needed development, and those rolls must have reminded her of the good old days, when she was with the ex-boyfriend.
Patient then went into a description of how her childhood was ruined by her parents never getting along with each other. Her father was the jealous type and would not let her mother do anything so the mother was dissatisfied with her marriage.
But they stuck together for the sake of the children. When she [the patient] was 14, they felt the children had grown up enough, and got divorced. It must have affected her very badly, for she started using drugs and staying out late till 2 or 3 am, which infuriated her father to no end.
"Was buying the high heel shoes [in the dream] an attempt to satisfy your dissatisfied mother - playing the role of the father, taking her out to shopping and doing things for her which your father had not done?"
Patient confirmed, the correctness of the interpretation in her characteristic way, and added "My rebellious acting out and staying late at night was to get even with my father for being so mean to my mother and not letting her do anything. I did everything with all those boys, which he prevented her from doing. That is the reason he was so furious with me then."
"Were the old couple your parents too, and and bringing the ice tea to them another attempt to satisfy them, and this time both of them?"
Patient confirmed that the old couple were her parents.
Then she wanted to know if getting ice tea for them was to please them, why was she having so much difficulties in finding the glasses and ice for them.
This was interpreted as her ambivalence towards them. She wanted to please them yet she was angry at them for getting divorced and abandoning her. So every attempt to please them was being nullified by the counter-impulse to not do so.
Patient first disagreed with the interpretation, and said she has no anger towards her parents and only feels love for them, but took back this rosy assessment of her filial piety on being pointed out that staying out till 2 and 3 in the morning when she was 14 could only be explained as expression of anger and revenge.
The patient added that going to different restaurants in the Mall in search for glasses for her parents points to the return of her teenage promiscuity in the dream. After the parents' divorce she had become very promiscuous. It was trying to find love which was no longer present at home, but also it was revenge against her parents.
Another interpretation of this promiscuous behavior, which was symbolized by going to different restaurants with different themes, could have been her desperate search for finding in outside relationships something that was different that she could present to her parents to make their marriage work.
Why was she buying high heel shoes and other frilly girlie things for her mother and herself?
This was not confirmed by the patient, but knowing her history and her other behaviors, I knew that she had significantly cutoff herself from her feminine nature out of deference for her mother.
She was tenderly attached to her father as a child, which was further strengthened by the conflict between her parents, leading to her wanting to take the place of her mother. This aroused counter feelings of guilt and remorse and command to do everything possible not to replace her mother. So the patient abandoned all interests in making herself attractive in a feminine manner, eschewing all frilly things, including high heel shoes, preferring tennis shoes and rough and tumble ways. Going to the mall, eating chocolate and looking for high heel shoes, frilly things and wrapping herself in fur coats was way too much acting the role of the mother, which her guilt forbid. Now that she wanted to go back to the man she once loved she felt the need to rethink about neglecting her feminine side, and was returning to her mother in the dreams to relearn being a frilly furry kind of a woman.
Her nervousness and fear in approaching her dream-man is part of her tomboyish nature. The girl is somewhat of a gun-toting Mae West type in her demeanor and mannerisms. The fear that if the man would not immediately respond to her overture it may end up in her flying off the handle and slugging him, was reflected in her nervousness. In fact their relationship had ended when she had put a key from her key-chain between her fingers and hit him on the forehead with a closed fist, and had left him bleeding like a pig on the ground, leading her to believe that she had killed him. They had broken up despite her having so much feelings for him, because she had a violent streak in her.
Meeting him in a restaurant which is connected to other restaurants was wish for being married to him. Marriage is often symbolized in the dream as a house with multiple rooms. Multiple rooms standing for different women and promiscuity, and by reversal - reversal of infidelity - dream makes it in to a symbol of marriage. So in our dreamer marriage instead of being symbolized by her going from one room to the next - a typical symbol of marriage - was shown as going from one restaurant to the next.
Her two children are with her.
his was allusion to her wish, or rather demand, that if I go to him and leave my current partner, he better accept me with my two children.
I keep running into him over and over again.
This is multiplication of the wish to meet him. Though she protested she has no interest left for men. The dream belies that. She wished so much to find love that she kept finding it over and over again. It also perhaps symbolized multiple sexual encounters with her dream-man. But alas just in dreams.
However, there was another reason behind the endless repetition of meeting the man of her dreams. There was an obstacle to it. Her guilt over her parents' divorce. She had to make up to them, and restore their marriage, before she could find marriage and happiness for herself. But there was ambivalence there as well. It was reflected in her trying to serve ice-tea to them, which they could drink together in a restaurant like a married couple. But hard as she tried she could not get the ice-tea ready, and by the time she did, they had already left.

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