Saturday, April 23, 2011

A death-wish dream followed by a confirmatory dream in an obsessive girl

A young attractive girl, in her early twenties, reported the following dream:

I am traveling in a car with my boyfriend Jerry, who is driving. My sister Maggie is sitting next to him on the passenger side. I am in the back with Brad, Maggie's boyfriend, and Ashley, their son is between us.
I have to be dropped while they are to continue on with the journey. I have an ominous feeling that Brad is going to die. I don't remember being dropped and the car leaving. Instead, I am in a bowling alley. It could be a restaurant. There are plenty of people there. In fact everyone we knew in high school are there. Jerry and I enter together. Then Jerry kind of disappears. I am really interacting with the crowd.
Then the scene changes and I am with Maggie. She tells me that Brad died. I am inconsolable with grief. I call Jerry's mother to give her the bad news. And though I am on phone, I can still see her grief and facial expressions.
I look at Maggie, as to how she is taking Brad's death. There is no reaction from her. She is the one who should be freaking out, but it is me who is bowling my eyes out. I am little surprised at my grief and hysterical crying for it is sister's fiance who has died. In fact Maggie is comforting me rather than the other way around. I cannot even talk because of sadness. I blame myself and feel horribly guilty for I had forewarning of what was going to happen. I should have stopped his death before it happened.
Though I was not in the car when Brad died I could still see in the dream as to how it happened. I was looking at Brad's neck when a pen like thing went into the back of his neck and killed him.
I should have resisted getting dropped and letting them go on. I could have prevented it. At that point in the dream I started hyperventilating and woke up.
I had to call Brad the first thing in the morning to make sure he was alright.

Analysis:

I am traveling in a car with my boyfriend Jerry. My sister Maggie is sitting next to him on the the passenger side. I am in the back with Brad, Maggie's boyfriend. Their son Ashley is sitting between us.


The patient had recently taken a trip to Georgia for a family reunion. The five of them were in the car together. So the dream was just reenactment of the scene.
But why?
Patient could not give any direct associations to this question. But some other associations, too cumbersome to report here, revealed that the journey was symbolic of her own life journey. Her and her sister's boyfriends are always together. "They are connected at the hip," was the expression she used.
So she was envisaging her life journey as always being with her sister, her boyfriend Brad, their son Ashley, and her own boyfriend who she plans to marry and live with for the rest of her life.

"Why would you wish Brad dead?"

The girl could be asked that question directly because many of her obsessive symptoms have been traced in past sessions as expression of death wishes towards family members and she is no longer shocked at the idea.
And she had already guessed that if she was bowling her eyes out and feeling guilty about not staying back in the car to prevent Brad's death, there lay death wishes against him

"I don't. It makes no sense. I really like Brad. We get along so well. He treats my sister well too. Though I must admit that in Georgia they were having their usual tiffs which bothered me but not enough to have such a strong death wish against him."

I have to be dropped while they are to continue on with the journey. This causes an ominous feeling that Brad is going to die.

"Why you have to be dropped off and separated from the rest?"

The associations [too voluminous to report] led us to conclude that the death wish was so strong that she had to get out of the car to prevent it from becoming a reality.
Now this ambivalence of wishing death and then undoing it lies at the center of her obsessions. Here the obsession was being depicted in the dream, using the language of the dream.
Now the patient and I knew from past analysis that her death wish is primarily directed towards her boyfriend Jerry. In real life she has high ambivalence towards him and cannot make up her mind whether to marry or leave him. The reason why she cannot commit herself to him is because she is not comfortable with her aggressive impulses [death wishes] towards him.
Before her death wishes [destructiveness] towards Jerry [her boyfriend] gets out of control, she wants to get out of his car [his life] and discontinue their life journey together.
But if the death wish was towards Jerry why in the dream it emerged against Brad?
We puzzled over this and she rejected my construction that she must have some grudge against Brad which found an outlet in the dream. She is very fond of him, she claimed, and the death wish could not have been expressed with such vehemence against him.
Then after the session drifted in to some other issues, out of nowhere she brought up the following memory from couple of years ago.
Jerry and Brad were in a Sports Bar, and texting a girl called Christina to come and join them. She does not like Christina because there was another girl called Christina with whom Jerry once slept with when they had broken up for a few months.
Sensing this memory was vitally connected with the dream I asked,"Where were you, when Jerry and Brad were in the bar?"
"Maggie and I were at a church function volunteering, till midnight. They were to return by midnight, but did not till 3 in the morning. I was really mad.
Then next day I found that they were texting to that Christina girl. So naturally I was furious."
"You think the death wish came from there? With Brad texting a hated rival, even though this was a different Christina than the one Jerry cheated upon you."
"That is true, but there has to be more than that to the dream, " the girl insisted.
"Why is Maggie next to Jerry in front seat, while you are at the back with Brad and Ashley?"
"Because Maggie has a bad back. She always sits in the front."
But the girl thought for a second and added that does not explain it quite fully. "For all the way to Georgia and back, it was Maggie and I who sat in the front and Jerry and Brad who were at the back. We two girls did all the driving. Could it be that I am changing places with Maggie?"
"If you are changing places with Maggie then there has to be another reversal somewhere."
It is a rule of dream interpretation that if there is a reversal at one point in the manifest content of the dream there will be another reversal somewhere else as if to counterbalance it.
"Maybe the reversal lies in your exchanging Jerry for Brad. And you want to change places with Maggie." I conjectured.
The girl thought for some time and said that is right. "I always wanted to change places with Maggie. But not with Brad but in relation to our father. She was closer to him than me. He was cool with her while I was petrified of him. She would act so coy with him like calling him Daddie instead of Dad when she wanted something from him, which I found distasteful. I could never bring myself to do that."
So she was changing places with Maggie and was also changing Jerry for Brad. But behind Brad lay the figure of her father. It was with her father that she wanted to get even with for preferring her sister over her.
From previous analysis we also knew that her ambivalence and death wishes towards her father had now got displaced upon her boyfriend Jerry. So the dream was showing her death wish towards Jerry and her father but in the person of Brad.
This interpretation was further confirmed by the fact that the person she calls to give the bad news is not Brad's but Jerry's mother. Also the watching of Jerry's mother's suffering clearly points to an obsessive-sadistic satisfaction directed towards Jerry's mother. If Brad was the primary target of her death wish then she should have been calling his mother not Jerry's.
Furthermore it was she who was hysterically crying over Brad's death and not Maggie. So it was her fiance's death that she was mourning for and feeling guilty about and not Maggie's. For it was Maggie who was consoling her and she was the one who was speechless.

I blame myself and feel horribly guilty. For I knew the tragedy was going to happen. I should have stopped it before it happened.

This was the affect of guilt over wishing/causing Jerry's death. Dream has less difficulty in distorting the visual contents of the dream thoughts, but the affects associated with them are much harder for the dream-work to alter. Generally the affective tone persists in the dream unchanged.
In the dream she had been dropped off the car when the death took place so manifestly she was not responsible for his death. But her conscience was still holding her responsible for the crime. It still berated her for not stopping the death before it happened.
She also saw the crime occurring with the pen going through Brad' neck despite the fact that she was not physically present in the car.

I was looking at Brad's neck, when a pen like thing went into the back of his neck and killed him

This part of the dream was connected to a complex which both patient and I were aware from previous analytic work. The girl, who is with her boyfriend for more than 8 years, had lost her virginity to him at age of 14, when she was just not ready for it. The experience was very painful, and the penetration had been experienced as a bullet or knife searing through her. It had embittered her towards him and to some extent men in general.
The first sexual experience and losing her virginity had become a "traumatic event" leaving permanent traces upon her psyche of wanting revenge from her boyfriend and men in general for what they did to her and do to women in general. We had analyzed numerous dreams in the past in which she was confronting her father, and shooting him, to reverse this trauma. Her father was the original prototype of all men. In this dream she was taking courage to reverse the pain of losing her virginity by killing the one who had deflowered her. However, here too, the revenge was not expressed directly but displaced from her boyfriend to his best friend out of fear. The pen obviously was a phallic symbol and its stabbing of it on his neck was tit for tat for his stabbing her with his penis.

in the next scene I am in a bowling alley, could be a restaurant, - where there are plenty of people, in fact all the people we know from high school. We go in there together, but Jerry kind of disappears. I am really interacting with those people.


The city where they live has only one bowling alley, and one high school, and everybody goes there to meet each other. The patient's ambivalence towards her boyfriend for deflowering her and for being unfaithful when they had temporarily broken up and also because she was by nature highly competitive with men - she had once stated that she is never a doormat for any man; anybody who treats her condescendingly because of her sex gets the same treatment in return; she never ever lets a man get away treating her badly - was leading her to explore other men.
The return to the bowling alley was rolling back of time. Since he was once unfaithful, and had done her wrong and had betrayed her, she was going to betray him. So she made him disappear as soon as they went into that meeting place and she started looking for somebody else.
But to her credence she was doing only in her dreams. In real life she has no intention to cheat her boyfriend. She remains extremely busy at work and at school, and whatever little time she gets she stays at home. Even in the dream she does not act upon her revengeful impulse, for despite her ambivalence towards her boyfriend she remains very attached to him.
Unable to get even with her boyfriend through making love to somebody else, her revenge feelings go back to visualizing his death and taking satisfaction at his mother's suffering.
The guilt over this unacceptable wish finally woke her up in a panic and she had to make sure with Brad if her magical (obsessive) thoughts had not caused his death.

The correct interpretation led her to dream a confirmatory one a couple of days later.

Maggie tells me that Dad died. Actually he got murdered. And as soon as she tells me I can see how it happened though I was not there. Just like in the other dream even though I was not there I could see how exactly Brad was killed with pen knife, I could see my father getting pummelled. It starts as road rage. The two cars are stopped and a huge muscular guy comes out of one, throws my Dad on the top of the other car and starts pounding him. My dad does not fight back because he knows he deserves it for all the wrong he has done to Maggie and me. Then the muscular guy takes out a gun and shoots my dad and just walks off.

I was so upset by the dream that I called him the next day, apologized and cried for what happened to him in the dream.

She associated this dream with an actual incidence of road rage she had witnessed as a very young girl. Her father had a temper and he cut off another guy. They both came out and her father had actually punched the other guy in the stomach. He was a black belt in karate. As a child she was very afraid of her father, especially from that point onwards, because he was big and strong and brusque. It was the major factor behind her ambivalence towards men and her fear of them.
Patient even in dream felt that the huge muscular guy was her revengeful masculine ego ideal. The shooting of her father by this masculine guy [her masculine ego ideal] was revenge against her father, the person she once loved very much till with the ending of Oedipal phase it had changed predominantly to hostility.

Both the dreams were sparked by the wish to take revenge on the two most important men in her life her boyfriend and her father for the belief that they had done harm to her because of the passivity and weakness of her sex.

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