Monday, January 9, 2012

Dream within a dream and its psychoanalysis

A young man in his late twenties reported the following dream which he had dreamt two nights in a row. He labelled it as dream within a dream.

I awaken out of a dream only to find myself in my own bed in my own apartment. My wife is standing next to the bed , fully dressed, shaking me and asking me if I would like her to make me a cup of coffee. I say "yes please", and as soon as my wife leaves the bedroom I fall back to sleep only to find myself in a dream within a dream in which I remember no details.

I didn't even realize I was dreaming until I got up and had to make my own cup of coffee. For only then I realized that my wife could not have asked me if would like coffee for me for she was at work. So my waking out of the dream, and the subsequent interaction in the awake state with my wife, was also part of the dream.

When asked if there was any difference in that recurrent dream from one night to the next, the patient said on one night she offered to make coffee while on the second night she offered to bring a 4-hour energy drink.

Neither the patient nor me initially could make any sense out of the dream. The associations were scanty and soon we drifted into exploring his other dreams, one of which was of his getting chased through an underground sewer with his wife, with menacing authorities, like policemen from some science fiction movie,  shooting at them. The menacing authorities were without difficulty analyzed as father substitutes.

Patient then recalled that on both the nights he was feeling extremely angry towards his uncle which was preventing him from falling asleep for hours.  From previous therapy sessions I was aware as to how much hatred and anger he harbors towards his father and his uncle, his father's brother. For the father had been physically and verbally abusive towards the patient throughout his childhood. "Always pissed and always critical" was his judgment upon his father. His uncle had become entangled with the imago of his father for in his late adolescence, to escape the tyranny of his father, he had moved to Indiana to live with his uncle and had found, after a short honeymoon period, that the uncle was a spitting image of his father - verbally abuse, bipolar in his anger, and highly critical.

His current rage towards his uncle - behind which lay his rage towards his father - was precipitated because around Christmas time the uncle had ordered him to take his mother - patient's grandmother - to her Florida home for the winter.  The patient had declined to do so because of his agoraphobia. The uncle had then flown in a rage at the refusal, and the patient was anticipating harm from him. He declared, "My  uncle is still holding a grudge against me, despite my calling him three times to make amends."

On the nights of the dream, he could not fall asleep until 6 in the morning, fuming at his uncle and also fearing that if he [patient] runs in to him [uncle], the latter will physically attack him. "My uncle is a man who is always talking guns, going to gun ranges and getting even with all those who have crossed his path. He is truly bipolar and you can never predict when he will flip his lid and lunge at you."

It was easy to analyze the dream then. The anger at, and hence fear of retaliation from, his uncle was preventing him from falling asleep. Finally the sleep had come. But the angry thoughts and fear of retaliation which had retained their cathexis (charge)/strength - could not quieted.  And they were acting as a disturber of sleep. The disturbance was handled by the emergence/creation of the dream which was telling him to not bother getting up because he was already up and in the safety of his apartment and not only that but also getting catered to by his wife.  This was what the dream was showing, taking away the need to actually get up, and allowing him to continue his sleep. The dream's purpose was to show him not in a dangerous place where he had to fear his father and his uncle, and other menacing forces,  but in the safety of his own apartment, in his own bed, and with his protective wife around.

His falling back asleep and then dreaming inside the dream where there were no details was the fulfillment of the wish to sleep with no disturbances. A sleep in which there were no arousing factors,  no return of the memories of his abusive father, his revengeful uncle, and host of other enemies, for he had been repeatedly victimized growing up by his peers. So his wish for a dreamless peaceful sleep was getting fulfilled by dreaming of a dream which had no details - a dream with no disturbing elements.

The 4-hour energy drink was a kind of reassurance that no you are not asleep but awake because your wife has given you a drink which will keep your alert and vigilant for at least four hours. He told me that when he woke up at around 10 O clock he noticed he had slept for exact 4 hours. 

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