Saturday, February 25, 2012

A dream showing the wish for a reversal of one's life trajectory

An Indian-American housewife, mother of two pretty girls, comfortably settled in the suburbs, working at a place where she is well liked, outwardly having achieved everything that she could desire from the American dream, dreamt the following:

I am back in my hometown in the house in which I grew up. I am in my brother Z's room. There is a closet on the wall. Which is so weird because nothing like that was in that room or for that matter in any of the houses in India in those days.  And this gets even more strange, because hidden inside the closet is a passage that leads to a stairwell and flights of steps.  

In the room are my childhood friends. They are leaving. And here it gets real funny for they make their exit not from the front door as they normally would have, but by entering the closet and climbing up those four flights of steps. 

She immediately declared the dream to be nonsensical, and her two girls and her husband - who were sitting on the table along with a few more family members - chimed in that the dream is indeed absurd.

Only some elements of the dream could be analyzed since her children were there, but having subjected to analysis few of her dreams in the past I could decipher the overall meaning of this dream as well.

The analysis began by asking her as to why the closet is on the wall. And why she is back in her house of childhood.

"I don't know. It makes no sense. And why would that stairwell crop up inside that closet! It is silly. As to why I am in that house? Because I grew up there and I really loved that house. It was a statuesque house and stood apart from others in the neighborhood. It often comes in my dreams. My happiest memories reside there."

This was immediately interpreted as a desire to return to her mother and its safety. House usually symbolize people and most often one's mother or wife. The Sanskrit/Hindi word for womb is garbh, which is derived from grah (house). Therefore it  did not look too far fetched to consider the closet in the wall as the representation of the womb- a special space within the house (mother) -  and it was natural to conclude that  the dream had to do with some wish fulfillment that was piggybacking on the familiar primal fantasy of returning to mother's womb.

But what was that wish that could only be fulfilled by returning to the womb? And why was the closet/womb in her brother's room? And what could those four flights of stairs symbolize?

She answered, "Before the room became exclusively my brother's both of us shared it. Then as we grew, he being older and a boy, got the whole room to himself. But when he left for States, the room became mine."

Her brother is her only sibling, barely 2 years older than her. She had always admired and emulated him.

So here was the theme of exchange. What was once his had become hers.

Was she aspiring to be like him? Was she going back to the womb to switch places with him?

But these constructions could not be explored because it was not a therapy session, just an informal request to analyze the dream. Presence of her children and other relatives required caution in requesting complete free association.   

So we shifted the focus upon another element of the dream.

"Who were those friends?"

"Just friends. Childhood friends. No one in particular. I visited many of them on my recent visit to India."

One could immediately sense resistance to bring up the dream thoughts connected with this part of the dream. Apparently there was mixed feelings about meeting those friends.

After taking some time off from the dream which were spent talking on matters unconnected with it, she overcame the inner objection and returned to the dream, "Actually there were just two friends. A brother and sister, who lived near our house, and who would come and play with Z and me.

"And now I know where those flight of steps are taken from. They lived in a four storey building near our house. It had a stairwell just like in the dream. And to reach their flat they would climb up on them just like they were doing inside that closet in my house."

Then she added that while in India - it was her first visit since she migrated to the US seven years ago - she had occasionally compared the lives of those childhood friends to hers and had wondered if she would have been better off not migrating, despite all the material comfort she gets in the States. Life is more diverse and so many more activities happen there.

No further associations were asked of her and no interpretation was made. But knowing that flights of steps and climbing up on them in dreams is almost always an allusion to sexual intercourse I wondered if the dream was not an attempt to change places with that  visiting pair of brother and sister and with her own brother by bringing all four of them into her mother's womb.

Was she bringing that pair of brother and sister and her own brother all in a simultaneously occurring reproductive activity  - the four flights of steps standing for the four of them - in which her wish to switch places with them was finding fulfillment? While this could not be confirmed this appeared to be the most likely  interpretation.

The person she must have desired to change places most had to be her brother - her childhood hero, who had come 10 years earlier than her to the States and had done very well - for the dream takes place in his room. But there was also a desire to change places with her childhood friends as well, sharing the destiny of each one of them.

Interestingly this was in sharp contrast to her behavior in the waking life where she shows no envy and no desire to be like others, and is happily adjusted to her lot in life. Dreams do bring out the deepest wishes of our psyche which are so successfully under control while we are awake that we often cannot even guess of their existence from the actual daytime behavior.

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