Sunday, July 15, 2012

Two dreams showing mourning for an ambivalently loved mother

Around her mother's first death anniversary, a woman in her forties, who suffers from various psychosomatic ailments, a somatic abreaction of childhood trauma, dreamt the following:

I am in my kitchen. The window facing the front yard is boarded up. But there is a chink in it through which two eyes are peering inside. From their color and the rim of the glasses I know it is my mother. I go outside to ask her as to what she is up to. However, I see her not at the window  but inside her car crocheting. The car is parked illegally, facing the wrong way and encroaching upon the grass. The door is open and she is talking on the cellphone sitting on a wooden chair. I tell her that the police will arrest you for parking in that fashion and anyway your presence here is ridiculous to begin with. 
All throughout my mother does not speak a word. 

Before we could proceed with the analysis the session veered into her usual complaints, which are mostly about her mother's neglect and harshness when the patient was a child. The mother was having an affair which led to divorce, followed by very unstable living condition for her and her sister. She still gets filled with fury at her mother's rush to marry their step-father, with whom she was having the affair. These usual grievances in the current session were sparked by her guilt over failing to call her step-father on her mother's death anniversary.

Then she mentioned a friend Marci with whom she use to clean houses, and suddenly the memory of another dream crept up in her mind.

My mother is in my kitchen. She is drinking coffee. Then I see her sitting in the living room with an off-white blanket spread across her lap. 
All throughout she does not speak a word. 

"Why does the dream show you in the kitchen?" I asked her.

"Because that is where you can expect me to be when I am at home."

"So the dream is showing that your mother is looking for you?"

"I guess so. It is so strange though. When I was a little girl it would be me looking for her and she was nowhere to be found, gone, running all over town, sometimes gone for the entire night, with no consideration that we two girls, my sister and me, were too young to be left alone like that. We were barely 10 and 11. And I was so worried too about having to keep the secret from our father, who worked the night shift. And now it is not I who is desperately looking for her to come back to home but she who wants to come into my house and I could not care less."

"Why she is peering through the window and from outside?"

"I read in a dream book that looking through a window has to do with abandonment and desertion issues. My childhood was nothing but one abandonment after another."

But I was not quite convinced that peering through the window was symbolizing abandonment issues. The concept 'abandonment issues' was too abstract. Dreams may try to give abstract concepts pictorial representations, but the first step in analyzing them is to find the actual people, real events, particular memories, concrete conflicts that lie behind the dream pictures. The recall from the dream book may have immediately emerged in her mind actually as a defense and a superficial explanation perhaps to deflect her going into the deeper underlying hidden meaning. Though there was no doubt some abandonment issues there as well. Preventing her mother from getting inside the house and just letting her watch through a boarded up window and thus excluding her from her life could be viewed as reversal of abandonment and desertion.

To me however, steeped in psychoanalytic theory, peering through the window,  appeared more likely to be  reversal of spying upon parental intercourse than desertion. It is one of the primal fantasies of mankind: to watch parental intercourse. The  point from which one watches - from outside looking in versus from inside looking out has its own meaning. Watching from outside, while painfully excluded is the opposite of  watching from inside and being part of the process. In fact the fantasy often expands into watching the intercourse from as early as when one was inside the womb and as the third participant in the intercourse, sandwiched between the parents, and by doing so favorably changing one's life trajectory. In women it is changing  of her gender through this intrauterine sex; stealing part of father's coveted penis and being reborn as a boy. In men too the impulse is to steal, exchanging one's own puny penis and acquiring primal father's magnificent potency.  In both cases the fantasy is having sex with the father while in the womb itself, and wresting away from the father what one has been denied.  It sounds very bizarre and may arouse suspicion that perhaps I have a deranged mind. But one has only to recall as to how common it is for pornographic movies to use this fantasy in developing their story line where three people have sex in various positions.

The associations of the patient did not lead to any of these phylogenetic sources of the dream. Patient instead brought in her conversation with her friend Kathy with whom she had discussed the dream and who had agreed with the patient that the dream was about abandonment.

"You specially emphasized the silence on part of your mother in both the dreams. Why such an emphasis on that?"

Having heard her voice in my head incessantly for 43 years, it is a relief to not hear it anymore.  I can shut it off now by telling myself that she is dead."

The association revealed the central theme of the dream. It was a "mourning dream" where she was bringing her mother back to life only to take satisfaction at the realization that she was nevertheless dead. The silence symbolized death. Her silence was an assurance that she is now dead and therefore incapable of retaliation at this filial defiance.

"Why is she sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee?"

"That is where she always sat and lorded over me, drinking coffee, watching me as I slaved, doing all the housework which was simply not fair to be dumped upon a child. I was barely 12."

"Is it possible that you are sending her out of the kitchen into the living room in the second dream? Putting an end to her lording days?"

"Yes. Out of my house altogether. And if possible out of my memories."

"What is the significance of the off-white blanket upon her lap?

"That off-white blanket is the reminder of her  non-stop crocheting. She was always crocheting. Anyone who knew her got a blanket or two from this fascination of hers. In fact now I recall that we cremated her along with her chair and that off-white blanket. She died while crocheting it. She was always upon that wooden rocking chair crocheting. It is interesting in the dream those constant companions of her make a comeback,  sitting inside the car."

"What was the object she was crocheting  in the dream?"

"The same off-white blanket."

"So you are trying to rid of her lock, stock and barrel. So the dream is that of mourning for your mother's death; bringing her back to life, airing your grievances and sending her and everything connected with her out of your life."

"But I had already mourned for her many years ago."

"She just died, barely an year ago. So tell me about this other mourning."

"15 years ago I mourned for her and for my grandfather."

"You mourned for your mother when your grandfather died 15 years ago?"

"No my grandfather was already dead for 10 years, when I mourned for him and my mother. When my grandfather died I had just given birth to my first child and had no time to mourn for him. So I mourned for him 10 years later. And while I was mourning for him, I mourned for my mother as well though she was still alive."

"That is interesting. One was already dead for ten years and the other had yet to die, and here you were mourning for them.  Some loss must have occurred during that period to precipitate this outpouring of grief?"

"Yes. My friend Marci betrayed me. I loved Marci very much. I worked for her and cleaned houses for her. I became dependent upon her and trusted her with all my heart. She became the mother that I did not have.  Then Marci betrayed me. It was such a shock. I cried for three days non-stop. And I decided to say goodbye to all the human race. The good, the bad and the ugly. I was going to trust nobody and expect nothing from nobody. And so I mourned over the end of my relationship with the world."

"But why did you specifically choose your grandfather? Was he mean to you as your mother, and symbolized  the other sex of the human race whom you should shun henceforth?"

"No he was nice. He and my grandmother were the only nice one. But they lived down south and we could visit them only once a year. Those were the happy memories. But I was mourning for them too. For after what Marci did, I wanted to trust nobody. Did not matter whether they were good or bad. They were all painful once you trusted them and became too fond of them. So my grandfather symbolized all the people who were good to me and my mother the opposite, and I mourned for the end of all of them after Marci's betrayal."

"What is the meaning of that car parked illegally, the wrong way, encroaching upon the grass?"

"After making me work to my bones, not just by my mother but my father too, for he was not quite right after the divorce, and I reminded him of my mother, and I was shuttled between the two, both primarily interested in me for what work they could extract out of me, I was lectured endlessly how I was wrong about this and  that, and why I should not be there but at my father's or my mother's if I was at the former's, and more than once threatened to be handed over to the police for my transgressions, which were no more than breaking some glass dish once in a great while. I can still hear the glass crashing and the fear how my mother would whup me. And now I remember that the police were once actually called in. Fed up of the abuse I once ran away from my mother's house and the police were actually called to trace me. They found me at Marci's, who was my best friend then, and in whose house I was hiding." 

Finding the mother at fault in the dream was a way of turning the tables. It was she who was in control, it was the mother who was making all kinds of mistake and subject to being threatened with arrest. 

No comments:

Post a Comment