Sunday, September 15, 2013

Snake dreams and the phallic competition with the father

A highly gifted artist who draws cartoons as good as any Disney animator but never made commercial  use of his talents because of a fear of failure and has spent his life - he is now in his mid fifties - in a low clerical position because of the job security it offered brought to therapy the following recurrent dream that he claimed has periodically occurred to him all through his life.

Before telling the dream he added that it makes no sense for him to repeatedly dream of an animal that he detests and dreads when he is awake.

There are two snakes one of which is a diamond headed rattle snake the other one is black.

When asked if in all his dreams there are two snakes he said no: sometimes two, sometimes one, sometimes many. The latest dream had two snakes.

Now a long time back I had read in Karl Abraham's writings that snake in the dreams  often symbolize "phallic competition with the father". I had also once analyzed an Indian man's dream of being chased by a five-headed cobra (shesh naag) which on analysis had shown to be a dread of castration in hands of the father - for daring to compete with him and wish for his death - and the five headedness of the cobra was denial of castration - multiplication of the threatened object, so if one is lost there still will be some in reserve.

So my interest in the dream was piqued to see if this one too will prove to be some form of competition with the father.

"Why it is a diamond headed snake?"

"It may have to do with the triangular shape of the snake's head. Also the scales on its body were full of triangles."

Whether the triangles stood for female genitals could not be confirmed. This avenue was explored because of the theoretical consideration that coming across the female genitals during the Oedipal period in the little boy produces the horror of castration for he immediately concludes that it must be the result of punishment meted out for playing with the genitals (masturbating).

"Why is the other snake black?"

"There was actually a black snake that I once saw crossing across our house. I think it is taken from there."

"Is the diamond headed snake your mother and the black snake your father?"

The patient said it could be but gave no further associations that could confirm or reject the construction.

The patient then stated that recently his paranoid illness has taken an upswing. He feels unmarked black cars, with federal agents inside them, are following him whenever he is on the road. 

Now this patient has had bouts of paranoid breakdowns since the age of 34. These paranoid episodes
always begin with unmarked black cars following him. They quickly escalate into auditory hallucinations in which he is berated for being a pervert who indulges in all kinds of bad sexual practices including child molestation. These accusations have little to do with his manifest sexual behavior for his whole sexual expression is limited to masturbation and even this he does not indulge in more than twice a month. A limit which when exceeded results in paranoid constructions where he is constantly watched by federal agents, security guards, spy cameras, and condemnatory voices, all of which occur, along with a rise in the affect of guilt, to prevent him from indulging in masturbation and the associated [incestuous] fantasies.

His first episode of auditory hallucination began when he was dating a girl at the age of 34. He had only dated once before, a decade earlier, which had ended unsuccessfully because he would repeatedly tell the girl that wouldn't she be better off with somebody else. With this second woman the relationship had almost come to the point of getting engaged but then while having lunch with her in a restaurant in company of his brother with whom he is inseparable he had heard the man on the next table say that he (the patient) was fake and incompetent and should tell the girl he was hoping to marry to go and find somebody better than him. Later that evening the three had gone to the movie and the girl had abruptly left the two of them in the theater and had called off the relationship no doubt sensing his pathological sense of inferiority. Patient had concluded that she had walked out of his life to find somebody who had more money than him. Interestingly he is a millionaire despite his humble job because of a shrewd investment in stock market that he had made in the Eighties. The money though does not have any influence upon his daily living where he is frugal and wears very modest raggedly old clothes.

Few months after the breakup, he had a major paranoid breakdown.

The patient recalled in the session that fateful lunch, that first instance of auditory hallucination, the subsequent full blown paranoid schizophrenia, and then returning to the present told me as to how a woman who works with him, and who was acting quite interested in him had asked for a sum of money and on obtaining had become indifferent again.

"Was the dream sparked by this latest rejection?"

"Yes. Since she gave me hope and then disappeared, a repetition of what has happened to me before, I have been having suspicions that my bedroom is bugged, that there are spy cameras throughout the house, that my television can read my intentions, and the security guards from the campus where I work are standing outside my windows."

This had to be interpreted as due to an escalation of his hostility towards the world because of the latest rejection. He was trying to discharge his anger towards women - his mother was very domineering and had always held him back from taking interest in girls -  through sadomasochistic masturbatory fantasies and which were being controlled out of respect for his parents, for the fantasies were primarily directed against them, through creating paranoid structures of being watched by spy cameras, security guards and black cars. 

Patient at this point recalled that the dreams of snakes almost always occur a day or two before going to the confession. He goes there once a month and mostly to get absolved from the guilt of indulging in masturbation.

Patient was then asked if there were any more details to the dream. All he could think of was that the snakes were under his bed and he was deathly afraid of them.

"What exactly were you afraid the snake would do?"

"They will bite me on my penis," the patient replied.

So the snakes symbolized the father who would castrate him. Though the castration was shown not at the phallic level of psychosexual organization. Instead the great fear had caused a massive regression  all the way to the oral phase, where instead of his penis getting cut off by a human father he was quivering with fear over getting bitten by the snakes (the father substitutes). 

Here one recalls how in Little Han's case the castration fear was being worked through by dreading getting bitten by horses and in Wolf Man's case the castration anxiety had shifted to the fear of getting eaten by wolves.


Friday, September 6, 2013

A dream of getting bitten by a snake twice

A woman in her mid-thirties, twice divorced from two abusive marriages, and who despite a great need for love now lives a lonely existence dreamt the following:

Someone is drawing blood from my arm. A black snake with yellow underbelly hanging down from the ceiling bites me on my finger twice. The bites were sharply painful.

Since the patient is very shy and laconic in her descriptions, I knew there was more to the dream than what she was reporting, and if enough encouragement was given would bring up more details and on being coaxed recalled that:

She was sitting in a chair like one does in a clinical lab. Her arm was raised instead of being placed on the hand board, which is peculiar because arm is not kept in that position for blood drawing. The woman who was drawing the blood had short brown hair coming down to the neck.

The dream had occurred 3 weeks ago and the day's residues that had sparked the dream were not readily available. But, eventually, when it was suggested that the woman who was drawing the blood was perhaps she herself - for she has short brown hair which come down to the neck - she countered with, "No those hair are my aunt's. She, my mom and my grandmother came to visit me three weeks ago and the same night I had the dream. My aunt has short brown hair like that."

When asked as to why her aunt is drawing blood, the patient began talking about her grandmother. She declared that the grandmother is quite like her. She too has agoraphobia and like her (the patient) rarely leaves the house. In fact the patient was surprised that she had mustered the courage to ride along with her two daughters and come to the patient's house. She wondered whether behind the fa├žade of aunt it was not her grandmother who was drawing the blood. 

"Why would it be so?"

"Because I look up to my grandmother. She is a feisty one, full of energy and wisdom. So if the blood drawing is happening to cure me, it would be my grandmother who I would want to be my healer."

"And what it is that she is curing you of?"

"You know I work in a dog boarding place. A big Labrador injured me quite badly on my shin. It is painful and has not been healing. Surprising no blood oozed out of the wound when it happened. If it had perhaps the wound would have healed faster. So I must have made my grandmother, behind the figure of my aunt, draw the blood to heal me. "

"Was it your shin pain that was being experienced as the snake bite?"

"Must be. The pain was throbbing in quality and the snake bite occurred in quick succession twice."

"But why did the experience of pain from the shin shifted on to the finger, and as a snake bite?"

"Because my grandmother must complain about everything and find reasons to be paranoid wherever she is. The minute she entered my house she started looking at my backyard where there is overgrown vegetation and started worrying about there being a snake on those lush creepers. So it was my grandmother's bringing up her fear of snakes that sparked the dream."

"Why the snake is black?"

"There is actually a snake that lives in that foliage. Though I have not seen it this year. In fact the foliage at my backyard is so lush and wild because I have stopped going out in to my yard out of fear of running in to that snake. I hate snakes. They give me the creeps. Though they eat bugs and critters which is good. For I hate those creepy things too. The snake in my backyard is black and identical to the dream snake. It does not have yellow underbelly though."

"Why the yellow underbelly?"

"Yellow underbelly means it is a poisonous snake."

"Why would you want to be bitten by a poisonous snake?"

"To be cured of the other pain. My life is full of pain, fibromyalgia, fatigue; in short I never feel good. So I must me introducing one poison in to my system to get rid of another. Kind of homeopathy doctrine. That must me the reason too for my hand being in that awkward position. Instead of getting my poison drawn out by my grandmother through the needle and syringe, I am opting for a cure through getting bitten by snake."

"Why twice?"

"Because I was married twice. Both were snakes. They both were abusive, made my life hell and gave me agoraphobia. They were good riddance, but I still crave for love. So when the pain from the shin injury was about to wake me up I must have started dreaming of finding a cure for it by finding a man, a wish that must have been counteracted by the memory as to how the cure would tantamount to being bitten by a snake."

We still did not quite make out as to why the dream chose her aunt and the figure of her mother and grandmother behind it to draw the blood. This conjecture was not confirmed but the three women are  the only people she relates with and avoids all others. So when the dog injury was disturbing her sleep, the dream was generated in order to find a cure for the pain and the injury. First her mind harked to the familiar figures of the three relatives and a composite  of the three was drawing her blood. But then the libidinal wish, finding the three women as inadequate objects for what she really needed, began contemplating relationship with a man [that would take away the pain]. However the traumatic experiences with the two ex-husband nixed that outlet as well - the cure would have been worse than the malady."