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.


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