Saturday, December 13, 2014

Role of unconscious Oedipal guilt in shaping the structure of two dreams

A patient brought to two dreams which he had dreamt on consecutive nights and had typewritten for the session:

Dream on Saturday, Nov. 22nd

I was driving a car with my friend Al. We were driving down 6 Mile road in a big Cadillac which is strange as I always buy Ford vehicles. We stopped at my house and I noticed All had a large cup of coffee. He tripped and splattered the entire cup of coffee on the big picture window at our house as well as two other smaller windows. I remember there were a total of 3 windows he hit with coffee. In true life I haven't talked to him in a while because of a disagreement we had over the way he was treating his sister. She has multiple sclerosis and he and his wife were her caregivers. He lost patience with her and became rejectful. As a result she was taken away from his care and moved to a nursing home where things are much better. However, since that time last year I haven't talked to him.

Dream on Sunday, Nov. 23rd

In the other dream I was sleeping on my bed when I found myself flying up into the sky where there was stormy weather. As I got near the clouds I spun around really fast like a spinning top and in front of me when I stopped there was a former girlfriend I met in Germany while in the Army name Julie. She said to me, "I've been thinking about you Sargent Hall, we should go back to Austria." (This is where we actually went in 1971 to visit her grandmother.) Then she handed me a rectangular box with 3 metal balls in it. One of them had a black dot in the middle. She then said "which one do you want?"

Patient who came to the session on Monday morning handed me the paper on which the dreams were printed out and wanted to know which of the two dreams should he associate to first. I of course told him that is entirely up to him. In all these matters it is the dreamer/patient who takes the lead.

He picked up the first dream and started talking about Al. How Al was a close friend of his. And then elaborated upon his disgust at this friend for the inhumane way he treated his sister and mother, even his wife, and how it shocked him to the point that it ended the friendship. The details of Al's ill treatment of his family members did not lead us too far in to solving the mystery of the dream, so I took up another element of the dream, choosing that particular one because the patient had shown visible pride over it when I had made him verbally repeat the dream in addition to reading what he had written, and which had risen my hopes that associations to that element may be more copious. "Why are you driving Cadillac instead of Ford?"

The patient worked for Ford as the head of its security operations for many years and thus feels great protective loyalty towards the company.

"That is strange. For I would never drive anything but Ford. And the funny part is that it is a vintage open convertible Cadillac."

Riding in an open vintage Cadillac on a busy thoroughfare had to do with satisfaction of the component sexual instinct of exhibitionism. Now the patient shows no trace of flamboyance in his manifest behavior. In his daily life he is a thoroughly modest man. Whatever desire to "show off" exists in him, it is limited to getting appreciation for volunteering in a nursing home and taking care of old folks, and yes he has a passion for rescuing stray animals from alleys. But there it was emerging in his dreams, his cruising down the street in a convertible Cadillac, which shows that the drive to exhibit oneself is a most powerful instinct of humans, and even those who have in their waking lives matured into great modesty can still show it quite openly in their sleep and dreams when their guards are down.

But for our present purposes all I was interested in this exhibitionism of his was to find out as to how it fitted in with the rest of the dream.

The patient did add that on Saturday, the day before the dream, he had gone with his son to Home Depot and had helped him load and carry brand new appliances to his rental house in an open truck. So the day residue of "showing off" the new appliances in an open truck had been exploited by the dream-work to show off himself, and Al, in an open vintage Cadillac.

Also behind the figure of Al was showing off of his son. Al was a composite of his son and Al. At daytime it was him and his son who were riding in an open truck. In the dream it became him and Al in a convertible Cadillac. The Al of the dream was the straw-man behind which his son was hidden. As we will see a few paragraph down Al was also serving as a straw-man for the patient. And the reason why his son was being shown off was because he has a tumor in his brain. The tumor is benign and the size of a small coin but the patient worries about its potential to grow in the future. He has no clear idea as to how serious is his son's overall neurological condition. So along with his own exhibitionism there was the wish to exhibit his son's tumor in the open Cadillac for the world to notice and thus find a cure for it. 

A Cadillac instead of Ford was chosen as an act of defiance towards his father, who he feared would disapprove of his exhibitionism, and because of other ancient Oedipal grudges which resided in his unconscious - Ford Motor Company symbolized to him paternalistic authority.This dream element of disobeying his father was originating from a completely different complex and making inroad into the main dream.

The above deduction however was not made from patient's associations but from my knowledge of him from years of therapy. Patient neither agreed nor disagreed with the above constructions.

Since dreams are always narcissistic and concern themselves exclusively with the wishes of the dreamer, we had to assume that behind Al's figure and his spilling of coffee on the three windows, was dreamer himself and his mental complexes surrounding his own impulses to transgress.  The dream was projecting upon Al his own tendencies to do misdeeds. "It is Al who is guilty of ill treating his sister, mother and wife not me. He is blameworthy not me." This line of reasoning which the dream was showing pictorially - with his own figure completely hidden behind Al's - was there to protect the patient's belief in himself as a good man who does no wrong. When this "construction" was conveyed to the patient, he not only agreed with it but brought some more associations that threw light upon other elements of the dream.

Al's spilling of coffee on the three window panes was connected to his being mean not just to his sister, but to his mother, and his wife, as well. The sister who had multiple sclerosis would be incontinent at times and he would force her to sleep on the floor as a punishment. He punished his mother, who has Alzheimer's, quite severely for having diarrhea on the floor. The brown of the coffee was taken from the brown color of the feces.

But behind these accusations of Al being mean towards his mother, wife and sister, symbolized by the three windows, there appeared to be self-accusations (guilty conscience) about his being mean - or more correctly thoughts of being mean  - towards his own father, sister and mother. The big window was his father who he wanted to insult to give vent to his grudges towards him. He also carried unconscious guilt about having not done enough for his sister, who had died in her early forties due to alcoholism, and towards his mother, who had suffered greatly because of the divorce that took place when patient was 10, and about which he felt somehow responsible. His son's tumor bothered him and his sense of guilt had latched upon it, and he felt he was somehow responsible for that too.

After giving above associations the patient drifted into talking about one of his daughters who is causing him even greater mental pain than his son's illness because of her recent divorce. His son's tumor is quiescent while her daughter's life is in total turmoil. She shows up with her children at their house all the time. The children are reacting to the divorce with great degree of confusion, especially one of the boys who seems to have lost direction in his life, getting into accidents, and who reminds him of how he had felt - confused and directionless - when his parents had gotten divorced.

His daughter whose financial status plummeted with her divorce, and is living hand to mouth, had borrowed  the patient's I-Phone, when her own phone had gone dead, and while in an argument with her ex-husband, the father of her four children, had flung it down the stairs to the basement, sending it flying through the air with such vehemence that its glass surface was smashed to pieces.

Since patient's daughter's hurling of the phone through the air happened on the day before the second dream, we wondered if his own flying up into the sky towards stormy weather and then getting spun around like a top in the dream was not his identification with his I-Phone which was being ruthlessly thrown down the staircase. Patient laughed at it and said that sounds about right. For he often views his children's trials and tribulations as bad weather in which he is involuntary thrown in to, and which he often wishes he could just escape.

Further associations revealed that the escape which he was wishing for was being fulfilled through going all the way back - spinning back through time - when he was Sargent in the Army and stationed in Germany and redo his life from that time onwards. At that time he had dated a German girl named Julie, whom he was about to marry. But just before taking the final step he had come home for Christmas, and had run in to his future wife, which had changed everything, for she appeared to him the more right person to spend the rest of his life with. However, few years later Julie married another American man, came to the States, located him, and though she lives in an another State, every now and then calls him, keeping the friendship alive and always still addresses him as Sargent Hall; that particular way of addressing him being the reminder of a time when things were so idyllic between them.

While a devoted family man, who would never think of abandoning his family, he, in his dreams,  often redoes his life with Julie. But only in dreams now. And only when the troubles of his children and grandchildren become too overwhelming for him to handle, provoking the wish for freedom from all his current ties and obligations. And it was only when the daughter smashed his phone did he feel justified in dreaming about how life would have been so different if he had married the other woman.

"Why is she asking you to go back to Austria?"

"Because that's where her grandmother lived. We took a train from Germany to Austria to visit her and that was the most romantic train journey anyone can imagine, with the countryside so beautiful - Austria and the surrounding region is breathtaking - and her grandmother was so nice and gracious. No wonder I want to repeat that experience in my dreams."

The time ran out to analyze as to where the three metal balls in the rectangular box were taken from, but the patient did associate that the one with the black dot perhaps signified his son, the black dot being his tumor, and that Julie was tempting him to choose between her and his family.


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