In waking life you have a project due. When you are home with your family, you think about it. There is a vague sense you are about to be called on the carpet, found out as an impostor, fired or judged. For many of us, that’s when we have the dream that we are back in High School and have a test we have to finish to get out. It vaguely makes no sense why we’re back in high school, due to our age or that we finished college long ago or for whatever reason, but in the dream we dismiss that logic. We do that, perhaps, to confront the feeling of being in trouble. Something or someone in our lives today has power over us like that vice principal with the paddle, the nun with the ruler, or the teacher who could shame us in front of our peers.
In a recent dream group, we were down to the last two members who had not yet shared a dream. And on that night, one shared an anxiety dream about needing to be at work in 5 minutes, saving time by leaving clothes on as she took her shower. The other group member shared, “I had the same dream last night” – the main difference was 11:30 AM was the time due at work for one, 3:00 PM for the dreamer who does not have a formal job these days! So a single dream, shared by two group members, separated by the figure of three and a half hours.
What these two dreams have in common is more than just basic anxiety. Each of the dreamers has an incorporated authority figure – they themselves are concerned with the consequences of their actions in their respective dreams. This usually seems a bit more evolved, say, than someone having to meet in the dream some patriarchal or matriarchal figure, a Zeus or Hera of power, that must call the dreamer on the carpet.
But these dreams have a silver lining! This type of dream, seen often in the “Failure to Launch” group of 18-26 year olds – yes, those people who pay more for car insurance – is a sign of maturation. Dreaming of the authority figure often seems to be the incorporation of an internal decider, the development of an inner judge who will lead the dreamer in waking like to the better decisions formerly suggested by a parent or other adult.
So, what if you are having these dreams at 40, 55, 70? That is not about developing a Freudian “Superego.” It may mean simply that you are in a life situation where a grown up decision needs to be made: leaving a job; practicing tough love with a grown child; setting limits or boundaries in an adult friendship or relationship. When the inner judge is awakened, it is time to see if your actions towards others lack decisiveness – or on the other extreme – have become too intrusive and demanding of others.
At age 20, I had a series of intense dreams of my father – angrier far beyond his normal demeanor, that were so scary I prayed to God for dreams of my father to stop. They ceased immediately, which left me to work out in the daytime the task of growing up, of meeting adult responsibilities in an adult fashion. In my case, it took another few years for that process to round out – but current research supports the belief that formation of the personality still has some flexibility into the mid twenties. So if you are dreaming of authority – look to your own authority within, and accept the challenge!