Tag Archives: Personal Mythology

A picture of confidence: Sigmund Freud over a fifty-year stretch. Sometimes wrong, yet never in doubt.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Sigmund Freud

The guy everyone loves to hate and no one can stop reading, that is the Sigmund Freud I know. Two parts genius, three parts misogynist, and some combination narcissist and cocaine addict, but one hundred percent confident in himself was Freud. Freud’s theories so dominated American culture from about 1910 to the 1970s that his works affected law, medicine, psychiatry, literature, art, and other diverse disciplines. In the second and third decades of the 20th century, Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, used the principles of psychoanalysis in a way that changed permanently the public relations and advertising industries in America, finding ways to promote smoking and bacon, for instance. [I find it hard to believe bacon ever needed unconscious promotion, by the way. That’s how well the programming has stuck.]  By the 1930s, when the nation and much of the world was in a financial depression, psychoanalysis seemed to be the answer to collective woes, one person at a time. Alcoholics Anonymous was in formation at that time and contains reference to psychoanalytic terms such as “unconscious.” In popular culture, the influence of psychoanalysis found it’s way into a prominent role in the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Spellbound starring Gregory Peck.

Perhaps I had an early bias in that I knew Freud mostly through Jung and Jung’s split from Freud, which prejudiced my views from about age 20 onward. However, it is thrilling to consider the types of conversations Freud and Jung, and others pictured below, would have had on the journey of the groundbreaking trip to Clark University in September, 1909. Freud and Jung apparently analyzed each other’s dreams on the voyage. The trip was arranged by G. Stanley Hall, then president of Clark and a prolific author of varied periods such as adolescence (he framed the term, sturm und drang as the mood related to teenage years) and senescence, a subject in which he was already gaining firsthand experience during this trip.

Standing L-R: Freud's First English Translator, A.A. Brill; His posthumous biographer, Ernest Jones; Early Psychoanalyst,  Sandor Ferenczi; Seated: Freud, Jung, with G. Stanley Hall front and Center. Clark University, 1909
Standing L-R: Freud’s First English Translator, A.A. Brill; His cabin boy and posthumous biographer, Ernest Jones; Early Psychoanalyst, Sandor Ferenczi; Seated: Freud left, Jung to the right, with G. Stanley Hall front and Center. Clark University, Worcester, MA, September, 1909.

Freud Defined the Early 20th Century

If nothing else, I would likely have had some resistance to Sigmund Freud due to the number of times I had to study the Topographical Theory of Consciousness (Ego, Id, Superego, etc.) How often did I have to study Sigmund Freud? More times than right triangles, more times than any poet but Shakespeare, and more times than European History and American History courses combined. He showed up in Religion 111 class at Sewanee when I was 18 years old (Future of an Illusion and Civilization and its Discontents) a Behavioral Psychology class there as well, and references to him constantly in German 351 (in translation, a course on Hegel, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky). Then in graduate school for counseling, then in graduate school in psychology in a school where they recommended applicants read the 24 Volume Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud before admission, followed by an introductory course devoted to him.

A picture of confidence: Sigmund Freud over a fifty-year stretch. Sometimes wrong, yet never in doubt.
A picture of confidence: Freud over a fifty-year stretch. Sometimes wrong; yet never in doubt.

So, multiple exposures over time in reading Freud – what changed? Reading Freud’s early works makes it clear he was a caring doctor and therapist and, one the way to forming his theories in granite, he showed excitement about tussling with the ideas of consciousness in order to help people with obvious psychosomatic disorders. Like other things in life, we sometimes finds what works – and then stop doing it. So it seems with Freud. It is an easy mistake to try to generalize the most personal lesson, something one sees in a patient and may or may not see in oneself, and then try to cast a rule about that observation in a way that says, “Eureka! I have found it, now I must bottle it and sell it!”Freud’s belief system hardened.

Approaching Mental Health in Victorian Times:

Early in his practice, Freud was amazed at the scope and damage of child sexual abuse. He very aptly traced problems that arose at the end of the latency period to earlier childhood sexual abuse, citing development as the trigger for later dysfunction. Freud saw that before an age at which children could understand sexuality, they did not have the capacity to fully understand the scope of their abuse. Only when they developed romantic or sexual feelings at an age of 8 to 10 did symptoms again come to the surface. His early writings on hysteria and on anxiety have a great deal to offer even today. During the 1890s, as he was not gifted in hypnosis, he used a pressure technique and the power of suggestion to unlock memories held by the body – which he presumed was mental memory: “”The [forgotten] pathogenic idea . . . is always lying ‘close at hand’ and can be reached by associations that are easily accessible.” [Standard Edition, Volume II, p 271] He became increasingly convinced that the threat of childhood “seduction” or abuse, imagined or fantasized, had equal power as the prevalent abuse from which he seemed to distance himself in later years.

A Tight Grip on his Baby, Psychoanalysis

Early on, Alfred Adler was the golden child of Freud’s slowly growing psychoanalytic movement. Few people today realize that Freud sold only a few hundred copies of The Interpretation of Dreams in the first seven years of publication. So those who revered his early work were not overwhelmed by his stardom (Okay, maybe Ernest Jones was). Adler had a falling out with Freud, then Carl Jung was the temporary heir apparent of psychoanalysis. Freud and Jung have differing accounts of the rift, but in Jung’s account there is striking similarity to the concern Adler expressed about dogmatic adherence to sexual development as an uncompromising position (no pun intended.)

Freud was human and fallible, but a very remarkable human indeed. As my story-telling friend Beth Easter once observed to me, “Grandiosity gets things done!” So a man of such confidence and action inspires some, alienates others. Freud’s endurance has as much to do with the uncanny way in which he seemed to polarize different camps and the many fields of endeavor in which that polarization is not easily dismissed. Reading biographies, either critical or worshiping, can do little but color in the lines Freud has already given us in his writings. Among the works of recent years, after Freud’s canonization has fallen a bit short, is Phyllis Grosskurth’s The Secret Ring.

Secret Committee of Psychoanalysis, Berlin, 1922.  Standing L-R, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Ernest Jones, Seated, Freud, Sandor Ferenczi, Hans Sachs.
Secret Committee of Psychoanalysis, Berlin, 1922. Standing L-R, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Ernest Jones, Seated, Freud, Sandor Ferenczi, Hans Sachs.

In this work, the author uses the symbol of a ring Freud had made for the guiding members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society as an image for the inner circle (pictured at right about ten years into their operation, long after the departure of Adler and Jung) through which Freud reined in psychoanalysis.

Another interesting read has to do with Freud’s collection of art, artifacts and relics. One such book is Stephen Barker’s Excavations and Their Objects: Freud’s Collection of Antiquity. Another, and one of my favorites, is the Sphynx on the Table: Sigmund Freud’s Art Collection and the Development of Psychoanalysis by Janine Burke. Freudwas renowned as a fine collector of period pieces with an impeccable taste. What Jung gathered through archeology of the soul in the spiritual remnant of man through the ages, Freud collected as tangible pieces of history.

Consciousness, Feelings, and Defenses

Sigmund and an obviously delighted Anna Freud
Sigmund and an obviously delighted Anna Freud

As an addiction counselor and a group therapist, I have used throughout my career a list of defenses which can be traced to Freud, in part through Anna Freud. Whether it be mind games (rationalization, justification, alibiing, ) attempts to delude (switching focus, arguing, manipulation) and about forty others. Defenses are a necessary part of navigating childhood, functioning after trauma, and moving on after loss. If we had in the forefront of our mind at all times the memory of even one percent of all our emotional and physical pain, it would be debilitating. The problem is that those things that buy us time developmentally or in recovery from trauma do not serve us well over time. There is also “simple denial” which may be considered a complete erasure of a once known fact. There is minimization, a way of making large feelings or issues appear less of a problem. to these, and more, we owe Freud the concept of “knowing and not knowing.” This is how we are aware of something on one level of consciousness, and not another.  It is an awareness most therapists use every working day of their lives, and Freud illuminated that significantly for all of us. That is some of the “love” relationship part with Sigmund Freud. Thank you.

Now Back to Quibbling . . .

But back to the main point. I started with a distaste for Freud, grew to have an appreciation for him, then ultimately returned to a more enlightened disdain than before. Coming along as I have in a less patriarchal era, and influenced by reading several feminist writers who have forced me to think in a different manner, I now find it hard even to excuse Freud for being a product of the Victorian era. Secretly, I love many of his writings and for his advancement of thought, Ultimately, I appreciate that we continue to have meaningful arguments 75 years after his death that are helping us shape our beliefs, meaning his influence is now alive in three centuries. And in the final analysis, it has been difficult to rely on Freud’s arguments for anything meaningful in my practice today.

I mostly quibble with Freud over that for which he is most famous – The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud adheres more and more as the book continues to the dogma that has been perhaps most successfully assailed by investigation and research: “A dream is the fulfillment of a wish.” It is as though he was convinced that by saying it enough it would become true. And for seventy years more or less, it stayed that way. Not until Kleitman and Aserinsky published in 1953 their study on REM sleep, the same year that Calvin Hall broke away with The Meaning of Dreams, did the chink in the armor begin to widen in the scientific world of sleep and dreams. Still, in popular consciousness, Portnoy’s Complaint and Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart) were still representing psychoanalysis and psychiatry to the public well into the 1970s. It is hard to convince people today a psychiatrist is only there to play chemistry set with neurotransmitters, as many of my contemporaries still expect a fifty minute couch session.

The Love/Hate pays off for some . . .

Edward Glover and Bruno Bettelheim are two authors who took Freud’s side when it was popular and paid dividends to do so. Both of them drank the ideological Kool-aid that psychoanalysis proffered for half a century. Ernest Jones was also in that camp, and, quite the opposite of Bettelheim, Jones without much of his own talent her survived off Freud’s fallen crumbs of knowledge and wisdom like a pigeon in Mary Poppins. For the last forty years or more, it has paid to hate bury Freud, rather than to praise him. In the interesting but bashing book “Freud and Cocaine: The Freudian Fallacy, E. M. Thornton points to ways in which Cocaine might have had a negative impact on the development of Freud’s theories. What is most interesting is that what she says about Freud’s hypnosis guru, Charcot, could just has easily, over even better applied to Freud:

[His] work was quite unintelligible to his detractors both before and after his death. But to imply that a man of his calibre spent years of his life in pursuit of a chimera is to do an injustice to a very great neurologist.

I will close with a quote I like from Freud written before his Interpretation of Dreams. He started out with a gentle and welcoming mindset for the dream image or the images uncovered in his pressure association technique. A former mentor of mine once said something that I often recall, “If a client brings you an issue once and you miss it, that’s okay, it will come up again. If you miss it the second time, they will go somewhere else.” Freud said something similar in a statement that speaks to the importance of recurrent dream images and which equally be applied to most of his controversial concepts:

A picture which refuses to disappear is one which still calls for consideration, a thought which cannot be dismissed is one that needs to be pursued further. Moreover, an image never returns a second time once it has been dealt with; an image that has been ‘talked away’ is not seen again.

Freud in his London office, late in life. 1939.
Freud in his London office, late in life. 1939.
Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!

Indispensable Books on Dreams

Wow. Where to start? Freud started by stealing the title used by Artemidorus of Daldis. Oneirocritica [Greek for “Interpretation of Dreams,”] written in the second century A.D. is considered the capstone dream work following centuries of compilations and dictionaries on dreams. Robert White in 1970 translated the work into English for the first time, rendering it more of a useful historical artifact than an actual how-to book. Sigmund Freud used the German title Die Traumdeutung also meaning “The Interpretation of Dreams.” Published in October, 1899, Freud chose the publication 1900 as he figured both he and the Gregorian calendar were about to usher in a new era. He was right, for as much as modern psychology and psychiatry rail against Freud, he is often the starting point of direction and discussion. These two books must be on any list about Dream Interpretation.

As one can see with the list of Worst Books on Dreams, there are so many books out there, it may be helpful to discuss large classes of books that offer wisdom on working with the dream, then cites some examples. So the groups of the best books on dreams would start with this list:

  • Classics in Psychiatry and Psychology of Sleep and Dreams
  • Authoritative Works on Nightmares, Night Terrors, and Sleep Disturbance
  • Compendiums of several Different Authors approaching Dreamwork
  • Emergent Methods of Working with one’s own dreams or the dreams of others
  • Dream Books that challenge the existing order without tearing down the framework of established methods

Classics, starting with Freud and Artemidorus, make people think. Jung was not as clear a writer as Freud. Memories, Dreams, Reflections with Anelia Jaffe categorizes many of his own career-impacting dreams, such as the dream of the Phallus and the dream of the “spectre of the brocken” from which we derive the archetype of the Shadow. In order to render his 20 volume collected works more accessible, Bollingen Press published a book serving as a compilation from articles on dreams across many of his writings. Classics also include some of the works that may be mentioned below by Allan Hobson, Montague Ullman, or Calvin Hall.

Nightmares: Ernest Jones was an early Cabin Boy of Freud, a yes-man of sorts whose journal articles and other writings seem to reflect less of his own work with dreamers and more compilation of the work of others. At the risk of blasphemy on a number of fronts, he was to psychoanalysis what the Apostle Paul was to the early Christian Church – a good organizer but no author of the gospel. He was ever during Freud’s lifetime a dutiful adherent to the Freudian party line. He may be best known for his three volume biography of Freud, but IMHO his best work with the 1930 “On The Nightmare.” He traces most of his work on this to 1911, after which time it lay dormant for a number of years. John Mack made a serious contribution to the Nightmare literature in 1970 with his book Nightmares and Human Conflict. In the 1993 “Counselling in Practice” series, Counselling with Dreams and Nightmares, there is a great chapter for therapists working with nightmares followed by a creditable distinguishing chapter on PTSD, nightmares, and night terrors,  written by Delia Cushway and Robyn Sewell. Three books, three different eras, and this writer recommends that the last should be first and the first, last.

Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!
Not possible for this author to make an exhaustive list of good books on dreams. The reader may be pointed in one direction, and rightly choose another better suited for her!

Compendiums or anthologies from different perspectives: The best of these is a series in the State University of New York [SUNY] Press. The General Editor of this SUNY series in Dream Studies is Robert Van de Castle, who passed away January 29th, 2014. But the editors of each book in the series reads like a “Who’s Who” of contemporary dream thought. These include Gayle Dalaney [Editor, New Directions in Dreamtending], Anthony Shafton, [Editor, Dream Reader: Contemporary Approaches to the Understanding of Dreams], and Kelly Bulkeley [Editor, Among All These Dreamers: Essays on Dreaming and Modern Society]. Length does not permit a longer discussion or more examples, yet each of these comprehensive works each present a different point of view, and in the the reader is certain to find herself or himself. The book that flipped my switch (from a counselor who happens to be a personal dreamworker to a therapist who also works with dreams in practice) is Stanley Krippener Dreamtime and Dreamwork, one of a couple dozen worthy works in the Jeremy Tarcher of Tarcher/Putnam Series on Consciousness studies. Krippener and contributors approach dreams from a healthy variety of different, and at times, conflicting approaches. This clarifies one’s beliefs more than a monograph that argues a specific point.

Emergent methods of working with dreams always excite me. Never do I feel that I have outgrown an approach. Clara Hill, a former president of the American Psychological Association, has made a viable academic tradition of training graduate students in an approach called the A-B-C, and I can read her work and marvel of how she has taken a wispy topic and given it simple form. A good working book for the public and professionals alike is Dream Work in Therapy: Facilitating Exploration, Insight, and Action. This book could fit into the category above, as several authors contribute; however, Hill offers a model that is simple with clearly defined moves at different stages of a dream. An even simpler model is proposed by Robert A Johnson in “Inner Work,” a small paperback and a quick read, nonetheless effective in implementing a four step approach. Johnson takes a dream of one of his clients, and simply carries through a discussion that has practical application for any lay reader or the most experienced dream clinician. Montague Ullman became the Johnny Appleseed of Dream Groups, co-authoring with Nan Zimmerman the wonderful book Working with Dreams. Ullman has contributed into dream ethics a democratic belief that the authority over the dream should rest with the dreamer, and not with an “Analyst” or doctor who has a higher level of knowledge about the dream or dreams in general. Many well-operating dream groups today spring from this notion.

Clinical applications of dreamwork find apt expression in Natterson’s The Dream in Clinical Practice and Bonime’s Clinical Uses of the Dream. More speciifically Jungian approaches can be found in Maryann Mattoon’s Applied Dream Analysis: A Jungian Approach. Erich Fromm’s Forgotten Language should not be forgotten. For non-Jungian approaches, another valuable strain began in 1953 with the publication of The Meaning of Dreams by Calvin Hall. 1953 was also the year of pioneering REM research published by Aserinsky and Kleitman which started to usher in the end of the Dogmatic period of psychoanalysis and its monopoly on dream analysis. Medard Boss analyzed some 20,000 dreams by his estimate in practice and offered also in the 1950s a detailed if not systematic departure from psychoanalysis in his 1957 work, The Analysis of Dreams. David Foukles has made tremendous post-Freudian contributions in A Grammar of Dreams.  And Finally, Allan Hobson’s The Dreaming Brain has become since the 1970’s the watershed book about the deterministic functions of Brain Science in dreaming.

Stephen Aizenstat’s Dreamtending is a model that draws on existing traditions, respecting the work of elders in traditions from academic to shamanic. Aizenstat’s approach invites the dreamer and those in dialogue with the dream to allow the dream images their own autonomy, their own voice, their own existence. Whereas Johnson’s Inner Work offers ideas about how to concretize the image, like suggesting the dreamer get some memento or keepsake in sight to remind the dreamer of the image, Aizenstat follows the model of Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology which leaves the images in their own realm and encourages the dreamer to meet the image there on their own ground, the liminal space of dreamtime. This honors the wisdom of the image by not holding it captive or dragging it into the light of day.

It would be a better service if this were more of an annotated bibliography, or, on the other side of brevity, a simple list of books. But my biases are my biases, and the reader of this blog should form her own opinion based on her experiences with the texts over and above what this author says of them. Sweet dreams!

 

MSoyer Reclining Woman

“I had a Dream about You Last Night!” When to Share, or not to Share . . .

“I had a Dream about You Last Night!” To Share, or not to Share?

Some people would avoid this statement, which sounds like the worst of pick-up lines! Truth is, many times it is inappropriate, ill-advised, or just plain wrong to share this information with someone. Yet at other times, bringing forward this information clarifies the dream and benefits both the dreamer and the be-dreamed. Let’s take up the “Don’ts” before we take up the “Do Shares.”

MSoyer Reclining Woman

Don’t # 1: Don’t pollute the workplace with an inappropriate share! watercooler1

Perhaps your dream was about a subordinate or about a superior. It may even have been a peer, often less dangerous. But when there is a power imbalance, even the best-intentioned sharing of a dream can suggest something on the waking plane that comes to the attention of employment law violations. Sexual content with a superior might suggest, rightly or wrongly, a desire for preferential treatment. A boss who hears a dream with romantic or even non-romantic overtones may question the subordinate’s motives in sharing the dream at best and might suspect gold-digging at worst. Or an unscrupulous boss might think of a way to exploit the dream Sharing with a subordinate might make that person wonder why he or she was the object in a dream, and may result in suspicion or guardedness. Even sharing with a peer, if overtly suggestive or even ambiguous, can create a “hostile work environment” if it is unwelcome.

Don’t # 2: Don’t share dream content that might embarrass the character of the dream.

Actually, I hear this sometimes in the dream group where residents share community. Since they are in a therapeutic process together, this can sometimes come off OK, and sometimes not. The rule, as with most other forms of humor or insight, is that people appreciate when a speaker engages in self-deprecating humor or shares their own corrective epiphany more than humor at the expense of others or hanging out someone else to dry for their behavior. So it is more okay to say “you were in my dream and I did a silly thing,” than it is to say, “you did something silly in my dream last night.” This is just a common sense form of social grace, perhaps, but it is a norm violated with enough frequency that it bears mentioning.

Don’t # 3: Don’t share a dream about a person in front of a group of people.

Even a harmless dream can put someone on the spot if it occurs in front of the water cooler. The object of the dreamer may feel a need to perform, laugh off the dream, and may be more concerned about what others are thinking in the moment. If they were told the dream one on one, then they may have a different, and perhaps less guarded reaction.

Enough restrictions. Now for what to DO. Sharing a dream with a person you dreamed about can deepen the dream experience in a meaningful way. Also, if acknowledges that maybe the dream represents some common meaning or task that you and the person in your dream share. So if your motives are sound, and if the situation falls in one of the following categories, reach out to the person involved, and share the dream as long as if feels safe for all and appropriate in timing.

Do share the Dream # 1: Your Spouse or Partner Appears with you in the Dream

Less so in our contemporary culture, but in many settings the sharing of dreams around the breakfast table has been an accepted and honored occurrence. And if you do not absolutly have to know the traffic report, the weather, or who was on the red carpet last night, dream sharing with your spouse or partner is a person-centered and loving way to start the day whether they joined you in the dream or not. Listening to your partner’s dream is also an act of love regardless of your presence or absence as dramatis personae.

Do share the Dream # 2: The Neglected (or Negligent) Friend

How often do I have a dream of someone that was once a more important part of my life than Kleeat this time! My college roommate recently sent me a Holiday card featuring his marriage of six months ago – of which I was unaware. He inhabits my dreams a lot, and what an opportunity that presents to reach out. After all, he and I spoke of sharing a Personal Mythology years before David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner wrote of one. So when one of us appears in the dream of the other, he and I are more likely to be able to help each other in working out the imagery of the dream than one of us might be independent of aid from the other. In fact, a dream about Mark called “Sanctuary” about 20 years ago has been the basis of many recurring dreams I have had dealing with growth and the quest for learning. So the friend can help with the dream, and the dream can help with the friend – by giving you both an entree for reaching out and talking about life, what is happening now, and the fact you miss one another.

Do share the Dream # 3: When Someone’s Health may be an Issue

OK, we have many more dreams that something bad is happening to someone we like and love than actually occurs in real life. I have a dream a relative is dying, has cancer, or is in someway weakened or debilitating. That does not give me clearance to call them up and vomit my morbid fears on them. But maybe it does suggest I call and start a conversation. I do not even have to bring up the dream, unless spontaneity suggests candor is appropriate. In reaching out, the friend may have something to tell me. Maybe my call or visit is an opportunity for that friend to share something on their mind – about me or not, about their health or not. More than 9 times out of ten I do not bring up the dream. But in nearly every case, I appreciate the dream has encouraged me to reach out. It is the connection that counts, and dreams perpetually remind me the subtle, amazing, and sometimes dramatic ways in which we are all connected. For that, I am today truly grateful!

Ao this is a partial list – feel free to post your own “Do’s and Don’ts” in the “Dream Loves a Dream” comment section!