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An Example of Autopsychotherapeutic Dream-Interpretation

By Reuven Kotleras on July 10, 2023

Guest blogger Reuven Kotleras is a profoundly gifted ex-child and polymath. He has published professionally on European political history, Eurasian economic development, epistemology of science, and mathematical logic, among other topics. His skills include decision analysis, organizational design, and strategic foresight. He also is a poet, pianist, runner, and dog-lover.




An Example of Autopsychotherapeutic Dream-Interpretation


As mentioned in my last post, I have had vivid dreams all my life. This is a manifestation of my imaginational overexcitability. This post gives an example of how I interpret my own dreams, which could be considered as part of the practice of autopsychotherapy. Following these introductory remarks, it is organized in four main parts: (1) the original dream, as transcribed into a word-processor and tidied up for syntax and spelling; (2) the setting-out of three possible interpretations, these being Freudian, Jungian, and Kleinian; (3) the deeper development of the Kleinian interpretation, which is the one that most resonates with me; and (4) the conclusion.


Occasionally in the first part, the narration of the original dream, there are blockquote-indented paragraphs, that are italicized and prefaced by the word, “Flash.” This signifies a free-association, during the process of construction of the dream narrative, to a real-life memory.



1. THE ORIGINAL DREAM


I was probably in the station, trotting around with a large grocery shopping basket (not one of the newer, more compact ones), into which I had put some things I needed for the future. I went around a square inside the station and noted a restaurant with the door closed. In contrast to the restaurant in a station in a previous dream, this one was well-lit rather than darkened and with a single, not double, door. I went around the square again and saw that I had until at least 7:30 p.m. before I had to be at the gate for a 10:30 p.m. departure. It was already 2:40 p.m. or so and their door was closed, so I wasn't sure whether they were still open for lunch: I knocked on the door, it opened, and I went in for a meal and sat down. It was so very nice.


I planned to go through some of my material with the meal while waiting hours for time.


Flash: I am reminded of a crowded restaurant in the Miami International Airport where after I ate, I began to take out a book and a notebook, and to read and to take notes in the notebook. Before I could begin, however, the manager specifically came over to my table and said to me in a loud and reprimanding voice, “Oh, no, you don't!” I pointed at a woman at a nearby table who was reading a book and protested, “But look, she’s reading!” And still I had to put my materials away and left the restaurant in disgust.


I had a vision of trotting through a city that must have been, I had the impression, Beijing. I don't know why I had that impression, it was just a feeling. I would have been lost without an English-speaking Chinese local who helped me find my way. The city was very massive and complicated but with no really tall buildings in sight, just labyrinthine streets: there was little vegetation, almost everything seemed concrete.


Flash: I am reminded of replicating an experiment from the “The Amateur Scientist” section of Scientific American, back when it was a respectable paper-printed publication, “How to study learning in the sow bug”, which involved putting the bug in a maze and punishing it with the heat from an incandescent light-bulb when it turned in the wrong direction. This in turn recalls to me a dystopian view that I once had of downtown Los Angeles from a hotel window: no one except drug-dealers and prostitutes were on the streets, cars never stopped unless to enter underground parking garages protected by full-length metal roll-up doors, and all the buildings were connected by mid-air elevated enclosed walkways.


I continued to trot, pushing the grocery cart after putting more notes into it from my past: many notes and manuscripts to sort out later. My local guide helped me navigate through the maze of the city. We went down a cement walkway in a “park,” then across a street or boulevard, where index cards began to fall out of the cart after I had put more material into it on a clipboard.


I decided that the falling cards were unimportant but stopped on the other side of the street when others began to gather them up. Although the cards contained past memories in chronological order, I still judged them as not absolutely essential, yet I took the cards (now slightly out of order) back from the people who had gathered them up. Then, with the local guide, I went down another concrete path and around a concrete square. There was no one but me and the guide trotting along beside me. He told me, “After this square, then up and to the right.”


So, up and to the right, there was a steep climb inside a building.


Flash: This reminds me of the steep narrow stairs in a hotel in central Amsterdam where I once stayed.


This steep narrow concrete path was embedded with stones. The local guide passed me on the stairs and went to the door at the top and knocked, and then, out of my sight, disappeared. That would be home where there was a child inside too, perhaps a wife.


I entered, saw them, and greeted them joy, still pushing my grocery cart. Then, I woke up.



2. THREE POSSIBLE INTERPRETATIONS


2.1. Freudian


A possible Freudian interpretation would be the following. The dream represents a struggle among my id, ego, and superego. The grocery cart filled with past notes could symbolize repressed desires (i.e., the id), while the local guide might embody the ego, which negotiates between the id and the demands of reality (represented by the “complex city”). The index cards falling out of the cart might reflect an internal conflict or anxiety from societal expectations (introjected as the superego). The return to the “home”, possibly with a family, could then be seen as manifesting of a deep-seated desire for stability and fulfillment of societal norms, in line with the workings of the superego.


This interpretation is based on the psychic structure and defense mechanisms as canonized and set out by Anna Freud’s version of “ego psychology.” I am compelled to note that Sigmund Freud’s work is much more fluid and polysemic, and rewards re-reading. His early notions of the “ideal ego” and “ego-ideal” as distinct from the superego have been excavated, starting first by Hans Loewald in the early/mid-1950s, then developed by some Kleinians (but not by Klein herself) and especially by the Middle Group within the British Psychoanalytical Society later in the 1950s. These concepts are useful and insightful at both the metapsychological and clinical levels. I am compelled to state that I do not endorse any specifically Lacanian revision of the “ideal ego” concept, whether by Lacan himself or his followers or self-declared continuators (such as the performance artist Zizek), and do not use it with any such intention.


2.2. Jungian


A possible Jungian interpretation would be the following. The dream represents an active dialogue with my subconscious. The “English-speaking local” manifests the “wise old man” archetype, guiding me towards self-realization. The “complex city” represents the maze of the unconscious, filled with past experiences (represented by the notes and manuscripts) that need to be integrated into a conscious understanding. The act of moving through the city, collecting, and sorting the notes, then suggests the ongoing process of individuation, while the final “home” symbolizes self-realization and the achievement of a unified self.


2.3. Kleinian


A possible Kleinian interpretation would be the following. The dream is animated by a fluctuation between the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. The anxiety over losing past memories (i.e., the index cards falling out of the cart), aligning with the paranoid-schizoid position, represents fears of loss and of persecution. The local-guided navigation through the labyrinthine city, signifying an attempt to integrate the good and bad elements of the self and others, reflects the depressive position. The final resolution of reaching “home” represents the reconciliation of good and bad objects into a more coherent, whole image of the self and others.



3. A DEEPER KLEINIAN INTERPRETATION


This section deepens the Kleinian interpretation, which I select as the one that most resonates with my internal feelings about what the dream symbolizes. I use the word “imago” in the Kleinian sense. Although it was Jung who introduced the term to denote images derived from archetypes, Klein uses it to refer to psychic “pictures” of real objects that are distorted by phantasy. [Note: I retain the initial “ph” of “phantasy”—rather than “fantasy”—in order to indicate the specific Kleinian sense of this term.] For the infant who is trying to work things out, the archetypal imagos are the good breast, the bad breast, the good phallus (colloquially called the “good penis” but I retain the original term to underline its symbolism), and the bad phallus. These terms are used below.


3.1. A More Detailed Kleinian Interpretation: The Dream’s Manifest Content


Considering the sequence of events, the restaurant could symbolize a temporary respite or moment of self-care within my journey of personal growth and psychological integration. The act of knocking on the closed door of the restaurant could symbolize my active attempt at seeking emotional sustenance and self-understanding. Visiting the restaurant, a place for nourishment and refreshment, might represent an intermediate stage in my self-exploration where I pause, reflect, and gather strength for the journey ahead, viz., the navigation of the “complex city.” The successful entry and satisfaction indicate a positive encounter with the “good breast” archetype, a successful access to emotional nurturing and support.


The restaurant thus symbolizes a psychological resource or strategy (like self-care or introspection: perhaps this dream and its interpretation themselves) that I may quickly access before moving on to face life's complexities. The lack of a memory of actually eating in the restaurant could suggest an unconscious absorption of these resources. That would indicate that these psychological processes may be occurring underneath my immediate awareness. Seeking nourishment and rest (at the restaurant), I also recognize the need to tackle the realities of life (the “complex city”).


The subsequent navigation through the complex city would then represent the continuation of my journey towards self-integration. Strengthened by the nurturing experience of the restaurant, I become ready to face and integrate the challenges (past memories, complexities of the city) that lay ahead. The experience at the restaurant, thus, provides the essential sustenance for further psychological growth and exploration.


It happens that the dream shifted immediately from sitting down in the restaurant to navigating the “complex city.” This could signify that I am moving quickly from a moment of seeking sustenance and introspection (the restaurant scene) to dealing with the challenges and complexities of life (the “complex city”). The abrupt transition may indicate that I have a sense of urgency to confront these challenges. That would embody the depressive position where I acknowledge the reality of both the good and the bad aspects of life.


3.2. Further Fleshing Out the Skeleton of the Provisional Kleinian Interpretation


The dream thus may be seen as an expression of the struggle and the subsequent reconciliation of the archetypal “good” and “bad” objects, representing a transition in my sentiments from a state of anxiety and fear (losing index cards, labyrinthine city) towards a resolution of unity and harmony (returning home). This would suggest my possible psychological evolution towards a more integrated self, merging the roles of the nurtured (infant) and the nurturer (“good phallus”), culminating in the ability to provide for myself and potentially others.


In the context of the dream, my self-representation as the male figure guiding the cart filled with past experiences could be seen as the embodiment of the “good phallus” archetype. The latter’s autonomy and protective nature would be reflected in the act of guiding, navigating, and decision-making amid complexity, protecting the self from potential chaos (the labyrinthine city) and leading towards a secure and nurturing space (the “home”, or “good breast”).


If the grocery cart may be a symbol of my life, then guiding the cart would represent such an assertion of control and autonomy over my past, present, and future. It would symbolize my attempt to navigate and maintain authority over my own life, signifying the transition to the autonomous and protective role associated with the “good phallus.”


3.3. The Kleinian Imagos in the Dream


3.3.1. What the “Good Phallus” Imago Represents


The notion of the “good phallus” as being autonomous comes from its symbolic representation of strength, capability, and independence. It is the symbol of a power that is used constructively and with authority but which does not instigate fear or harm. It thus stands as a symbol of an emergent sense of self-governance, control, and empowerment over my own life. It is protective and benevolent, in contrast to the “bad phallus,” which is associated with aggression, hostility, and fear.


The “good phallus” is seen as a safeguard against the threats embodied by the “bad phallus” and “bad breast.” This protective quality arises from its perceived role as a defender against fears and anxieties—much like a benevolent paternal figure—and makes it a symbol of security and comfort. It symbolically represents power, authority, and control, playing a pivotal role in my childhood psychic development.


3.3.2. Why Are the “Bad” Imagos Absent?


The “bad phallus” and the “bad breast” archetypes do not seem to be present in the dream. From a Kleinian perspective, their absence may indicate a successful integration of the “good” and “bad” object relations. Such an integration represents the depressive position. In this stage, the individual realizes that the “good” and “bad” objects are two aspects of the same entity, allowing for a reconciliation and integration of these contrasting aspects.


The fact of having navigated through the “complex city” with the assistance of a guide (an assistant to self-realization as the “good phallus”) who vanishes when I arrive at what seems to be the prospective destination, reflects the ability to deal with challenges and complexity, which I may have initially perceived as hostile or threatening like the “bad phallus.” Likewise, the absence of the “bad breast” might indicate a current state of inner peace and a sense of security that I experience with the nurturing aspects of life, as symbolized by the “home” at the end of the journey.



4. CONCLUSION


In this Kleinian view, the “home” acts as a maternal figure—the “good breast”—providing comfort, nourishment, and security. This “good breast” archetype would in this instance symbolize a desired state of re-connection with a nurturing and unconditionally loving entity. It would represent a longing for reintegration with the “good breast,” and a resolution of the fear and anxiety associated with the “bad breast.” The act of returning to “home” is thus a symbolic reconciliation of the “good breast” with the autonomous infant. The finding of a mother and child at “home” is revealed as a microcosm of the broader reconciliation depicted in the entire dream.


The absence of “bad” archetypes in the dream suggests that I am currently more focused on growth, personal development, and the positive aspects of my life, rather than dwelling on past grievances or fears associated with the “bad” object relations. The act of consciously deciding that the falling index cards are unimportant can be seen as an acceptance of imperfection and a move towards reconciliation of the “bad” and “good” aspects within myself.



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