Dreams, even if they’re bizarre or scary, are always benign. At the very least, they release feelings we haven’t been able to handle during the day. Dreams serve to keep us emotionally healthy.
Unless we’ve learned to control our usual bias, a scary dream will frighten us just as it would if we were awake. If we don’t know how to control our usual response to the story the dream brings, the message will escape us. Dr. Eugene Gendlin’s book Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams explains how to get beyond our usual reaction so that we get to the actual message.
I believe our dreams often try to get our attention. Maybe there’s something we’re ignoring and need to be aware of.
In my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist, I cite the recurring nightmare my mother had when my sister and I were children. For me, it falls into the category of a dream that was attempting to make her aware that her child was being sexually abused. Unfortunately for me, my mother remained bewildered by the bad dream.
Throughout my youth my mother often told us about a disturbing, recurrent nightmare. It was always the same. She, her mother, my sister, and I were in a pastoral, grassy setting in the sunshine. The children were gamboling like lambs in the long grass. Suddenly there was a sinister change. Something was terribly wrong. The sky darkened and the long grass was wet and slimy. My mother was repulsed and horrified. She couldn’t stand the feeling of the wet grass on her legs. She tried to find her children, who were in great danger. She always wakened in a cold sweat from the nightmare. (p.180)
Too bad for me that my mother didn’t learn to interpret her own dreams. If the dream had managed to break through her denial, maybe she’d have protected me from the men in the family.
Dreams can bring us messages from our deepest, wisest selves. Maybe our heads can’t figure out what’s best for us, but somewhere inside we know what we need to do.
When our conscious controls are off while we’re sleeping, our dreams can guide us to the right decision.
It was 1983. I was trying to find a way to be with my spiritual teacher that respected my need to be true to myself. I was trying to decide whether I needed to change the nature of our guru-disciple relationship. This is what I dreamed.
A big, majestic bird is curled up in my abdomen. It grows to fill my neck and thorax with its body. Then I feel relief. A message comes. You have to let it fly. Don’t keep it inside. There’s a sense of a hundred birds flying up and out of me. A feeling of lightness and freedom.
The dream seemed to tell me that I needed to be free of my guru, but I needed to be sure. The next night I asked for a dream that would clarify the first. (You can ask for a dream about a particular issue just as you’re falling asleep.)
Here is what I dreamed: I open a window. There is a storm window, a second pane of glass. A large bird has been held between the two panes. It is dead and falls to the ground as I open the window. It seems to be a large seagull. I feel no remorse. It was dead before I got here, being held up by two panes.
Commentary: Birds are free. They fly above it all. They have a heightened perspective. My bird can’t soar.
Conclusion: I was ready for a new stage in my life, one of freedom to connect to my own wisest self.
This morning I wakened with a sense of delicious happiness. Ah yes, my warm glow had to do with the amazing launch for my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist. The book launch was weeks ago, but this is the first time I’ve been able to bask in the pleasure of recalling that evening in the auditorium of Women’s College Hospital.
Right after the launch, I left for two weeks in Germany where I’d booked my flight and registered for the annual International Focusing Conference months ago. The timing wasn’t great. It allowed no time to simply reflect on and luxuriate in the memories of the launch. The launch was over and the next thing I knew, I was packing all the copies of Confessions of a Trauma Therapist I could possibly carry in my suitcase, backpack and a Loblaw shopping bag, and heading for the airport.
Back to this morning: My mind goes over and over all the faces who came to break the silence and tell the terrible secrets of child abuse. In my mind’s eye I see the hundreds who came to support those who are on a healing path. Since the launch, I’ve had the chance to speak to a number of people for whom the evening opened new understanding of child abuse and its impact on the lives of its victims. And I’ve heard from the victims who have fresh determination to heal from their own invisible wounds. Survivors, those who are dealing with their abuse have told me they have fresh insights into what’s needed for healing.
I’m hearing, too, of people who were there whom I missed seeing. And, as I lie in bed first thing in the morning, I go over and over recalling all the wonderful people who crowded into the auditorium on that magic evening.
With support and caring like that, surely child abuse will one day become a bizarre and ugly relic of the past, something people know occurred historically, but can no longer exist in the current atmosphere of vigilance and caring for children.
Click on the headline above to download Mary’s radio interview with CKLN host Stephanie Dickison about Mary’s new book on healing from childhood incest Confessions of a Trauma Therapis.
For many years I traveled to Germany to teach about psychological trauma at the Focusing Zentrum Karlsruhe. A psychotherapist has a unique window into the society in which she lives. My years of teaching psychotherapy skills in Germany allowed some very special insights into this foreign country’s history.
Germans suffered terribly from both the first and the second world wars. War, however, is not the crux of their suffering. The trauma begins with German child rearing. I believe that traditional German child rearing is responsible for Germany’s history of wartime atrocities.
Germany has a well-documented history of intentional cruelty and shaming of children dating back to the1750’s. Well meaning parents followed the advice of “experts” who told them how to raise an obedient child. What mattered was that the child would grow into a citizen who would obey orders. To this end, crying babies were shaken to scare them into never making their needs known. Children were shamed and beaten to make sure they never followed their own feelings and wishes.
No one who benefited from secure attachment as a child could have carried out the brutal orders German soldiers inflicted on their victims. As a result of their childhoods, they had no access to their own feelings. If you can’t experience your own feelings, how can you empathize with others?
The lesson for all of us is this: If we want to live in a peaceful world, we need to take great care to raise our children with love and caring.