Jennifer dreamed that she couldn’t escape from a mob of angry, fighting people. Did this dream mean she wanted to escape from something or someone?
Thoughtful questions about her dream led her away from simplistic conclusions about escaping particular individuals or situations. Instead, the dream allowed Jennifer to start accessing the full complexity of her emotions and broaden her approach to her relationships and her life.
“I was in bed with my boyfriend, Alex, at his apartment, when suddenly all these strange people approached the room, yelling and fighting,” Jennifer recalled. “He said something like, ‘See, I told you: It happens every week.’
“The bedroom is at the back of the apartment, and there is a door, but it hasn’t been opened in ages, so there was no way for me to escape. Alex was fighting them all off at the bedroom entrance. They were throwing things at me, but I couldn’t help him. I just remember crying and screaming, ‘Alex, j’aime pas ça! I don’t like this; make it stop,’ over and over.”
I began by asking, “Is there a recent situation in your life that you are trying to escape but can’t?”
Rather than answer my question directly, Jennifer expressed her feelings in the present moment. “I’m relieved to hear this doesn’t necessarily mean I want to escape from Alex! We have been seeing each other since around the time COVID started, but something always felt slightly off for me.
“Having pulled myself out of a marriage that just about ruined me, I think I was seeing every imperfection as a potential red flag until earlier this week when I told him something I had never shared with anyone. He coaxed the whole story out of me. Actually, he kind of forced it out of me. But once we talked about it, I felt relieved, lighter.”
Going back to the dream, I asked, “Why do the fighting voices come every week in the dream?”
Jennifer continued describing her feelings: “I’ve never felt that I had a partner, someone I could truly rely on, even when I’m ugly-crying into a couch cushion.”
I pointed out, “In the dream, Alex is defending you. You illustrate in the dream that he’s the one you can rely on.”
She responded, “What we discussed was the abortion I felt forced into when I was engaged to my ex. It is something I’ve never even brought up with my counselor.
“Generally, my experience has been that when my feelings are unpleasant or inconvenient, I should keep them to myself.”
I proposed an interpretation. “The people fighting and coming at you in the dream might be all the stuff you hold in that you can’t escape. Your feelings. Your words. Your anger and frustration.”
Again, Jennifer responded obliquely to my suggestion. “I do still have reservations about whether this is someone I can see myself with in the long run. However, I felt as if this week was a turning point.
“I finally accepted that when he pushes me to talk, engage in activities I enjoy, or spend time with people I love, it comes from a good place. He knows I’ve had a pretty terrible few years and is trying to help me feel like myself again, and that’s so kind.”
Her words led to my next question, “Why does your relationship feel slightly off? How about red flags? Can you give me one or two examples?”
Jennifer answered, “Red flags may have been an exaggeration. I had my guard up with money issues. I was also worried about cultural differences, given that he grew up in rural Quebec and is the only member of his huge family who speaks English.”
I prompted, “Please tell me the first things that come to mind about Alex. I know one thing is that he ‘forces things out of you.’ Can you explain what you mean?”
Jennifer replied, “These are the first things that come to mind about Alex. He is patient, direct, empathetic, action-oriented, and detail-oriented (he notices everything!).
“He has a great capacity for understanding but also has a need for information and despises beating around the bush. He is, by nature, a fixer and problem solver. If there’s a problem, he will tackle it, so long as he knows that there’s a plan and there will be a result.
“I said he forced that particular discussion out of me because he didn’t relent. He said he could tell something was bothering me, and I needed to talk about it. He said that my response, ‘I don’t want to talk about that,’ wasn’t fair to either of us.
“Otherwise, he’s just a fallible guy who could stand to cut back on beer and cigarettes and can tend to interrupt and be forceful with his opinions. In the beginning, that last part was difficult for me, but over time I’m learning that I need to get more assertive and express myself more as well.”
What we can learn
Jennifer’s responses in this conversation reveal how her dream prompted her to bring an interior conversation out into the light of day.
Jennifer didn’t focus on the meaning of particular dream symbols, such as the yelling strangers or the back door that wouldn’t open. However, her dream prodded her to explore her feelings about a relationship she had been debating with herself, leading her to the possibility of starting on a path of self-transformation and fulfillment.
Jennifer’s experience shows that there are no hard and fast rules in dream analysis; her example illustrates the importance of allowing the dreamer the last word. The process can take many paths, but the final goal is to uncover your emotions and expand your perspectives.