from Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung
"I have always said to my pupils, Learn as much as you can about symbolism, then forget it all when you are analyzing a dream. This advice is of such practical importance that I have made it a rule to remind myself that I can never understand somebody else's dreams well enough to interpret it correctly. I have done this to check the flow of my own associations and reactions, which might otherwise prevail over my patient's uncertainties and hesitations. As it is of the greatest therapeutic importance for an analyst to get the particular message of a dream (that is, the contribution that their unconscious is making to the conscious mind) as accurate as possible, it is essential for him to explore the content of a dream with the utmost thoroughness.
I had a dream when I was working with Freud that illustrates this point. I dreamed that I was in my home, apparently on the first floor, in a cosy, pleasant sitting room furnished in the manner of the 18th century. I was astonished that I had never seen this room before, and began to wonder what the ground floor was like. I went downstairs and found the place was rather dark, with paneled walls and heavy furniture dating from the 16th century or even earlier. My surprise and curiosity increased. I wanted to see more of the whole structure of this house. So I went to the cellar, where I found a door opening onto a flight of stone steps that led to a large vaulted room. The floor consisted of slabs of stone and the walls seemed very ancient. I examined the mortar and found it was mixed with splinters of brick. Obviously the walls were of Roman origin. I became increasingly excited. In one corner, I saw an iron ring on a stone slab. I pulled up the slab and saw yet another narrow flight of steps leading to a kind of cave, which seemed to be a prehistoric tomb, containing two skulls, some bones, and broken shards of pottery. Then I woke up.
If Freud, when he analyzed this dream, had followed my method of exploring its specific associations and context, he would have heard a far-reaching story. But I am afraid he would have dismissed it as a mere effort to escape from a problem that was really his own. The dream is in fact a short summary of my life, more specifically of the development of my mind. I grew up in a house 200 years old, our furniture consisted of mostly of pieces about 300 years old, and mentally my hitherto greatest spiritual adventure had been to study the philosophies of Kant and Schopenhauer. The great news of the day was the work of Charles Darwin. Shortly before this, I had been living with the still medieval concepts of my parents, for whom the world and men were still presided over by divine omnipotence and providence. This world had become antiquated and obsolete. My Christian faith had become relative through its encounter with Eastern religions and Greek philosophy. It is for this reason that the ground was so still, dark, and obviously uninhabited.
My then historical interests had developed from an original preoccupation with comparative anatomy and paleontology while I was working as an assistant at the Anatomical Institute. I was fascinated by the bones of fossil man, particularly by the much discussed Neanderthalensis and the still more controversial skull of Dubois' Pithecanthropus. As a matter of fact these were my real associations to the dream; but I did not dare to mention the subject of skulls, skeletons, or corpses, to Freud because I had learned that this theme was not popular with him. He cherished the particular idea that I anticipated his early death. And he drew this conclusion from the fact that I had shown much interest in the mummified corpses in the so-calle Bleikeller in Bremen, which we visited together in 1909 on our way to take the boat to America.
Thus I felt reluctant to come out with my own thoughts, since through recent experience I was deeply impressed by the almost unbridgeable gap between Freud's mental outlook and background and my own.
I was afraid of losing his friendship if I should open up to him about my own inner world, which, I surmised. would look very queer to him. Feeling quite uncertain about my own psychology, I almost automatically told him a lie about my free associations in order to escape the impossible task of enlightening him about my personal and utterly different constitution.
I must apologize for this rather lengthy narration of the jam I got into through telling Freud my dreams. But it is a good example of the difficulties in which one gets involved in the course of a real dream analysis. So much depends upon the personal differences between the analyst and the analyzed.
I soon realized that Freud was looking for some incompatible wish of mine. And so I suggested tentatively that the skulls I had dreamed of might refer to certain members of my family whose death for some reason, I might desire. This proposal met with his approval, but I was not satisfied with such a phoney solution.
While I was trying to find a suitable answer to Freud's questions, I was suddenly confused by an intuition about the role that the subjective factor plays in psychological understanding. My intuition was so overwhelming that I thought only of how to get out of this impossible snarl, and I took the easy way out with a lie. This was neither elegant nor morally defensible, but otherwise, I should have risked a fatal row with Freud - and I did not feel up to that for many reasons.
My intuition consisted of the sudden and most unexpected insight into the fact that meant myself, my life and my world, my whole reality against a theoretical structure erected by another, strange mind for reasons and purposes of its own. It was not Freud's dream, it was mine; and I understood suddenly in a flash what my dream meant.
This conflict illustrates a vital point about dream analysis. It is not so much a technique that can be learned and applied according to the rules as it is a dialectical exchange between two personalities. If it is handled as a mechanical technique, the individual psychic personality of the dreamer gets lost and the therapeutic problem is reduced to the simple question; Which of the two people concerned - the analyst or the dreamer - will dominate the other? I gave up hypnotic treatment for this very same reason, because I did not want to impose my will on others. I wanted the healing process to grow out of the patient's own personality, not from suggestions by me that would have only a passing effect. My aim was to protect and preserve my patient's dignity and freedom, so that he could live life according to his own wishes. In this exchange with Freud, it dawned on me for the first time that before we construct general theories about man and his psyche we should learn a lot more about the real human being we have to deal with.
The individual is the only reality. The further we move away from the individual toward abstract ideas about Homo Sapiens, the more likely we are to fall into error. In these times of social upheaval and rapid change, it is desireable to know much more than we do about the individual human being, for so much depends upon his mental and moral qualities. But if we are to see things in their right perspective, we need to understand the past of man as well as his present. That is why an understanding of myths and symbols is of essential importance."