Electric Dreams

Maslow’s Map A New System of Dream Classification

Chapter 2: A Map of Healthy Growth

Linda Lane Magallón 

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2002 Feb). Maslow’s Map A New System of Dream Classification. Chapter 2: A Map of Healthy Growth.  Electric Dreams 9(2).


Maslow’s Map
A New System of Dream Classification
©1999 Linda Lane Magallón

(Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a scale of needs to describe the human condition, from basic existence to optimum potential. The scale can be used to take the temperature of your dreams.)

Chapter 2: A Map of Healthy Growth

He loved his dreams and cultivated them.

The secret to unlocking a dream, I’ve found, is to seek the core for its fruitful energy. What is it that sticks to your attention? Find that sap, follow the rising flow and you’ll come to the heart of the blossom. When you understand the center, the rest of your dream opens out like a flower.

Certain fruits and flowers in the field of dreams hold energy better than most. Some are sweet, some are sour, some are just plain strange. These dreams can especially interest, intrigue, stimulate, frighten or involve you. They are bigger, juicier, smellier, more colorful, more titanic, more dramatic. They vibrate to be appreciated and understood. They throb at the heart of our search for meaning.

Dream trees grow tall and strong or short and weak. Many are so entwined by the activities of the day that they are barely noticeable. The most robust fruit of the dream tree provide glimpses of a heritage hidden to us, a fuller harvest of dreams that may elude us as we eke out a living at the survival level, as we struggle with the energy of fear and anxiety. The denial, frustration or twisting of our essential nature results in many varieties of psychopathology.

Yes, dreamworkers know all about the crop of conflicted dreams. They are very aware of energy that erupts in leaves, twigs and gnarled branches. They find such dreams perfect fodder for psychotherapy.

Some Views Of The Dream

At the beginning of the current era of dreamwork, Sigmund Freud brought about a revolution in psychology. By grasping the role of the unconscious mind in our mental health, he focused attention on our inner worlds. Dreams became a “royal road” or doorway to the unconscious. To understand dreams was to gain clues about the human psyche.

Because some of the roots of ill health have been found in the unconscious through the medium of dream interpretation, it has been a Western tendency to think of the unconscious as bad, evil, crazy, dirty, dangerous or even distorting the truth. We have Freud to thank for that trend. His picture of the psyche was a sort of house with a subconscious cellar of rats and decaying refuse–a “day residue” dumping ground that is displayed in dreams.

On the other hand, there is an even longer tradition of the dream as the source of religious insight, healing, and omens. From that source we get the idea of the unconscious as good, spiritual, wise, pristine and truthful. In this view, the emphasis is on the upstairs or attic of the house, the superconscious mind. For some, like Carl Jung, the dream attic had a mystical nature. Frederic W. H. Myers also supported such a notion, but his primary interest was in psychical research. Traditional theorists ignore him while repressing the psychic aspects of dreams.
At the mid-point dreams can be seen as boring and mundane or confusing and nonsensical. Realistic laboratory researchers live on the conscious level of the house’s main living area.

Depending on which level of the dream house we see, we will avoid, pursue or ignore our dreams, and for different reasons. But how do we choose our view of dreams? I’d say that usually, our motivation comes directly from first hand dream experience. We look first to the fruits and flowers of our own dreams. If we always have confusing dreams, we might select “the dream is something I ate” or “we dream in order to forget” theory. If our dreams are full of conflicted emotions, we’ll favor the psychoanalytic viewpoint to resolve our problems. The idea that dreams are expressive, creative and metaphysical also emerges from dreams and dreamwork that evince those qualities. Extraordinary dreams tend to grow on the outskirts of the established dream house.

There have been many studies about the norm, the product of the typical dream tree. I’m not at all convinced that the norm is a healthy dream or a dream indicative of a healthy dreamer. After 15 years of research, I just don’t see a lot of sweet, juicy dream fruit among normative dream samples. There have been even more studies that link dreams and ill health. With all the research on dreams and psychopathology, you’d think there’d be equal effort to produce a base line of health, a control group of healthy dreamers, for comparison. Yet, the dream literature is strangely silent on this matter. What would the dream life of a healthy psyche look like?

Maslow’s Needs Scale

Abraham Maslow put himself into a rare position to speculate on the answer. This American psychologist spent 20 years studying the human optimum. Maslow was reacting to Freud’s basement approach to dreams. “We must find out what psychology might be if it could free itself from the stultifying effects of limited, pessimistic and stingy preoccupations with human nature,” he said.(1)

Maslow believed that human beings have a natural drive to healthiness, or “self-actualization.” A self-actualizing person is one who can bring all his energy together in an integrated, joyful and efficient way, moving toward what he may potentially become. He becomes more truly human, and more truly himself at the same time.

Self-actualization involves a flow of creative energy. It brings about self-satisfaction, but also mental (and probably physical) health. The self-actualized people who Maslow studied had the full use of talents, capacities, potentialities. They might have been at the top of their profession, avocation or calling. Or they may simply have lived a full, rich life. At times they had peak experiences, when they felt at their very best.

Maslow developed a theory of needs and a schema that describes the human condition, whether it be optimal or not. Then he wrote about the practical applications in education, business and the general course of life. According to Maslow’s theory, our lives respond to needs at different levels of maturity. These levels range from basic needs to growth needs and towards self-actualization. Maslow believed that people were motivated to satisfy all their needs, but some folks are further along the path than others.

Maslow’s Scale Of Needs

(Including the “Peak Experience”)

Growth Needs
(Such as Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Playfulness)

Basic Needs
Self Esteem
Love and Belongingness
Safety and Security

Maslow’s scale is read from the ground up. Basic needs include the physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter, sleep and sex), safety and security, love and belongingness, and respect and self-esteem. When these basic needs are not gratified, the result can be illnesses and deficiency diseases (neuroses and psychoses). But stunting, crippling and other sorts of inhibitions and threats to life and health can come from depletion factors like poverty, exploitation, mal-education, enslavement, drug addiction, authoritarianism and criminality.

Even if basic needs are satisfied, we can still suffer deprivation, but it is of another sort, a diminution of human virtues and ideals. Maslow thought that growing and self-fulfilling humans are those whose inner natures are freely expressed, rather than being warped, repressed or denied. Their growth needs include truth, justice, richness, goodness, beauty, order, unity, completion, uniqueness, effortlessness, playfulness, sagacity, emotional spontaneity and creativity. When they are present, life is worthwhile. When they are not, we may suffer loss of meaning, doubts about the goals in life, grief and anger over a lost love, loss of courage or hope, recognition that one’s life is being wasted or that there is no possibility of joy, alienation, boredom, apathy, ineffectuality, futility and despair. These are losses of human potential, what might have been and could perhaps yet be.

Maslow believed that needs were part of a motivational hierarchy and, as a general rule, the gratification of basic needs preceded that of the growth needs. However, he did find certain individuals in whom a special talent or unique sensitivity would make growth needs more important and more pressing than some basic needs. The need for truth or beauty, for example, could outpace the need for love or shelter.
At the lowest level of the scale, gratification of basic needs can be described by needing, striving, desperately craving or being driven. Further up the scale, satisfaction of needs involves desiring, wishing, preferring, choosing, wanting. At the highest levels, the more accurate words are loving, admiring, adoring, aspiring, to, being devoted to, fascinated by or yearning for. Or simply, felt appropriateness and being.

People live at various levels in the motivational scale. They can live a high life of individual fulfillment or a low life, barely at the survival level. Maslow believed that what a person is craving, wanting or wishing for tends to be just ahead of him in the scale.

Grumbling Dreams

Then Maslow noticed that there was a relationship between a person’s needs level and the kinds of dreams he had. “Unconscious needs commonly express themselves in dreams...” he said.(2) Maslow came to believe that a person’s position on the scale could be judged from dreams and dream analysis. “...insecure people tend strongly to have manifestly insecure dreams,” he noted. “These seem to be obvious expression of attitude towards the world.”(3)

Although he had been trained as a behaviorist, Maslow appreciated some of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical ideas and techniques. “Free associations, dream interpretation, interpretation of the meaning behind everyday behavior, are the major paths by which therapists help the patient to gain conscious insight into himself.”(4) he said. However, he also disagreed with some of Freud’s ideas: whereas he agreed that dreams could express a need or wish, he didn’t see the dream necessarily as a wish fulfillment.

Instead, Maslow conceived of the “Grumble Theory.” He believed that the level of complaints–that is, the level of what one needs and craves and wishes for, expressed aloud–can indicate the motivational level at which the person is living.

Dreams do grumble. Dreams brought for psychotherapy are concerned with unfinished emotional business or areas of unresolved conflict. The “level of complaints,” the expression of ungratified needs, is determined by the theme of conflict found in the dreams. The triggering element for the conflict is what Freud called “day residue.”

Most dream theory addresses the basic needs level of cause and complaint. Freud’s emphasis on sexuality and instinctual reactions places him towards the bottom of Maslow’s scale. Field psychologists like Eugene Gendlin and lab physiologists like J. Allan Hobson theorize that dreams are stimulated by the condition of our body and brain (psychology). Fritz Perl’s Gestalt theory works particularly well on conflict resolution between “top dog” (the conscience, at the self-esteem level) and “underdog” (the anxious and threatened, at the safety and security level). Alfred Alder and Montague Ullman agreed with Maslow that dreams have a social aspect (belongingness and love).

“Conflict itself is, of course, a sign of relative health as you would know if you ever met really apathetic people, really hopeless people, people who have given up hoping, striving and coping,” said Maslow. “Neurosis is by contrast a very hopeful kind of thing.”(5)

A Perspective For Healthy Dreams

Now, here’s a conundrum. How can you come up with a healthy theory of dreams if you don’t include the healthy dreamers? And, further, how can you select an adequate bevy of dreamwork techniques to unlock the secret of dreams if you don’t know the optimum behavior of the dreaming psyche?

My hypothesis is this: an optimum theory of dreams doesn’t stand a chance unless it’s silhouetted against a wide understanding of many kinds of dreams. A complete theory of dreams supports a complete bevy of dreamwork techniques. One that sweeps the entire panorama of possibilities and then selects the best match from among them to fit the particular dream. Unfortunately, we are a long ways from any one person, group or theory that promotes the Wide Band View.

I am a unique dreamer. I’m not built like you. I don’t have the same life experiences that you do. I don’t dream like you do. So, there’s no guarantee that the approach that best unlocks the secrets of my varied dreams will work as well for you. But some dreamworkers would have you believe that there is a “one size fits all” technique or theory.

Show loyalty for one approach, and some seem to think that you engender disloyalty to the next. It’s an either-or, divide and conquer. You’re a Jungian or a Caycean or a Hobsonian. But not all three together. The loyalties to a certain approach are set before the rest of the options have a chance to present themselves.
I’m not going to close down the options to make it easy for you. If you want a kindergarten approach to dreams, go read a dream dictionary. If you really want to launch yourself on a voyage of self-discovery, prepare to stretch yourself. Think Wide Band, before your think narrow.

I believe that the goal of dreamwork isn’t just to fix the flaw to diagnose the fear or pinpoint the meaning of any particular dream. It’s not to pluck fruits and flowers from our dream trees and puzzle over each separate one. Rather, it’s to lift our psyche to an optimum level of health. It’s to nurture the whole dream tree. Then the fruits of our labors become evident. The bits and pieces of the puzzle link and combine. No single leaf, flower or branch can be studied in isolation to find the how the entire dream tree functions. The meaning of our dreams is in the whole picture, not just in the parts.

Dreams Reflect Feelings And Emotions

Abraham Maslow observed that healthy people can dip into the unconscious, use and value it, instead of fearing it. In other words, they are creative. It has been determined that the unconscious can be the source of creativeness, art, love, humor and play. To treat the dream as a source and aid to those sorts of activities certainly requires that we consider dreams to be more than pathological thinking.

Maslow stated that “....psychologically healthy people are more able to enjoy, to love, to laugh, to have fun, to be humorous, to be silly, to be whimsical and fantastic, to be pleasantly “crazy,” and...to permit and value and enjoy emotional experiences in general and peak experience in particular and to have them more often.”(6) Dreams are certainly packed with emotional experiences. Dreams range from the peak experience to the titanic nightmare. Healthy people enjoy their dreams because the dreams they have present something to enjoy. Not all the time, but at least some of the time. When was the last time you had a whimsical dream?

That dreams are connected with the range of our feelings and emotions is not a new idea, but it’s one that has been gaining ground since Sigmund Freud’s ideas and methods set the tone for the current age of dreamwork. Corrier and Hart and Ernest Hartmann support the idea. Carl Jung, Medard Boss and Fritz Perls are a few of the theorists who strongly endorse using our dreams to gain self-awareness and emotional maturity.

Here, in the later days of the Age of Pisces, we Piscean fish still swim in the shadows, below the Tree of Life that grows on the riverbank. The fruit of the average dream tree is not in robust health. While dreamers have been seeking the meaning of dreams in the lower branches of the dream tree, the higher treasures go unrecognized and unclaimed. Nightmares and anxiety dreams fall to the ground and roll into the pool of unconsciousness. Mundane dreams droop beneath branches of lowered expectations. The midnight garden survives, but barely.
Missing is emotional maturity, insight, creative feelings and clear-eyed intuition. Lacking is development of latent potentials, the fruit and flowers of growth level dreaming. Is there an extraordinary dream in the treetops?

I favor Maslow’s scale, not as an end, but as a place to begin to look at the whole picture of our dreaming lives. In addition to feelings and emotions, Maslow believed that dreams reflect bodily needs, psychopathologies and social maledictions. The scale incorporates those dream elements that other traditional dream theorists also acknowledge. But I’ve found that it’s also open to some that they tend to ignore, like Karmic aspects and psychic influence.

Every day, it seems, a host of factors impact our psyches: physiological, psychological, parapsychological and cultural. Every night, we handle them well. Or poorly. Our dreams tell us so.

We can use Maslow’s scale to take the temperature of last night’s dream. Then, as we gather more dreams over time, we have a means to track the course of movement up and down and around the scale. The scale becomes a thermometer of our night life. It’s a map of movement and rest, expansion and depletion, of the peaks and valleys in our voyage of self-discovery.

Each individual dream is a signpost on the royal road to personal fulfillment. Are we deep in the vale of despair or up on the mount of elation? Are we stuck in a muddy rut, stumbling along a dusty desert track or streaming down a highway?
We can see where and how dreams reflect the transformation of self. Said Maslow, “In the intrapsychic realm, the first great task is to search for one’s identity. Each person must find his or her true, active self...”(7) When we value our dreams, we value our self.

Dream Exercise

Close your eyes and picture your last dream. Where are you? What are you doing? How are you feeling? Now compare your images, activities and feelings with Maslow’s scale. What’s the temperature of your dream?

Growth Needs
Self Esteem
Love and Belongingness
Safety and Security

Footnotes to Chapter 2: A Map of Healthy Growth

(1) Maslow, A. H. Motivation and Personality. (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), p. 354.
(2) Ibid., p. 141.
(3) Ibid., p. 239.
(4) Ibid., p. 259.
(5) Maslow, A. H. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. (New York: Penguin, 1971). p. 33.
(6) Maslow, A. H. Towards a Psychology of Being. (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968), p. 209.
(7) Maslow, A. H. (E. Hoffman, ed.) Future Visions: The Unpublished Papers of Abraham Maslow. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996), p. 176.

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