"The whole personality is expressed by night and by day. "
A. Adler , 1929, pg 171
If we can characterize desire in Freud as
erotically oriented, and desire in Jung as wholeness oriented, then we can say
in Adler that desire is oriented to overcoming early feelings of inferiority.
These feelings stem from the beginning of life, dependent and small, and evolve
as we find ways of overcoming these feelings of inferiority and becoming
This strivings follow us right into the night; "Now just as our waking
life, we have seen, is determined by the goal of superiority, so we may see that
dreams are determined by the individual goal of superiority." (Adler, 1929,
For Adler, the dream tries to help us overcome the same feelings of
inferiority we feel in our life, but without the restraint of concrete reality.
Thus the dream is not only a experimental laboratory to safely try out new
possibilities, but also a window on the style we use in general.
To interpret the dream is to interpret the style of the dreamer.
"We should remember that the selection of pictures, remembrances and
fancies is an indication of the direction in which the mind is moving. It show
you the dreams's tendency, and eventually we can see the goal at which he wants
to arrive." (1929, p. 163)
The unique *life style* of the dreamer becomes the unifying image around
which the dream models itself. Adler points to a repetitive dream for evidence:
"Why do we have the same dream repeatedly? This is a curious fact for
which no definite explanation can be given. However, in such repeated dreams we
are able to find the style of life expressed with much more clarity. Such a
repeated dream gives us a definite and unmistakable indication where the
individual goal of superiority lies." (Adler, 1929, p. 169)
The golden rule in Adler's Individual Psychology is "Everything can be
different" (Ansbacher, 1957, p. 363) and so each interpretation was to be
unique. But there are trends that show up.
Dreams of falling are seen by those who fear falling in life. Dream about
dead people indicate the dreamer has not finally buried the dead and is still
under the influence of the living. Dreams of cruelty and making messes indicate
rage and desire for revenge. Short dreams indicate the dreamer is short-cutting
the path between their problems and their style of life. Long dreams indicate
the dreamer is good at finding long detours for their problems.
For demonstration sake, try out this exercise meant to bring out the
"problem solving" aspect of dreaming:
EXERCISE: Take a dream and comment on it "as if" the dream were
indicating the way you want to solve your life problems.
a. Break the dream down into pieces and for each piece summarize the action.
You may wish to further give a functional generalization to each part as we did
before, like saying that the refrigerator is keeping things cool, the table is
for setting things on, the road is for traveling down....
b. Say before each part, "I'd like to solve my social problems
by...[fill in the action]".
c. Notes: How realistic or not this solution would be? What feelings come
with this image?
Example: "In my dream there was a long hall and at the end an open
Broken down using functional generalization:
Long Hall: a long way to go, feels like a long way, a lot of time between here
Open Window: opportunities, a way out, a fresh viewpoint, escape.
Now try putting them in the formula:
"I'd like to solve my social problems by running down a long hall and
jumping out the window" Hmmm, this rings a bell, but doesn't sound like a
good solution. So I try again: "I'd like to solve my social problems by
keeping them at a distance until I see them from a new viewpoint." Now this
might be useful and something I could try.
Thus, for Adler, dreams come from unsolved social problems and are oriented
towards the resolution of those problems. Still, the waking individual is needed
to decide if those solutions are simply a confirmation of fears or offer some
new path. As van de Castle notes (1994), Adler didn't really give much hope for
dreams offering very good solutions. Rather he felt the benefit would be in
connecting the dreamer to the feelings around the general life style issues.
Exercise: Use the previous exercise, but instead of asking if the dream
realistically captures a solution, ask yourself if the dream captures your
general style or approach to problems in general. Can you recognize this style?
Is something you want to continue to choose, or would you prefer to choice
Adler made a few mistakes in his assessment of dreams and the modern
Adlerians have tried to correct these views. For example, Adler felt that the
more psychologically healthy individual would not dream. Now we feel that the
amount of dreaming is unrelated to psychopathology. But in general, the idea
that dreams produce feelings that can lead us to act upon life and live better
is continued. Also, that the inferiorities we suffer in life are also seen in
dreams and thereby create a continuum between wake and sleep were these issues
can be experimented with, safely played with and changed in cooperation with the
Next Month: Surrealism and Self Astonishment