Electric Dreams

Topics in Dreamwork Series 

 Alfred Adler & Dream Styles

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1997 March). Topics in Dreamwork Series :  Alfred Adler & Dream Styles. Electric Dreams 4(3). Retrieved July 19, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

"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 productive.

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, p.155)

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 window."

Broken down using functional generalization:
Long Hall: a long way to go, feels like a long way, a lot of time between here and there.
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 another style?

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 waking self.

Next Month: Surrealism and Self Astonishment