It was fluorescent pink outlined in red, short, plump pink lettering, and for some reason all over the inside of a school. All round the hall, classrooms and even some wooden picket fencing outside.
I’m not really someone who has ever placed any great significance on the meaning of dreams, seeing it as a field where you can argue almost anything. If a client values dream interpretation and wants to focus on this then of course it’s welcome but otherwise it wouldn’t be top of my list of areas to explore in supporting personal development.
Yet having had this dream, I thought I would do some research around theories on the meaning of dreams. I was somewhat surprised to find how many different approaches to dream interpretation there actually are.
In line with almost anything written about psychology, we can start with Freud who placed a significant amount of emphasis on dreams. This is because he considered them as useful evidence for understanding repressed childhood wishes and forbidden desires and a key to unlocking the unconscious mind. He argued that our desires, needs and wants were disguised in our dreams. Freud also introduced the idea that there could be some sort of universal and ‘objective’ key to dreams where different objects might represent significant others such as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, for example. Although Freud encouraged his patients to understand the meaning of their dreams through the process of ‘free association’ – reflecting on the dream and saying what immediately came to mind- his ideas also meant that he seemed to place himself and others like him as the expert interpreter of his clients’ dreams.
So, what would Freud have made of my dream? That I have a secret desire to make a mark on the world around me? That I need to own up to how much I like pink having repressed my love of it so that I can be taken seriously? Maybe I’m too clean, neat and tidy and have a secret desire to be more messy?
My understanding of Jung, another highly influential psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is that he also considered dreams meaningful although he tended to argue that it was the direct contents of dreams that were evidence of what is important to us rather than treating them as symbolic. For Jung dreams were an open expression of ourselves in some way or a nudge to the future. He also saw dreams as a vehicle for compensating or balancing our conscious thoughts and ways of being with the unconscious.
So, in the case of my pink graffiti, maybe I was consciously too tidy or perfectionistic and my dream was showing me a way to be more relaxed and achieve some balance. Or, given that the graffiti was all over a school, perhaps there is a message here about learning and education.
When I studied with the Gestalt Centre, we were introduced to the idea that dreams represented parts of ourselves, parts that were painful, troublesome in some way, and that maybe we’ve discarded or denied. Dreams therefore were not so much a key to the unconscious as of direct relevance in themselves. In Gestalt terms dreams, and in particular the emotions, feelings and narratives we attach to our dreams are important as a means to understand the whole person.
So, in my case, I could be the pink graffiti and reflect on how I feel as the pink graffiti; be the school covered in pink graffiti; what does life feel like from these different perspectives? What are my dreams telling me?
Then there are other theories about what it means to dream about (for example) your teeth falling out (might be about fear of rejection because of your appearance) or being chased (wanting to run away from something causing you anxiety in real life) or flying (something might be getting in the way of your progress).
I’m still not convinced, however, that dreams or aspects of dreams have an objective or universal meaning. I don’t dispute that if a client dreams of sitting an exam, for example, and in that dream is late for the exam, or has not prepared because she got the exam date wrong, that this could be useful to explore but I would do so in the here and now rather than focus on the dream.
All this is not to say that dreams are irrelevant. Robert McCarley and Allan Hobson, both psychiatrists who studied dreaming amongst other things, concluded that dreams are the result of random brain activity that takes place as we sleep. The brain is disposed to meaning-making and dreams are the brain’s way of making sense of activity during sleep.
More recently researchers such as Ernest Hartmann (psychoanalyst and sleep researcher) have shown that dreams help us process our emotions while Rosalind Cartwright (sleep scientist) has proposed that dreams help regulate negative emotions. In this sense, dreams do serve a function.
In conclusion, I can’t be certain about what my dream meant as there does not appear to be an agreed universal interpretation of dream content. But I’m glad I had it. It was rather fun.