There was a time when Carl Jung was greatly influenced by Sigmund Freud. Indeed, their seemingly paternal relationship developed over several years and at one point, he was heir apparent to Psychoanalysis. Eventually, ideological differences and disagreement over dream interpretation proved to be the pair’s breaking point. While Freud theorized dreams were manifestations of the id as wish fulfillment, Jung had a grander idea. Jung was uniquely qualified to ascertain the deeper meaning of the various symbols and characters that present themselves in the dream world.
He attended University of Basel to study medicine while also learning philosophy, archeology, and history (Dunne, 2000, p. 19). He traveled to remote parts of the world and examined primitive cultures, not to mention his keen interest in Gnosticism, Alchemy, and Mythology. Jung noticed a unity among the different disciplines. Always introspective, Jung’s Analytical Psychology Theory was partly elicited in a dream. Jung was on the second floor in a Renaissance Period house ornately furnished in baroque style. He wandered to the first floor, which was detailed in a less ornate, medieval style.
Descending further into a stone floored basement, he found a trap door that led to a dusty, dank cave in the very bottom of the house. There he found two bashed in skulls (Baer, 2003, p. 177). At the time, Jung enjoyed a working relationship with Freud and asked his interpretation of the dream, but was not satisfied with Freud’s wish fulfillment concept. Instead Jung believed, “the unconscious appeared as something natural, as a natural function that is completely independent from consciousness” (Baer, 2003, p. 178). Using his dream as a guide, Jung envisioned the psyche divided into three different levels.
The conscious is the realm of the ego where reality and awareness reside. In fact, Jung considered ego and consciousness as interchangeable terms (Stevens, 2001, p. 62). He depicted the ego as the center of consciousness, but part of the bigger Self, or entire personality. Ego develops in early childhood and gains strength during the adult years of establishing oneself before reconciling its lesser role in a process called individuation. In contrast, the personal unconscious holds forgotten or repressed memories and is unique to the individual.
Therefore each thought, every experience, and long ago memories are stored within this level of the psyche. They are organized into agglomerations of emotionally charged associations and reactions called complexes. They can positive or negative, known or unknown. The collective unconscious is the last level. As the name suggests, it is a shared, internal knowledge among a species and this concept set Jung apart from the other personality theorists. Within the collective unconscious are instincts, or biologically conditioned response patterns and archetypes that can be described as ancient symbols that give instincts form (Adamski, 2011).
Like complexes, archetypes are emotionally charged, but unlike complexes, they are shared among cultures throughout generations. The consistency of archetype symbolism around the world in art, literature, and religious objects is indicative of this commonality. According to Jung (1959), “The archetype is essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its color from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear” (p. 5).
Indeed, it is through personal experiences that the various archetypes are activated. They are dynamic, goal seeking, and influence behavior throughout an individual’s life. As a matter of fact, throughout history various archetypes have guided humans. While the potential exists for numerous archetypes to exert their control over a lifetime, Jung was able to distinguish several that function in each individual. Most importantly is Self. Described as an inner guiding factor, it is the totality of conscious and unconscious, uniting each archetype.
This quest is often a life long effort that culminates in balance to the duality that exists within the archetypes. Uniting good and bad, feminine and masculine, conscious and unconscious is a process called individuation. Emerging from the Self is the ego, or an individual’s sense of identity. As the center of consciousness, it takes in the various life experiences and attempts to decipher their meaning and value. It is this tandem relationship that provides stability to the personality through the ego-Self axis (Stevens, 2001, p. 63).
Persona arises out of a need to adapt and conform to the company an individual keeps, or the circumstances they are in. Literally meaning mask, it is the archetype on display. As opposed to the shadow, the archetype kept secret and hidden. It is the culmination of traits most individuals find difficult to face about themselves. There is also a contrasexual archetype pair in women called animus and in men called anima. Considered opposites, their presence aims to balance gender differences. A multitude of other archetypes exist and can exert their influence on behavior.
Given their history in the collective unconscious, they are familiar characters in the stories and myths told generation to generation. Tricksters and wise old men, as well as mother and hero motivate and guide individuals. It is important to note that despite the names given to various archetypes, each has both positive and negative characteristics. Understanding the chorus of archetypes within your own collective unconscious is an important step in analyzing personal actions and reactions. Dreams play an important role in this endeavor.
In fact, understanding dreams gives the individual access to the personal and collective unconscious in order to discover and integrate each aspect of the self into psychic wholeness (Fontana, 1994, p31). Dreams are rich in symbols, but their meaning is often obscured. Discovering their insight is a tenet of Analytical Psychology. Jung believed, “Dreams have a psychic structure which is unlike that of other contents of consciousness because, so far as we can judge from their form and meaning, they do not show the continuity of development typical of conscious contents (Jung, 1974, p. 3).
There is no denying that the consciousness inserts details from the day’s events into a dream. It is also easily recognizable that the very structure, content, and sequence of dreams belie the logical conscious mental process. It is this very nature that compels dreamers to dismiss a dream as nonsense. It is interesting to note that Jung began his approach to dreams with a disclaimer stating, “I have no theory about dreams” (Stevens, 2013, p. 104). Still, research over the years has supported Jung’s theories (Stevens, 2013, p. 104).
Jung maintained that dreams are a natural product of the psyche with a compensatory function. “They are pure nature; they show us the unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature when our consciousness has strayed too far from its foundations and run into an impasse” (Stevens, 2013, p. 105). Symbols are a dreams language. They can be hard to comprehend because of their intuitive, spontaneous creation. Moreover, many dream symbols are unique and personal; consequently, understanding their importance is paramount to individuation.
It is important to realize, dream symbols are not set in their meaning, but are dynamic and teleological. Therefore, discovering the meaning of a dream begins with revealing its symbols. In a process called amplification a dream’s mood and its symbols are assessed. Because they are often multi-faceted, it is important to examine the various aspects of the symbols, from personal associations, mythological lore, and any emotions they may evoke. For instance, a tree may represent protection and fertility for most, but danger to an individual who once fell from a trees branches as a child (Fontana, 1994, p. 1).
As is often the case, dreams are remembered as a jumbled, fragmented sequence of events. However, careful examination reveals four distinct stages that parallel the structure of a good story and contribute to a dreams meaning. Jung deemed the context and setting the exposition. The time period, characters, and tone are relevant. The dream progresses building tension and eventually reaching culmination, or the point that something decisive happens. Most would recognize this as the climax of a story that bring about a turning point. A dream’s conclusion is called the lysis (Stevens, 2013, p. 10).
Sorting through the myriad of information contained in a dream can seem daunting. Separating the personal, cultural, and archetypal context is a good first step. Remember, dreams are not always obvious and conclusions should resonate with the dreamer. It should also be noted, all dreams are not created equal. Dreams that arise from the previous day or seem commonplace are subjective and personal. Jung remarked their validity is restricted to the day-to-day fluctuations of the psychic balance and are easily forgotten (Jung, 1997, p. 488).
Dreams manifested from the personal unconscious carry more significance. This is the arena where archetypes communicate using symbols and metaphor. Their message is personal as it urges the consciousness to take action. And then there are big dreams. They are infrequent, occurring during critical stages, and stem from the collective unconscious. According to Jung, “These archetypal products are no longer concerned with personal experiences but with general ideas, whose chief significance lies in their intrinsic meaning and not in any personal experience and its associations” (Jung, 1997, p. 89).
As a consequence, they are difficult to interpret. Yet, it is a world full of answers, “Dreams prepare, announce, or warn about certain situations often long before they actually happen” (Jung, 1997, p. 228). In addition, dreams reveal more than they conceal. Understanding their messages not only propels individuals to wholeness, but also reunites the conscious world with the instinctual unconscious.