Last week I had a bad dream which I described in this post. I typed it out when I was still half asleep because I knew it was important and didn’t want any of it to fade away. I emailed it to my therapist and asked him to print out a copy for our session tonight because I don’t have a printer.
I didn’t hear back from him and wondered if he had got the email, but tonight I saw a copy sitting on my chair in his office, and he had printed out a second copy for himself too. We spent the next hour talking about it. It’s funny the way a dream can seem to make almost no sense, but therapy can bring so much clarity to it. How did I not recognize what was so obvious?
I’ll go through it here, one paragraph at a time, and explain what we found out.
I am waiting to see my therapist. But my therapist isn’t my therapist. He is my old therapist (the one I had when I was 22, the one who I fell madly in love with and had to leave because my emotions were too painful). But he is still my current therapist. (I know, but it made sense in the dream.)
This part I already knew. At age 22, I had another therapist I experienced a strong transference with, and spent 2 years with him. I quit out of frustration because I couldn’t handle my powerful romantic feelings and at the time, I had almost zero insight. But his manner, in many ways, reminds me of my current therapist. They are both attractive men of approximately the same age (at the time of my seeing them). In my dream, they both represent a Hero/Parental archetype.
Someone is talking to me and I’m crying. It’s not a bad cry or a painful cry. I think I’m crying in empathy. I don’t know what I’ve been told or what emotion I’m feeling, but my head is thrown back and tears are streaming from the sides of my eyes and down into my hair. My lashes stick together. I’m wearing non waterproof mascara; I’m vaguely aware the black tear tracks will be visible to my therapist even after they’ve dried. I leave them there, almost proudly, intending for him to see. We’ve been working on getting me to cry in session. I need for him to see the evidence of my tears.
He was touched by this and told me so. He kept wanting to go back and talk about it, but this is the part that was most awkward/uncomfortable for me to talk about because it’s me at my most vulnerable/open/unguarded (which means it’s very important NOT to avoid!). He pointed out that the woman who wept with someone else in the dream was the “real me” and therefore I do have the capacity to empathize with and connect with others. He wanted me to remember some times in my real life I actually felt this way. I tried to remember; it was hard because there have been so few times. Most of the time when someone opens up to me I find myself pulling away. The last time I felt really open and emotional with another adult was in 1986. But that was with my ex, who betrayed my trust and wasn’t at all who he seemed to be. Still, I want to feel that way again because I want to be able to connect on a deep and meaningful level. In the dream, I was open and vulnerable, but not in emotional pain at this point.
His office is in some kind of art complex. Outside, patrons are walking around looking at and purchasing art. My handsome therapist comes out, as he always does in real life, to ask me kindly to give him another five minutes. But this time, his face worries me. He looks worried or concerned. He tells me there is something he needs to tell me. I feel the blood drain from my face and my heart curls up into a tight ball as if to protect itself from whatever’s coming.
The art complex represents creativity and vision. But this is destroyed by what my therapist says which triggers familiar feelings of “the other shoe is about to drop because the world is dangerous and people are untrustworthy.” I have opened up to my Hero and made myself vulnerable and tapped into my creativity but my Hero is about to drop a bomb that will destroy all of that and destroy me.
“It might disturb you, but don’t worry,” he says. And then he walks away.
Mind games. Playing with my emotions. Tormenting, goading, sadistic teasing. This is exactly the sort of thing my narcissists did to me all the time. In the dream, my Hero becomes someone else out to destroy me. No one can be trusted.
Of course I worry. In fact, I panic. I go back out into the art complex and walk around, pretending to look at the art. There seems to be a party going on. People are dressing in costumes. I think about what my therapist has to tell me. Is he sick? Going to dump me? Leaving town? Is he going to die? Dread and my old friend, Fear of Abandonment, holds me fast. I can’t escape. My breathing quickens and becomes shallow. My tears have dried and I can’t make anymore even as I will them to come
The costume party represents the fakeness I see in everyone around me. No one is who they appear to be. I’m not a part of it; I’m left out. I can’t cry because to protect myself, I’ve shut off my emotions again. The wall is back up.
Soon I see my therapist laughing with a woman, a beautiful woman. I wonder if that’s his wife.
My therapist turns, approaches me. I freeze in place, almost drop the raku vase I’m holding.
I start to cry when our eyes meet.
But pride takes over.
“You’re an asshole,” I say, rubbing my eyes with my fists like a spoiled child. I no longer want him to see me cry. I don’t want him to have the satisfaction.
The raku vase is probably a minor detail, but could represents the creative urge I’m trying to hold onto (I almost drop/lose it). I call him an asshole because he has played with my emotions and seems to be doing it deliberately by refusing to fully explain what he meant but making me wonder and worry. The crying is angry, hurt crying, in contrast with the tears of openness and empathy early in the dream. I attempt to hide this because I no longer feel safe being vulnerable.
He looks angry.
“I’m not going to see you when you talk to me that way,” he says. I look at him dumbly, stunned into silence.
“But what about–?”
“I’ll see you next time,” he says, and turns on his heel and walks away.
My Hero has become a disapproving, narcissistic, uncaring parent who is only concerned with his own feelings and is punishing me because I criticized him, and finally abandons me. This is what my parents did to me and is at the center of my mental illness.
He might as well have just stabbed me in the stomach. I feel as if I could collapse onto the floor. I want to disappear. The shame and anger is overwhelming. And I have to wait to find out whatever horrible news he has to tell me. I think he’s trying to torture me.
Shame of who “I” am and for expressing my feelings. Being abandoned makes me feel like I don’t exist.
I’m still in the art complex and people are walking around as if the world didn’t just end. All the therapists in the office are milling around too, drinking out of cocktail glasses with ridiculous little plastic umbrellas and other doodads sticking out of them. Someone has set up a cash bar at the far end. My therapist is over there, laughing with the other therapists. I feel like I don’t exist.
Everything is a sham, fake and cheap. My Hero, who I trusted, doesn’t care. He’s abandoned me and has joined with all the other fake and cheap people. He betrayed me, just like everyone else. Abandonment and betrayal makes me feel dead.
One of the therapists gets up on a podium and says we are having an animal costume contest. We will be dancing to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” in our animal suits. I don’t want to be there, but I feel obligated to participate. A huge box is pulled out from somewhere and everyone rushes over and starts pulling out costumes. All I can find is a chicken head and a silly cowprint suit. Somehow it seems familiar to me, as if someone in my past had worn this same costume before. I put it on and feel like I can be invisible in it. I just want to die.
Self protection; defense mechanisms come into play. To protect myself from feelings of nonexistence, shame, and abandonment, I become fake too, to fit in with the fake world and all its fake people. The ridiculous costume would be my “false self,” ridiculous because it’s not me at all. It’s familiar because I’ve seen it before, on the people who raised me. I still want to die because inside I still feel as empty and abandoned.
None of this was really new to me, but I feel liked everything’s been spelled out for me now through this dream and I have a better idea of the issues I need to work on the most. It would be natural for me to trust no one since the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally were untrustworthy. I also feel like I’m no longer alone in figuring all this out.