Maternal Bond -or- The Closet Girl in Rome

Jan, 33 American

The dream took place inside my 3rd floor beach apartment, which has a series of windows that look out onto the ocean (for real). I'm in the apartment with a man that's not my husband, but that I do work with in real life. We are looking out the window and see that there is a terrible storm down below and that people are getting swept away left and right. I remember that the colors were very deep rich sienna and orange. As we're looking out of the window an enormous wave comes out of nowhere and covers the windows. Thinking that it's going to kill us I run to protect this other man and a feeling of terror overcomes me. Then I see that the windows of the apartment didn't break and shielded the water. In my dream the baby started crying and I immediately woke up because the baby was actually crying. It left me with a weird feeling that I can't shake.

Mark's Reply:

In order to give you an accurate interpretation, I need personal information about your dream, like; Which ocean are we talking about? Is it close to a city/which Country? What line of work are you in? What sort of relationship do you have with the man that you work with that is in the dream? You report that the feelings in the dream were one of terror and the need to protect the man. Is this some sort of fear of a terrorist attack? Why has the dream left you with a "weird" feeling that you can't shake and what does weird mean to you? How old is your child?

Jan's Reply:

So I've been racking my brain all day to come up with the personal information that could be helpful and I think I may have got the trip to Rome that I mentioned was to launch a huge project that I had been working on with the person in my dream over the last year. It was the most important project I think I'll ever do in my career and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would be so big. The author of the project was the person in my dream. And as the person who allowed me to experience such a rush professionally I think that occasionally I may have confused professional excitement with personal emotion. Anyway the day after we launched this project, he announced that he would be starting a new company. We will continue to work with him as part of the new company and while part of his founding clients would certainly not be enough to financially sustain him and therefore will be looking for new clients to bring in. Could any of this have anything to do with it? 

Mixed feelings - I think someone can be happily married and be in awe/attraction with someone else by surprise, no? Or maybe from all of my travelling I feel less connected to my husband and had a momentary window of emotional opportunity? 

The day I had the dream, I was just returning from a very exciting and exhausting trip in Rome and was going on little sleep. So this nap I took actually was quite short but I felt like I was in coma sleep. As I mentioned, I had just returned from a trip to Rome where I was with the man that I work with for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, admiration and mixed feelings that I am able to rationally cancel. There is definitely no fear of a terrorist attack (although I was in New York for 9/11) but maybe a terror linked to him? The weird feeling is that somehow I feel more closely connected to this person (although this happens to me too when I have dreams about celebrities - I wake up and I feel I know them really well.). I think maybe a fear of being too involved with this person - who is not involved with me - and knowing that rationally I will never do anything about it and SHOULD never do anything about it - as I am happily married. My child is just over 1 year and yet another reason why I would never do anything about any mixed feelings. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: The Maternal Bond -or- The Closet Girl in the Mirror 

Your dream reminds me of Yosl Bergner's painting "The Closet Girl" which features five framed images of a woman, with one image missing (replaced by darkness) because it is broken. The picture appears to express existential themes of self-image, identity and existential anxieties and angst. Your dream speaks the language of the melodramatic imagination closely resembling the "Sturm and Drang" (Storm and Stress) literary writing of the 18th century which featured the expression of the extremes of emotions. The visual series of windows in your dream can be viewed from the psychological perspective of Jacques Lacan and his postulation of the "mirror phase" in childhood, upon which we all build our mind's perspectives, subjectivity, desire and imagination around. There are numerous perspectives to consider about your situation, thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

It is possible to look at your dream through a different kind of window metaphor and perspective which was developed as a conceptual tool to better understand the interpersonal conceptual framework of communication, this interpersonal metaphor is known as a Johari/Nohari Window. When applied to understanding dreams, we find two interesting areas in the metaphysical quest for truth, wisdom and self understanding. First is the area of a Johari window perspective is where there is a part of ourselves that is not known to ourselves or to others. This area cannot be made conscious by oneself or others. The second area of interest is the "blind spot" area, much as in Bergner's The Closet Girl. Seen in this context, your dream may be a representation of your rational and emotional confusion and therefore acts as a tragic blind spot. In terms of dreams this visual grid area makes people aware of where their philosophical objectivity fails in knowing the truth about oneself or others for that matter. Human falliblity and self-deception is often caused by the fact that when we are driven by self-interest, altruism and self-sacrifice are inconsistent with the self interest motive. Your dream can then be read as expressing the poetic conflict of (professional and personal) interests you feel.

Hollywood Films, Window Dreams and the Looking Glass Self

The window as a poetic and artistic metaphor has a long history, which would take a great deal of time to outline. Suffice it to say, that windows can be viewed as providing metaphors of vision, in this sense (artistic) the eyes can be metaphorically viewed as windows of the soul. The 18th-19th century German poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said that poems are painted window panes. In this sense, dreams (visual imagination) and poems are painted with the same art brush, although the brush strokes may appear to be different. It was the 15th century Italian poet and Renaissance man Leone Battista Alberti in De Pictura who created what is the modern art theory of visual linear perspective in which viewer and artist interacted. The window then poetically works two ways, you can look out, but others can also look in. As such, the window serves as a symbol for the "looking glass self".

The window metaphor has been transformed by the technology of film. The window as a metaphor is a representation of film itself, as the cinematic window provides the audience with a looking glass perspective. Films such as ‘Words Upon the Window Pane', a film by Mary McGuckian, starring Geraldine Chaplin (based on a one act play by the Irish poet W B Yeats), uses the window metaphor to explore spirituality. Alfred Hitchcock's voyeuristic masterpiece Rear Window (see film trailer) moves the viewer through various allegorical dimensions of male-female relationships and the window metaphor. There are many films that portray the poetic dilemmas of passion, infidelity and duty, one favorite that has similarities to your dream is The Bridges of Madison County (see film trailer/based on the novel of the same name by Robert James Waller) features Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.

You state that your rationality as it relates to your marriage, is stopping you from acting on your feelings. From a poetic perspective you are telling me that there is a framing conflict between your rational self and your emotional empathetic and desiring self and identity. The storm and the ensuing wave (that could be viewed metaphorically as a wave of emotion) that you both experience is terrorizing, and may be a representation of this poetic conflict. You feel the need to protect this man from the emotional danger of the storm and the wave, this may be a sign of emotional collusion? Said in a more straight forward fashion, the questions simply read... do you have feelings of love for this man and whether he has feelings of love for you?  In this context, you state that perhaps you have confused personal emotion with professional excitement? Is this dream a working out of answers to those questions?

Love and Death in American Dreams -or- Ethics of Maternal Care

Leslie Fiedler in Love and Death in the American Novel sees American literary history as driven by the paradigm of psychosexual (read erotic) development and conflict. Viewed from a poetic perspective your dream reads as a warning about infidelity. A moral warning about your inner desires and your fears of fulfilling them. They are, as you astutely observe, representative of your ambivalent/mixed feelings. In classical ancient Greek fashion, your dream as a visual poetic painted window pane serves to make an oracular prophesy of impending tragic romantic and emotional consequences. This worst case scenario message to yourself was evidently created to address your intimate relationships issues before the nightmare becomes a reality.

From a feminist perspective Iris Marion Young has provided the theory of seriality that can be applied to the series of windows in your dream. Womanhood can then be seen and behaviourally defined by existential, psychological and material constraints placed on women. I have no doubt that your feelings for this man of your dreams are genuine, your attraction, respect, fantasy obsession and awe are all real. There seems to be an interpersonal ("feeling closely connected") chemistry  as well. And while you appear to question and doubt whether this man feels the same feelings, the dream appears to indicate that he does, although this is never completely for certain. Dreaming about celebrities or other fantasy men that are unavailable or inaccessible happens on a daily basis, this attraction however is very real, you work closely together with this man. As you clearly state, you have a "window of emotional opportunity". As you also state, this man has given you "the most important project you think you'll ever do in your career" and therefore you most likely feel drawn to him for this professional/career opportunity.

Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan In A Different Voice have provided theories of moral development. Your dream can be read as an ethical commutation test of your mind's interpretive paradigmatic framework of your feelings, your thoughts, your morals, your ethical caring and your behaviour. Is a behavioural modification and reconfiguration of your mind's psychological and moral framework indicated? The commutation test of your conflicted dream may be answered by the ethical questions surrounding the various interests that are at stake, your own ego's interests, your potential partner's interests, your husband's interests, and the interests of your child? In this sense, your dream can also be seen as providing evidence for Kohlberg's theory of a sixth stage of moral development where a variety of interests are perceived and weighed by the poetic scales of "Lady Justice". That of course does not mean however that people will consistently morally use or act according to this stage.

You ask, with so many visual perspectives and interpersonal (narrative) points of view to choose from, which one, which existential path should you take? At the end of the dream you are awakened by your child crying. Evidently you fully realize that you are not only a professional and a wife, but you are also a mother. A mother cares, protects and empathizes with her child. When a child is faced with immanent danger it is the maternal protective instincts and empathetic bond that usually kicks in. One more window, one more perspective in your dream and in your life to think your child's' perspective. What is in the best interest of the child? Is this the cause of the weird feeling you can't shake?

Literature of interest includes;

  • James Elkins, Poetics of Perspective 
  • Jurg Willi, Couples in Collusion: The Unconscious Dimension in Partner Relationships     
  • John E. Mack, Nightmares and Human Conflict  
  • Ernest Hartmann, Dreams and Nightmares         
  • Charles Rycroft, Anxiety and Neurosis 


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.