Darwin and the Anatomy of Disgust -or- Hiding from Humanity

Emotions in Man and Animals -or- Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair 

While it is Darwin The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals who is seen as the father of modern interest in the sentiment known as disgust, it is Nietzsche who gave a modern cultural voice to his disgust about the 19th century and its hypocritical Victorian philosophy and morality. For Darwin there is a social psychological connection between food, drink, cultural tastes and social order. The dreams (below) discussed in this interpretation speak about the cultural projective vicissitudes of fear and disgust.

Shakespeare's "Macbeth" had long before Nietzsche pointed to the cultural problem of disgust, when he has the witches utter the chant "fair is foul and foul is fair: / Hover through the fog and filthy air". Nothing is as what it may appear to be, is another Shakespearean allusion that Freud would use when explaining the defense mechanism "reaction formation" which often disguises a disgusting secret and truth.

Freud's case study of "Dora" is a prime Shakespearean "reaction formation" example of why Nietzsche was culturally disgusted and most likely felt his own moral "self-righteousness". Dora's case history and case study of her conversion neurotic body language of cultural fear, hate and disgust was described by Freud as "tedium vitae" (dejection). "Dora" stands as a social monument to understanding the cultural nature of women's feelings of disgust, melancholia and defense mechanisms.

The differential diagnostic classification of the projective fears, disgusts and defense mechanisms found in the dreams below, have a historical range from "Weltschmerz" and existential "Nausea", to the "politics of disgust", the "grotesque body" and the dead body (cadaver).

Alex, 15

I was at a public pool, like at a hotel, with all my friends and it was night time. I was standing next to my friend, Lauren, and she suddenly jumped into the deep end. It seemed very deep and all of a sudden while she was still underwater, she vomited. It was green and disgusting and seemed to spread throughout the pool. It scared me and I was completely disgusted and confused.

Mr Hagen's Response; Going off the Deep End -or- Differential Diagnosis of Poetic Nausea

As a cultural idiom, "going off the deep end" means that what one is experiencing is "over one's head". When someone is to deeply too involved without having experience (learning to metaphorically swim), one can emotionally drown. The poetic idiom "going off the deep end", is often associated with "falling in love". Much as in the dream many coming of age stories involve one's friends and peer group stories about adolescents and young adults who irrationally follow their emotions and fantasies, instead of staying rational and "level headed".

So many adolescents don't look before they emotionally leap and jump into things only to be hurt or even harmed, ending up finding themselves "crying a river" sometimes their whole life. While having no fear is one thing, not assessing the emotional risks of actions is much more serious. Often peer group pressure is the cause of underage smoking, drinking, drugs and sexuality. Other dream interpretations posted at the International Institute for Dream Research website attest to these perennial adolescent coming of age problems. Read the interpretation "Where the Boys Are".

A differential diagnosis of the nausea, as in vomiting found in the dream can be seen as resulting from a number of causes. The most likely cause in this case is excessive drinking. The dream may unfortunately mark the beginnings of what Jean Paul Sartre saw as existential "Nausea". "Adolescent confusion" can be seen at the end of the dream ("I was completely disgusted and confused") which is much more common than generally recognized by the mental heath community. Using Erik Erikson's model of psychosocial development, this dream represents the conflict of "Identity versus Role Confusion".

Stephanie, 18

I am almost 18 years old now and am still plagued with disturbing dreams every night. They aren't always nightmares but i always feel horrible and exhausted in the morning. My dreams usually include people dying painfully, like last night someone was strangled to death and all bloody. many times I am being hurt and the pain feels so real. I'm almost always scared in my dreams. many include me kissing people, but i am always disgusted by it. although i have a healthy relationship with a man right now. I am basically a happy person.

There is a lot of stress in my life, it's been hard, and i have been depressed before, but i think it makes me a strong person overall. I love psychology and dream interpretations, but i never can find an answer because my dreams always include so much in one night, they are always all over the place. I am a basically content and optimistic person, i just want a way to escape from these nightmares every night because I always feel tired. I do not have any illnesses so i do not believe it's that, and i also do not watch tv. Please help me understand my dreams. Thanks!!

Mr Hagen's Response; Escape from the Shakespearean Nightmare -or- The Grotesque 

The dream that Stephanie reports having had last night speaks of death and blood. We can poetically turn to Shakespeare to find understanding. Shakespeare in the "Merchant of Venice" uses his character Shylock to put these words in his mouth; "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that."

The Germans have a concept for such feelings, it is known as "Weltschmerz", loosely translated as "psychological pain", although this translation does not do poetic justice to the German cultural idiom. Freud would call "Weltschmerz" "Civilzation and its Discontents". Henry David Thoreau may come closest to an English translation with these words; "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." 9/11 caused a great deal of "Weltschmerz". 

As Marsha Nussbaum "Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame and the Law " suggests, we can hide, but we can never escape the collective nightmares of  "projective fears" and "projective disgust" of humanity. Many identifyiable groups have been subject to such misanthropic types of nightmaric projections, such as seen towards the Jews, Africans and African Americans, homosexuals, and women to name a few.

 The fact that kissing in a dream always causes feelings of intimate disgust, points to what has been called the grotesque body in its negative, nightmarish and tragic side. Many dream interpretations posted at the IIDR website speak of the long literary tradition of the sense of grotesque found in dreams.

Mike, 21 

I would like to tell you my dream and I wonder if you can provide me with any information on what it means. Firstly, I will give you a brief introduction,

I am 21 years old and study Politics & IR degree in London. For two years now, I have fallen in love with the Muslim girl (I am Hindu). I really do love her, in my heart she is the one. She once told me she loved me but she said she can't make her feelings go any further as her parents will disapprove. My parents would not mind. People say it would never happen, it's her parents that would have the problem not her. I have liked this girl for two years now and she knows but nothing can come of it she says, but I think there is hope.

This was my dream, which must have happen about 4-6 weeks ago, I remember it to a certain extent:

I was at her house in front of all family who are all against me, it was like I was having a interview, I arrived in her house, and I was treated with disgust. I remember standing in the middle of the room, there were all the members of her family plus extended family it was a full room, and there was me in the middle surrounded by them, I was trying to explain why I love her so much, I said to her mother (as she is the one who would be against it so much) Look I love your daughter so much I would die for her. And then the girls of the family were saying, give him a chance.

I can't remember the rest, well not clearly but in the end I think I won them over, her mother would let me marry her.

Mr Hagen's Reply; To Die For -or- The Disgust of Muslims and Hindus

In this dream we see how children have been generationally (note the extended family in the dream) nurtured and raised by the familial politics of religious contempt, disgust and disrespect of outsiders of the faith. What is needed as evidenced in this dream, is an "Inter-Faith dialogue".

Emily, 25

I dreamed that I had a toothache and I was in a store trying to look for soups to eat because I couldn't eat hard stuff but I couldn't find any that I wanted. I felt my cheek was big, inflated. I remember I think being in a car or truck I stared spitting out teeth!! Every time I would spit teeth would come out! But first I would feel them in my mouth real loose and disgusting then I would spit them out!! There were also a lot of people around one of them was my husband I think I was mad at him. I felt really scared through out the whole dream!! Really a fear!! I say my husband but in reality were not really together he lives with me but we don't sleep together.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Spitting out Teeth -or- Eating Hard Stuff

Body image structures or embodied sensory patterns of experience that are based on bodily sensation, knowledge and perception are revealed in our dreams. Bodily secretions, wastes and fluids are often associated with disgust, in this sense, spit much like snot is in itself seen as a cultural sign of disgust and bad taste. For whatever reason, Emily seems to be fearful and disgusted with her so-called husband.

Irma, 27

I am happily married since 1 1/2 years in reality, but in my dream I saw I was going to get married to this unknown guy. A day before the wedding I panic since I am told I need to have my tongue & feet pierced & wear rings there. This is apparently a customer in my to-be-husbands family. In fact I see his sis getting it done & I am next in line. I am not happy to do so & feel I want to re think my decision to be married to this person. I feel alot of fear .I then take the help of my twin sister (I have 4 sisters in reality, one of them is my twin) & elope from that place to avoid being forced to get pierced. I travel to my own house for the night. The next day (my wedding day) I see all my sisters are there in my room & asking me to get dressed.

There are guests outside all well dressed. My elder sister then gives me my bridal outfit which is particularly ordinary (a daily wear kind of a dress) in dull pink colour & a red stroll. I am disgusted as in brides are elaborately dressed here (I'm an Indian). Anyways, I am still in 2 minds to get married, but decide to go ahead to avoid shame to my family. Next I see my self searching for an appropriate bra, & some which I see bring about very sad & frightening feelings as if related to a past relationship & past marriage. I didn't see the end. So don't know if I got married. The feeling is sick & of a situation out of my control & I running out of time more than courage to make a sane decision.

Mr Hagen's Reply: Culture of Disgust -or- Dressing for the Occasion

Each culture has their own set and collective tableaux of fears and feelings of disgust. Irma is from India and her sense of disgust is associated to not being elaborately dressed. Irma says that she is of "two minds" (perhaps based on two different cultural value systems), which indicates the narcissistic defense mechanism of splitting. Irma finally rationalizes her decision to go through with the wedding as avoiding bringing shame on her family.

Ella, 27

This dream brought me to your website. Here goes;  I am in a small cave like setting.  There are small fires all around and it is very hot and humid. I am wearing only a white pajama and I am on my knees. The floor is like a red dirt. The cave walls and ceilings are the same. The ceiling is very low. Every six feet or so are support beams. They are a dark cherry wood. The cave is small and stuffy. There is a lot of movement in the cave... but nothing really moving. My hands are chained. I can't even describe how I feel... no feelings really at all.  A small, dark creature walks towards me. He has a bowl (looks like a half shelled coconut) filled with something white. He is grinning. He is short and frail with large feet. As soon as I see the contents of the bowl I know it is semen.  I then feel disgusted.  I wake up.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Dark Creatures with Semen -or- The Grotesque in Plato's Cave

Ella is in a "small cave like setting", reportedly, the word "grotesque" derives from the Latin word "grotto", meaning small cave or hollow. Of even greater interest is the fact that Ella is chained, perhaps an allusion to Plato's "allegory of the cave". Now playing in this dream cave is male spermatozoa in a bowl (check the wikipedia article image).

Gina, 32

I was with my family and my fiancé, and I noticed that under the surface of the skin on my hands, worms were crawling all over my hand.  I flipped my hand over and on the palm I noticed a hole, it was raw and bloody but I didn't feel any pain only the crawling of the worms. Everyone was reacting with mild disgust but mostly with a sense that they thought I should be doing something about it.  I reach through the small hole and begin pulling out worms, they are disgusting and I feel sick but I am overwhelmed with a need to get them all out of me. I must have pulled at least sixty worms out and there were still a few left when I lift my foot and there is just filth and a multitude of more worms.  I then woke up and could still feel the worms crawling under my skin I even looked at my palm for the hole.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Under my Skin -or- Sensations of Smut?

Other dreams sent to the IIDR, such as reported in the dream interpretation "I've got you under my Skin" speak of similar feelings. Is the "filth" and what has gotten under her skin "smut", a colloquial term for pornography?

Marion, 36

The most hated and disgusted animal for me is rats and I always dream of it. The last time I dreamed of rats is last night that a woman is holding a dead big rat by its tail and I was so afraid.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Men as Rats? -or- Women's Animal Phobias?

There is uncertainty in deciding is this dream to be viewed literally or metaphorically...or perhaps both? From a literal perspective, many people have animal phobias. It would be interesting to ask whether those with animal phobias have pets? From a poetic perspective transforming, anthropomorphizing and personifying a human being into an animal is a time honored literary tradition.

Aesop's fables, Ovid's "Metamorphosis", Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and Orwell's "Animal Farm"  all speak in the language of human-animal personification and anthropomorphism. Men have often been personified as rats. Listen to the words of "Frenchy" spoken in the film "Grease"; "Men are rats. Listen to me, they're fleas on rats. Worse than that, they're amoebas on fleas on rats. I mean, they're too low for even the dogs to bite. The only man a girl can depend on is her daddy."

Harry, 38

I was in a room with my husband, my middle son came in to tell me "it is nasty in the house because there's worms in the kitchen" so i followed him into the kitchen in a house we previously lived in and saw large fat white maggots on the floor, falling off the walls, and on the counter.  i stepped on a few then got disgusted and went to call my husband but I woke up before i could call him.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Children Learn to Feel Disgust -or- Victor of Aveyron

Parents transmit their sense of fear and disgust to their children. Children at a very early age show few signs of distaste and disgust. As a case study the wild boy of Aveyron which in fact may be a case of severe parental neglect illustrates how our culture raises and civilizes its children, especially via learning "toilet training", table manners and so on. Historically those without civil training and culture were viewed as "barbarians".

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