People with Problems -or- Problem Solving in Dreams

Weltschmerz, Anomie and Alienation -or- Depersonalization and Derealization 

Most of the time my opening question to my new clients in therapy is either; "what's the problem? and/or how can I help?". "The PARIS REVIEW of People with Problems" presents a fiction anthology, whose inside cover tells the reader; "Problems manifest themselves in every setting, with every person, and of course in every story." Problems also manifest themselves in our dreams. From a literary perspective we can view these through the "social problem novel". J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" character "Holden Caulfield" emphasizes the problems of youth with the "human condition".

The Germans have labeled the psychological pain that is experienced when looking at all the problems in the world as "Weltschmerz". The French (Emil Durkheim) would call the phenomena "anomie". Karl Marx would call it "alienation". Finally the Diagnostic Statistical Manual calls such phenomena as "depersonalization" and "derealization" forms of "dissociative disorder". Dreams sent to the International Institute (IIDR) for Dream Research speak of all these psychological problems and social issues. The IIDR has been dedicated to make these "Kafkaesque" social problems and issues visible and audible for you the reader. 

In "The PARIS REVIEW of People with Problems", we find this quote; "It seems like everyone needs a mother, including a mother; instead, everyone has an ex." This may be a quote in a book about fictional problems, however it is a fact when we look at the inordinate number of dreams sent to the IIDR which I have called "The Ex-Files" (read IIDR dream interpretation "Divorce Culture". Here are some different "problems" sent by a number of dreamers aging from 21 to 75. 

Valerie 21, University Student 

The aspect from my dreams that I would really like interpreted deals with stairs. I never have the same dream about them, but the same basic theme applies to most of my dreams involving stairs. First of all, if I am in my dream and realize that I need to go somewhere (up, down, out of a building, etc.) and I need to take stairs, I tend to find that the stair cases never seem to take me where I want to go. OR the stairs do not lead anywhere at all. Also, sometimes these stair cases lead to a floor where I can go somewhere BUT there is always something wrong. For example, I go up the stairs and come out on a floor, but as soon as I start walking across the floor I realize there is a large break between in the floor opening to floors below - thus I cannot get to the other side if I wanted to or not. Another recurring theme with stairs is the lack of railings, where it would be easy to fall off if someone were not paying attention. 

One other problem I've had in dreams is that stairways will be next to each other, and I realize I need to get to the other stairway, but there is no clear way to do that. In dreams that I would have long ago, I would simply be stuck on the wrong stair well and wake up. However, in more current dreams I've found that I can push myself to either jump to the other side. Most of the time when I do jump or climb across to where I need to be, my body seems to be telling me not to do that, but my mind pushes it to do so. 

The Emperor's New Mind -or- Problem Solving in Dream Vision 

From a Piagetian perspective you are learning what Piaget called "formal operational thought". This abstract form of dream logic allows your "working memory" to think, move, problem solve and remember inside abstract imaginary (or virtual) information space, time and causation. This operational "step by step" type of thinking and attention in your dream, is known as an "algorithm" and is what your dreams are all about. 

From a neuropsychological perspective these attention and neural operations are known as "Hebbian learning". Your mind is forcing your body to do something your body is telling you not to. Which is nothing else than saying the inherited wisdom of your body telling you that you are taking dangerous risks. On the other side of this psychological coin, by pushing yourself to the limit of your personal boundaries, allows you to find out where those physical and psychological limits of your body and mind are. 

What you have discovered in your dreams is what has become known as the "Penrose stairs". The poetic figures of the ascending and descending staircases are the stuff your dreams are made of. This is also the oneiric architectural "labyrinthine" stuff of such films as "Inception" and "The Matrix". Roger Penrose "The Emperor's New Mind" and "Shadows of the Mind" has developed a theory of consciousness that involves quantum physics and computing that can be applied to understand what your mind is doing in your dreams. 

Sarah, 22 

So I go over to a guys house, he has dark short hair, and a blue/white plaid shirt and blue jeans.  I do not know him in real life. Stairs were everywhere. The family consisted of a tall man, a short skinny woman, and two girls one was 12 and the other one was 5. We go upstairs to there room and watch TV.  Climbing the stairs was no problem.  We all laid down on a soft bed and watch TV.  Downstairs we hear talking, the neighbors are over and their family consisted of a tall dark man, tall skinny dark female, and two girls about the same age as the other girls.  The younger girl had a metal black brace around her head that rest on her shoulders, and the older girl had a cast on her arm. 

I ask them what happened and the younger girl told me her sister pushed her down the stairs, and then she took a hammer and broke her sister's arm.  So the 12 year old girl wanted her 5 year old sister to like the younger neighbor girl, so she grabbed her and took her into the other room and strapped her to the table.  At this time I heard yelling and screaming and things being thrown around.  Then I heard drilling, and screaming, the older sister was drilling screws into the younger sisters head to make a brace like the other younger girl.  The parents were okay with this they torture each other all the time.  The man was standing in front of me like he was protecting me. I them woke up. I don't watch scary movies, can you please tell me what this dream means.

Mr Hagen's Reply: Upstairs, Downstairs -or- The Addams Family Meets the Parents 

Taking a very good look at the family that you might marry into and become part of when you get married seems to be well advised. There are many families to watch on TV, "All in the Family", "Married with Children" and "Upstairs, Downstairs". On film, the "Meet the Parents" franchise was quite successful at the box-office. The psychological type of parent in-laws of your dream, seem to be bent on "torturing each other all the time." Can a "scary" lesson be learned here? The family that you seem to be visiting, fits the description of "The Addams Family". 

Joe, 25 

I always have strange dreams. I recently had a dream where there was a large hare or rabbit in my mothers house...and it swallowed my mothers cat which is a vicious cat and pretty large. The cat was clawing inside the animal it was trying to escape through the mouth and the ass. Recently I ran into some financial problems and we just found out my father has cancer does it have any thing to do with that? What does this mean cause I'm really confused .... 

Mr Hagen's Reply: Dog Eat Dog World -or- The Hare that Swallowed the Cat 

The social world of childhood often becomes "anthropomorphized", and is seen through the literary optics of fables. The "personal fable" provides the archetypal background for future psychological development. The cruel animistic idea of a "dog eat dog world" is not new one. Nor is the disenchanting poetic idea of "eat or be eaten". From an archetypal perspective your story has similarities to "Jonah and the Whale". In this sense, much like the cat, is it you, who is trying to escape financial and familial problems? This dark poetic perception of such a cruel and depressing social world leaves little room for hope and light to enter this horrific dream vision story. The synoptic interpretations "Theatre of Cruelty" and "Boulevard of Brokem Dreams" discuss these problems.

Billy, 33 

I had a problem with a girl when I tried sending an SMS "Wonderful glances; missing a day I will faint". This girl is staring at me for two months and not talked yet. After sending the SMS she created problems. So I am avoiding. The dream is: She is talking over the telephone to me asking how are you and where are you? And saying; "come and I will also be coming". 

Mr Hagen's Reply: SMS Sex Fantasy -or- Reality Check for the Erotic Imagination 

Karen Horney believed that from a psychological perspective people poetically moved away, towards or against each other. While the dream indicates that in your erotic fantasy you would like this girl to provide you with imagined sexual favors, in reality "she created problems" and so you are "avoiding" her. A reality check of your wishful SMS dialogical erotic "sex object" fantasy seems indicated. 

Rachael, 35 

Yes, I don't really have a problem but would like to tell you about my dreaming situation. I am a chronic pain patient who is on a variety of medications but one medication "Cymbalta" cause me to dream very heavy. I wake up several times in the night only to go back into the same dream. And after I wake up the reality feeling of my dream lasts for several hours ,depending on the dream. This morning I felt as if I had gone through a whole day of people dying. I know the reality after I wake but still feel as if I had gone through an ordeal. I am kinda afraid that the dreams will start to affect me and sort of make me feel that I actually went through my dreams. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: Suicide is Painless -or- Killing the Pain 

Other dreams received by the IIDR have spoken about the side effects of medications on dreams. (Read dream interpretation "Side Effects"). It's sort of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't situation". You take the pain medication to "kill the pain", then your dreams take on the content of it doing just that. Proving only, that by killing the pain, the medication is just masking the pain and the return of that which is repressed takes place in your dreams. Having read the "black box warning" (risk of suicide) of your medication "duloxetine" (aka "Cymbalta"), your dreams seem to present a serious concern. 

Alexander 75, British, Retired Company Director 

I have vivid dreams each and every night. Often I am attempting to solve intricate administration problems. At times I have written and directed plays in minute detail. When I dream of my two daughters they are always approx five and seven years of age. It is as if I have two lives, one waking and one when I sleep. I almost always remember my dreams. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: You Only Twice -or- The Dreams of the Retired 

Certainly you still are trying to stay and keep your mind active by solving "intricate administration problems" and "directing plays". As you say, we all have two lives, one waking and one when we sleep. This is in part the message of Antonin Artuad in "The Theatre and its Double". From a popular music perspective Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Twice" (watch music video) conveys your sentiment of our double life while waking and sleeping. You attempt to imagine yourself as younger man where your children were approximately "five and seven years of age", these were most likely the "best years of your life" and worth remembering.

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