The Presentation of Self -or- On Face-work in Dreams

Face to Face Communication -or- Facial Expressions

Face to face communication is a primary channel of communicating in everyday life. Facial expression is a primary way humans communicate with each other. Erving Goffman "Presentation of Self" studied face-to face social interaction. One of the most important psychological functions in dreams is understanding our own feelings and others, many of these feelings are expressed via our face. Goffman's concept of "face-work" can be used to understand our nightly dream-work that reviews our own as well as others everyday facial expressions and communication. 

Below are three dreams that talk about faces in different contexts. The first dream speaks of relaxation, the second about not seeing the face of a man, only feeling his presence, the third dream talks about a daughter wanting to feel a mothers hand on her face one last time. 

Harry, 26 

I had a dream that I was lying in a huge field filled with very tall grass and the sun was hitting my face. I can still feel it. It wasn't hot it was just bright and warm there was also a cool breeze that was causing the grass to move. Then, I remember putting my hands before me at arms length with my fingers spread open. As if, I was just letting little rays of sunlight hit my face. Suddenly I can see the face of a girl a beautiful girl that I have never seen even now or in real life. Now since the beginning of the dream, I felt incredible feelings of relaxation and joy but soon after her appearance, it increased dramatically the dream did not last long after that I woke up. 

Mr Hagen's Reply; Sunshine On My Shoulders -or- Visual Relaxation in Nature 

As a relaxation technique, visualization (or creating a mental image) is one of the many ways that a state of relaxation can be achieved. What better visual image to focus your attention on, than on nature? You say; "the sun was hitting your face." Adding the face of a beautiful girl only adds to relaxation and joy you feel. John Denver's song "Sunshine On My Shoulders" seems to fit the sentiment of your dream. 

Nancy, 28 

The only parts that I can remember is that I was with a man and child (the man is the person I am seeing, yet I never saw his face but I could feel his presence; and the child was mine in the dream but I do not have children). We were at a zoo or an exhibit but instead of the animals being behind glass it was all open and of course they were large snakes (I always seem to dream about snakes).  At first they were non-active and then all of a sudden they began to come after the child and me; one came through a window from outside and started to lick the child in the dream.  Out of nowhere a large knife appeared and I was able to cut off its head.  When the snake was dead the child turned into my cat. 

Mr Hagen's Reply: The Person I am Seeing -or- The Faceless Man 

The idea that you are at a zoo and there are snakes, suggests that we are dealing with animal personifications of instinctual, behaviours such as human sexuality and aggression. Said differently, the animals seem to represent feelings of love and hate. The idea that you feel the presence of the man that you are seeing, and do not see his face, may mean that you suspect your man's motives. You may also be saying that you are not yet able to read his facial expressions and feelings? Is he only interested in a physical relationship or is there more. You appear to be asking what you feel, whether you want his "presence" and his face in your life, or is the life with just you and your cat enough. The cat appears to be viewed as your baby. Killing the snake would emotionally amount to the killing of the sexual feelings that you may have for this man. Other dreams such as "Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold" sent to the IIDR speak of similar sentiments. 

Tina, 44 

My mother died 4 yrs ago. I dreamt that she was able to come back alive just for 1 day. That day we had a family dinner, we all talked and laughed and had so much fun. She told us she knew she was going to die and knew the very day (she died of a massive and unexpected heart attack). She wanted to catch up with all of us on what was going on in our lives. This is the strange thing, it was a lucid dream and I grabbed my moms hand to put on my face and it was warm! I could feel heat in my dream. That ended the dream. 

Mr Hagen's Reply; The Perfect Day -or- A Mother's Touch 

Other dreams such as "Singing the Body Electric" show the emotional importance of touch in dreams. Your desire to feel your Mom's warmth on your face, is poetic shorthand for feeling her love. It seems to me that the re-worked children's charity song "Perfect Day" fits the sentiment of your dream. Your mom has given to you, and you have spent the perfect day with your mom. The dream has given you the opportunity to touch and say good-bye face to face. (watch the "Perfect Day" music video)

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