Saturday 26 March 2016

A Recurring Nightmare: Concluding Post

Suki, a young Japanese-American doctor, has been experiencing a recurring nightmare ever since she was a child. Her dream is about being chased by a monster. Scroll down and look at my last posts to read how she and I came to understand that her dream had to do with her ambivalence about growing up as a Japanese girl in the USA. What follows is her commentary on that experience.

Suki’s description of growing up in America as a Japanese girl
 “Actually, at times it was kind of confusing. I spoke Japanese at home with my parents, and that was OK. But then I’d go to American schools where I learned to think, act and talk like Americans. I thought that would help me fit in, but I never really looked like the other American kids. Then I’d go to Japan in the summer where I looked right, but all my gestures, speech patterns and priorities were wrong for them.”

More dialogue between Suki and me
The more she thought about it, the more Suki understood that this confusion in her life had led to the “monster” that seemed to be wanting to destroy her. “I guess I’ve never really figured out who I am,” she said, pensively. “It’s all been about trying to fit in to someone else’s image of what and who I am supposed to be. Am I American? Am I Japanese? Am I some sort of weird hybrid? It’s really kind of strange.”

Another topic we discussed was why this issue expressed itself as a dream. That was easier for Suki. “Are you kidding me? Have you ever had contact with a traditional Japanese family? The whole idea of ‘talking out your feelings’ is completely alien; it just doesn’t exist.” But the issue of her personal identity had been looming large in Sukis’ subconscious ever since she was a child. The issue was demanding resolution, and for that to happen, it needed her to be consciously aware of the problem. So it manifested in her life as a recurring nightmare, a “monster” that kept chasing her.

Finally, we talked about what dreams do for the most part. She was curious about the fact that this dream had followed her all through life. Did dreams usually deal with long-term conflicts? I pointed out that dealing with long-term issues was certainly one of their functions, but only if the long-term conflict had not been resolved. I told her that dreams deal in the now. Dreams can either be about short- or long-term issues, but only if the issue is still relevant—like her monster. If there was resolution somewhere along the way—even subconsciously—it was unlikely that it would be expressed as a dream.

Next week I’ll be looking at a fascinating pair of waking dreams that were going on concurrently in the dreamer’s busy professional life. As a reminder, waking dreams are disconcerting experiences we have during the day while we are wide awake. Stay tuned!

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