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Four Fears That Prevent Our Learning From Dreams - And What To Do About Them - by Ron Masa, Ph.D.

Why do so many people wonder what their dreams mean ... but never actually find out? If our "dreams are nightly letters from God" as Jung's student, von Franz argued, why are so few bothering to read their mail?

While most people are curious about their dreams - most people are also afraid of their dreams. They sense that dreams are powerful and truth filled. The way many people act, Jack Nicholson's famous character (Colonel Jessep) might as well be referring to our dreams when he growls: "You can't handle the truth!"

Dreams convey profound truths that we have not yet noticed or admitted to ourselves. Asking what your dream means is a little like asking the doctor what your x-rays reveal. Sometimes we do - and at the same time really do Not - want to know what is going on inside us. Dreams are nightly x-rays of our whole psyche; they reveal interior facts in a cryptic form it takes expert help to decode. And the news could be good or not so very.

The truly good news is that every dream guides us toward health and wholeness. Every dream contains some form of hope, offers some strategy of adaptation, reveals some pathway to improvement. No dream ever arrives to mock or shame or demoralize. Dreams always affirm life.

But truth can liberate and truth can frighten. Poet David Whyte describes poetry - a close cousin of dreaming - as "the art of overhearing yourself say things from which you can never retreat." Once we overhear the truths in our dreams, they may not allow us to retreat into ignorance.

Four kinds of fear can oppose our healthy curiosity about the wisdom in dreams:

  1. Fear of the Dreaming Experience: Some people fear the experience of dreaming itself. One man never recalled dreams because he found them "just too crazy ... you might be driving to work and then your car could begin to fly, why anything could happen!" I suggested he make a deal with his unconscious: He would recall dreams and work on them, if and only if, the makers of dream would send him less scary ones; which they immediately did. I have used this request successfully myself when my dreams seemed too intense or disturbing. Even our nightmares are constructive messages that are cloaked in a dramatic form designed to get our attention.

  2. Fear of Dream Meanings: The reason we are advised to "know thyself" is because we don't. Since our dreams know us from the inside out, people may dread hearing bad news. Some people who love dream work and have always received affirming guidance, still have to fight their own resistance to show up for dream sessions. Mental defenses - like denial, repression and suppression - involve actively forgetting the very sort of content our dreams help us remember. Dreams offer an "end run" around the defense of self-ignorance, but dream work may be resisted for that very reason. It's very helpful to know that dreams bring us the news we really need to know about ourselves, and they do so only when we are ready to hear it. The dream worker's focus on growth and healing can reassure dreamers and reduce anxiety. In truth, our dreams love us more than we love them.

  3. Fear of Being Seen: Why do we sometimes find ourselves naked in public in our dreams? Because we humans like to cover and hide our private lives just as we do our bodies. We want social approval but dread criticism; what if my dream reveals to others something awful about me? In recovery it's said: "We are only as sick as our secrets." Being seen can be embarrassing - but it is also fundamentally validating and healing for humans to be known and accepted; we are social animals. Dream groups offer a safe opportunity to be seen at the rate one is ready for. Without pressure, group sharing and acceptance is part of what heals and grows us. Some dreamers prefer our telephone and email dream groups because they can connect with others in safer, more comfortable ways and still benefit tremendously. Our relief at being accepted is as great as our fear of being seen and is the best cure for this fear.

  4. Fear of Ourselves: We all have secrets; some that we keep from others and some that we keep from ourselves. Jung's concept of the Shadow refers to those qualities that we keep our ego (or conscious self) from knowing. For example, long after it's obvious to everyone around them, many alcoholics don't know they have a drinking problem. That's why admitting it to self and others by announcing it in meetings is so important in Alcoholics Anonymous (whose formation was influenced by Jung).

  5. We all have a shadow of denied selfhood and part of dream work includes becoming more fully aware of who we are. This calls for courage as well as curiosity. Dream work can be scary, but so is asking for a job you really want or telling someone you love them; scary and valuable. Good dream groups create a safe and supportive context for self discovery. The only thing worse than learning our own secrets ... is knowing how visible they are to everyone else while we remain in the dark.

    Learning our hidden truths releases us from the primary causes of shame, from the failures they create, and from fear itself. And, those higher potentials within us, our "white shadow" may be more hidden from us than our weaknesses. Dreams bring us important truths, some very good news, and a chance to be whole again. Can you handle the truth?

    Ron Masa, Ph.D. wrote columns and articles on dreams while in private practice for 25 years. He and Debbie Hart co-lead the University Of Yourself: "Helping You Hear the Guide Inside". Click here,_Ph.D.