WHAT FOLLOWS THE DREAM WORK
In our second session, Ms. P related that she had had a vivid dream the night before. She mentioned that she, “rarely, if ever”, remembers her dreams and that what surprised her most was the dream’s vibrant intensity. She declared, almost in passing, that she was in a foreign country, Afghanistan she believed and that there is no fighting going on and that she is standing in a crowd of people with her first ex-girlfriend. I notice that she has moved from the passive-past tense to the present where there is an auctioneer selling a small baby, who after closer inspection is revealed to be cranky and sun burnt with a worn-looking old man’s face. The patient’s ex-girlfriend whispers to her to buy the baby but she remembers feeling queasy and unsettled by the baby’s appearance and does not want to buy the baby. Suddenly, Ms. P stops, looks down at the floor and remains silent. I remember initially being struck, and even more so as our worked progressed, with the dispassionate, disconnected way in which she related important information about herself.
Ms.P, a thirty-six year old single, gay, female, with no prior psychotherapy experience, came to therapy due to relationship difficulties after her second girlfriend broke up with her. Both girlfriends were chronic alcoholics. After the most recent breakup, she quit her job as an administrator in a hospital and moved back in with her parents. She described herself as passive and feeling like she needed to please others while denying her own needs. Her mother, also described as a passive woman, never worked and spent her time “doing what my father wanted”. Her father, a minister, was described as a critical, rigid, con-
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of 31
trolling man who purported to exemplify positive religious traits but denied or did not deal with others’ less “holy” traits.
When questioned about her thoughts regarding this dream, she replied that she had none and had ”absolutely no idea’‘what it could mean keeping her eyes glued to the floor. After another enquiry she shrugged her shoulders and murmured that it was weird that she was in Afghanistan. While exploring her thoughts regarding Afghanistan, it became apparent that she associated Afghanistan as a hostile place and with September 11th and its potential for war. When I commented on her associations to Afghanistan as a hostile place but that she did not represent it that way in the dream, she smiled, seemingly understanding the connection I had in mind about her need to deny hostile feelings. She remained silent for a few minutes and then said she always tries to make peace even if she feels angry doing so. She went on to discuss her need in current relationships to deny her hostile feelings, especially with her father and that she had been finding herself wanting to argue with him a great deal recently. Her father, described as “a hypocritical righteous man,” seemed to be represented in the dream as the baby and she being asked to “buy” his demand for passivity, represented in the dream by her struggle with complicity to her girlfriend’s request. This girlfriend, like her father, reportedly often flew into vitriolic rages when the patient tried to stand up for herself in heated discussions. In further associations to what she was being asked to buy, she associated to the word “buy” itself and mentioned that since her two lesbian relationships had not worked out she wondered if she would have more luck dating a man. Combined, her style of presenting intense material in a dispassionate lackluster manner and her thoughts regarding dating a man, with a baby in the dream, revealed transferential feelings regarding me and the question of what might develop between us and inside her. Further, I was likely represented as the auctioneer leading me to question her concern with what she might be asked to buy in our work. Thus, her use of the word “buy” alerted me to its multiple functions and how the patient used it to express her unconscious and conscious conflicts.
32 The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Through successive work on the dream it became apparent that this patient had a difficult time speaking her mind when she felt in disagreement with others in even minor ways. Thus, through the dream work and the detached manner in which the dream was told, I realized she was telling me about herself in a way she could not do in a conscious manner. What she “bought” was a picture of herself, needing to be passive and taking care of the other while disowning her own feelings for fear that the other would abandon her. We came to understand this style of interacting as a compromise between denying or defending against her own rage and against aspects of herself that she felt she, and others, did not approve of. By way of disavowing aspects of herself she expressed them in a passive-aggressive manner within relationships, thereby unconsciously causing the dissolution of the very relationships she consciously feared would dissolve. Our work, foreshadowed by the dream, thus began to focus on how the patient could express less “pure” aspects of herself without having to completely ameliorate or deny them, thereby leading to a wider range of compromise formations.