Robert Winer, M.D.

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DREAMS: Julia's dream


My late teenage sister sat next to me at my middle school lunch table; we were across from some of my socializing friends. I was acutely aware that she was sick and bald as she had been, and that she and I weren’t talking. I felt isolated somehow, until she suddenly looked at the girls across from us with an expression that managed to remain serene; it said, “don’t mess with my little sister.” We drew closer together and that constant void which I bear was crushed in the dream. She was my sister, and I was hers. And I didn’t need friends. (I’ve been depressed off and on since my sister’s death by cancer 3.5 years ago.)


I’ll tell you what comes to my mind as I reflect on this dream, to illustrate how an analyst might think.

The dream appears to occur in the context of a young woman’s continuing struggle with feelings raised by her older sister’s death a few years ago. The chronology suggests that Julia might now be a teenager, perhaps in high school. It would appear that she might have experienced her sister as an important protective figure and that she feels lonely and vulnerable without her. There is a suggestion that Julia feels socially isolated, perhaps actively excluded by her peers, and that she misses her sister’s support at times like these. (Which doesn’t exclude the possibility that her sister might have ignored her, and that the dream represents a wished-for relationship.) Her phantasy in the dream is that her sister is present to watch over her, and so she doesn’t need friends (who can let you down, or hurt you) and she’s fine.

Usually dreams are prompted by some event of the prior day that stirred conflicted feelings. I could imagine, for example, that Julia might have felt rejected by a peer (or peers) the day before; the person might have been a friend, but also might not have been one. Hearing this dream in a session, if Julia didn’t volunteer a context for the dream, I would likely ask about the previous day.

I imagine that Julia is past middle school now. (For one thing, the dream is much too well written for a middle schooler.) We all know that negotiating the social networks of middle school is often a harrowing experience. Peer cruelty seems worst at this age, especially for girls. So I am imagining that yesterday’s experience might have been a reprise of some painful experiences from that time, and I would ask about that. It might lead us to a useful discussion of what she went through during those years.

Some details: Julia speaks of “socializing friends,” not “friends who were socializing.” This suggests that her world might be divided into people who easily socialize (others) and people who are more isolated (imaginably, her). I was struck by the statement that she and her sister weren’t talking. This raises the possibility that her relationship with her sister might have become problematic toward the end (and that the dream imagines overcoming that). I would listen for that, and if that seemed plausible, and if she seemed ready to open that subject, I’d ask about it. I’m next caught by the phrase “managed to remain serene,” wondering about “managed.” Remaining serene seems to require effort – is she alluding to her own efforts to contain her feelings and not lash out? The idea of a void being “crushed” seems an odd metaphor (you can’t crush nothingness) – the word suggests aggressive feelings, perhaps the consequence of feeling socially isolated or rejected. Her phantasy at the end is that if her sister were with her she could feel completed, protected from the threat of loneliness.

I would like to stress that these thoughts are simply my associations to the dream, as it was presented to me, with no other knowledge of the dreamer (beyond some evidence that she writes well and is internet savvy!). If I were sitting with her I would treat these thoughts as hypotheses, possibilities to be further pursued, reexamined, or contradicted. As a therapist I don’t try to work toward certain knowledge, I look for plausibility. A good idea, for me, is one that seems plausible, given the evidence, an idea that can be pursued in the course of our dialogue.