Characters or People in Dreams
Harry Bosma, who produces the best selling Alchera dream interpretation software, says of characters:
There must have been some dreams that made you wonder why some known person showed up in it. Especially if you haven’t seen that person for years. I have this all the time. Everyone I ever met in my life keeps showing up in my dreams. I can’t blame day residue for it. If somebody appears in my dream, there has to be a special reason for it.
I’ve been entering characters in my symbol book for a long time. Let me introduce you to a few. There’s Peter, one of my strongest helpers. He showed up riding on a horse in my ‘Cracking The Ice’ dream. Riding the horse he managed to crack the ice on a small lake, something I was unable to do on my own. I had to think for a while before I understood exactly why he appeared in my dream. Peter went to the same elementary school as I. One thing I eventually remembered about him was his inventiveness. Having realised that I use the appearance of Peter in a dream as a clue to consider whether I need to think of a more ingenious approach to an issue I am confronting.
There’s Frits, whose role I only recently got to understand. I could never see any pattern in the dreams he appeared in. Frits is a high school acquaintance, somebody who was often around, even though we weren’t really friends. I never fully understood it at the time. But it recently hit me that he was especially around when I was rebelling against the boredom of high school. He was having fun whenever I broke the rules, or did something else exciting. With that insight, looking back at the dreams, there is a pattern. Whenever my behaviour in a dream is more active than usual, he is around. He is the part that is having fun, because I’m not aware that I’m having fun myself.
Apart from defining how you see one of your dream characters, and what relationship you have had to them in the past, as Harry suggests, it helps to simply consider how you feel about them, what characteristics are most important or noticeable to you. But occasionally it isn’t what you see in their own character, but what you feel about them. For instance a person who has frequently appeared in my dreams is a woman called Ann. I felt a lot of sexual attraction to Ann – although she may have felt nothing for me – and she appears in my dreams whenever loving feelings or closeness are being dealt with.
A man I used to work for, Leo, has appeared in dreams where a problem regarding outer activity was concerned. So Leo has represented difficulties I face in the world.
But many characters in dreams are not people you have ever met or known, not even characters from films, plays or books. So you cannot look back on them and ask yourself what you observed or felt about them. In such cases it is most helpful to imagine yourself as that character and describe who you are, exactly as you are and how you act in the dream – as the dream character. As an example of this, one character in a dream, an old man, was dying. He was nobody I knew. When I imagined myself as him and described what I felt, and what was happening to me, it was clear he represented the experience I was facing at the time of letting my old life, my old self, die. This was difficult but it was happening, and the dream helped me clarify what I was facing. At the time I had given up running groups and being a therapist. So it was a whole new way of life and felt like a death.
One of the most helpful ways to find the qualities of a dream character is to give them a name. For instance you might basically feel that a man you have seen or know slightly seems a practical outwardly capable person. So you could give him the name of Mr. Practical. Mr Practical therefore is your ability in dealing with everyday life, or outward activities. There could also be Mr Sexy, Miss How Do I Look, and so on. Naming characters gets easier if you stand in their role imaginatively as described above. It may help to read Talking As or even Being the Person or Thing.
But remember that a word in a sentence changes meaning, even subtly as it is placed in a different context. The word light, for instance, can be used by saying, “I switched on the light.” Or we can say, “I felt very light-hearted.” Or even, “There was no light.”
Each of these brings about a different sense of surroundings or events. Similarly, the context of a character in your dream may change what you have defined of his or her qualities. So you must look to the context to get the final understanding as to what you dream character indicates in that particular dream.
A person who appeared in many of my dreams was a woman named Su. My relationship with Su was one in which I had been trying to learn to love her without being possessive or grasping. So in my dreams she always seemed to depict my attempts to love in that way, or my attempts to learn a fuller love.
In one dream Su is shown paddling a dingy to a local town, where I am going to meet her. But there were difficulties about this. At the time of the dream I was dealing with a lot of people in very direct relationships, and Su in this dream shows that I still haven’t ‘met’ or integrated the ability to love without grasping or wanting to posses. The difficulty in the dream suggests that I find it difficult to express this more open love.
In a later dream, experienced just after I had led a weekend activity, I dreamt Su was visiting or with us. But she didn’t look like Su at all, being dark, indecisive and a weaker personality. I was talking with her, or just with her, when I realised that Mike (a close friend) was upstairs with Brenda. He had arrived back from America. I wanted him to meet Su. I wanted to hug him, but I also wanted Su to see me do this. So although I hug him with love, there was also something of the purposely done thing about it.
Here Su is actually with me, in my house, so this is an entirely different context than with the previous dream. This shows a fuller integration with unconditional love. But the part at the end where I hope Su will see me ‘loving’ Mike points out that I am still moved by desires for acclaim and public attention.
So to summarise, consider each character and discover what qualities, faults, weaknesses or strength they depict for you. Give them a name, as this helps you remember their quality. But look to the context of the dream to find the detailed and changing expression of what the character depicts.
It could also help enormously if you used the technique of Talking as a Character.
An example of another aspect of self
I quote a rather long example to show how it is obviously the man’s conflict within him.
Example: In a dream I had been talking with, or in some way communicating with a man who I seemed to respect, perhaps as one would respect a teacher. He had asked me to go up into what I felt was an attic to retrieve something. The attic, I seemed to know, was quite high above me. Unlike the attic in many houses there was not a passage or room underneath it to make access easy.
I realised I needed a torch because the attic would be dark, and I had in my left hand one of those cylindrical, rubber coated torches. I was just about to begin the ascent to the attic, when a man on my left, a rather more heavily built, shorter, and rougher looking man, grabbed at the torch. I realised that he wanted it to go into the attic. I felt completely in opposition to this, and grabbed his hand with my right hand, levering it off the torch. This woke me because I was in fact struggling with my own left-hand. I had hold of my left little finger, and was bending it backward viciously. This amused me because it was so obviously a personal conflict – a struggle between my left and right hands, between my more refined and less refined self.
I explored the dream and the following is verbatim record of it.
I wish to explore the less defined man in the dream where I struggle for the torch.
The man: I’m not a man who easily puts things into words. I find this difficult. I’m someone who lives through my body more than my thoughts. But I feel as if I had enough of being overlooked, of not being taken notice of. I am angry. No one is asking me to go and look in the attic, so the only way I can express myself is to try to grab the torch. This is a direct sort of way of saying what I want.
I want to be given the chance. I want to be seen. I’ve being holding myself back and I don’t want to do that any more. I’m going to reach out for the things that I want. It’s not everyday that I have such a strong urge. Mostly I will just get on with the things that need doing even though nobody notices me or gives me any praise. But I don’t want to be like that any more. I want to stand equal with others, even though I am different. I’m not like Tony who lives a lot of his life in his thoughts.
(I am now asking this dream character – myself – who he is. I want to be able to recognise him in myself.)
The man: As I said, I am not very good with words. I don’t have any words to say who I am. My guess is that for most of my life I have just accepted that I do what I am asked to do. I get on with what is in front of me, and I suppose this is because I’ve never thought there was anything different to that. I never felt that I had any right to be any different.
(So I am now asking this character what it is he begins to feel himself to be.)
The man: I feel myself to be a strong man. Perhaps I’m a man with rather strong feelings that are not very subtle. But I exist. I want to have as much recognition, as much right to choices as other people. I feel ready to fight for what I want. Maybe that’s the only way I know of getting things.
I think my talents are that I can do as I am asked. I can work and work, on and on, without question. I have worked like that all my life. I haven’t questioned that need, that drive.
I’m not questioning it now, I just wanted to be allowed more fully into was happening.
As myself I feel this is a part of me that has enabled me to work year after year without any bitterness or difficulty. It is a talent in me that enables me to stick at a task year after year. The thinking, planning part of me sets the task, and then this patient and working part of me just gets on with it. I am therefore curious as to what the task before us is in connection with the attic. I have no problem about sharing that, but I will fight if somebody tries to take control without agreement.
Couple: Depending on the context of the couple in the dream, they can represent the dreamers parents and the family situation and environment at the age of the couple portrayed; if the dreamer has been married, can depict the dreamer’s marriage situation at the age of the couple; hopes for a relationship; possible outcomes of a relationship; friendship; partnership; some sort of relationship.
Each person we spend time with, fall in love with, make love to or grow up with, or even animals, we develop an incredible and often invisible bond. For instance many women and men write and ask why they keep dreaming of partners, parents of even old friends they have moved on from. You keep dreaming about your dead husband, your ex from years ago or old friends because while you lived with them you experienced millions of memories, situations, conflict and learning experiences. So you carry them with you as memories, lessons learnt, love or anger still trying to find a way of being absorbed.
So in a way it is not your husband, ex or others you are dealing with but yourself. We cannot have a mass of experience with someone and move away without it influencing us. Life is, in a very real way, a learning experience, and every new experience has to be fitted into what we are learning. See Digest and Absorb.
Group of people: A group of people, as in Ivor’s dream below, can depict how one meets the pressure of social norms; public opinion. See: crowd.
Large crowds: Enormous involvement of self in issue; ones relationship or feelings about the social environment one lives in; in groups we have a feeling of being looked at or on view – how we relate to that may be depicted by what we are doing in the dream group. See: party; roles.
Example: I imagined myself in the role of the old man in my dream and hoped it would show me what is good in my life. That was why I was digging the bulbs up. As the old man I felt shriveled up, ageing, old. (I am in fact 55). From those feelings of ageing I wanted something to look forward to, something hopeful. Something of a resistance emerged to younger people as I was feeling this. I want to push them away because I cannot – or feel I cannot – partake of their pleasures and opportunities. I feel this is a young person’s world and I feel I cannot have it. This produces in me a feeling of vulnerability, rather as one might feel when ill, sensitive to the push and shove of things. So I want to see what is good in my life, what pleasure there is or might be in it. Is there something hopeful to live for. I feel as if I am shriveling up. So I dig up the bulbs.
What I do with these feelings is to erect a sense that younger people look at me and see me as a somewhat serious, miserable old bastard, someone who has no links with their life or way of life. So I close myself off from the opportunities that might be there. There is something more than the anger and isolation going on in the dream though. It is about living the person that I am now. And I do find this confusing, living the me now. I want to clarify that.
For instance the person I am now, rather than the person I am from all the past experiences of pain, does not have the limitations usually imposed by the sense of ageing. The dream recently of a woman I worked with, W., shows me sexuality very alive and functioning. I had sex with her in the dream. I see this shows my female self as fully alive.
People from our past: Considering that the major part of our learning and experience occur in relationship to other people, such learning and experience can be represented by characters from the past. For instance a first boyfriend in a dream would depict all the emotions and struggles we met in that relationship, and what we learned from it or took away from it in terms of fears. Therefore dreaming often of people we knew in the past would suggest the past experiences or lessons are very active at the moment, or we are reviewing those areas of our life. A woman who had emigrated to Britain from a very different cultural background frequently dreamt, even twenty years afterwards, of people she knew in her native country. This shows her still very much in contact with her own cultural values and experiences.
As social relationship is one of the most important factors outside of personal survival – and survival depends upon it – such dreams help us to clarify our individual contact with society. Human beings have an unconscious but highly developed sense of the psychological social environment. Ivor’s dream shows something we are all involved in – how we are relating to humans collectively. Are we in conflict with group behaviour and direction; do we conform, but perhaps have conflict with our individual drives; do we find a way between the opposites? Much of our response is laid down in childhood and remains unconscious unless we review it.
Example: ‘Walking alone through a small town. I was heading for a place that a group of people, in a street parallel to mine, were also heading for. A person from the group tried to persuade me that the RIGHT way to get to the place was along the street the group was walking. I knew the street did not matter, only the general direction. The person was quite disturbed by my independence. It made him or her feel uncertain to have their leader apparently questioned. I felt uncertain too for a moment.’ Ivor S.
In some dreams, a group of people represent what is meant by the word God. This may sound unlikely, but the unconscious, because it is highly capable of synthesis, often looks at humanity as a whole. Collectively humanity has vast creative and destructive powers that intimately affect us as individuals. Collectively it has performed miracles that looked at as an individual, appear impossible. How could a little human being build the great pyramid, or a space shuttle? The Bible echoes this concept in such phrases as ‘Whatever you do to the least of one of these, you do to me.’
Example: ‘I was outdoors with a group of people acting as leader. We were in the middle of a war situation with bullets playing around us. Maybe aeroplanes were also attacking. I was leading the group from cover to cover, avoiding the bullets. Paul W.
Despite feeling attacked, either by external events, or from inner conflicts, Paul is using leadership skills to deal with his own fears and tendencies. If a friend told us he had just had an argument with his wife and was going to leave her, we might sit down and counsel them by listening and helping them to sort out the hurt feelings from their long term wishes. We might point out they had felt this way before but it passed – in other words give feedback they had missed. In a similar way, our various emotions and drives often need this sort of skill employed by ourselves. This unifies us, leading to coping skills as in Paul’s dream.