Compensation Theory of Dreaming

Jung, Hadfield and several other dream researchers believe the dream process is linked with homeostasis or self-regulation – the sort of self-regulation indicated in the observations of MacKenzie, means that the process underlying dream production helps keep psychological balance, just as homeostasis keeps body functions balanced by producing perspiration when hot, shivering when cold, and the almost miraculous minutiae of internal changes. Despite self-regulation or homeostasis being an obvious and fundamental process in the body, in nature and the cosmos as a whole, it still appears difficult for many people investigating the mind to accept a similar function psychologically. See: biological dream theory;computers and dreamsself-regulation dreams and fantasymovements during sleepscience sleep and dreamssleep walkingLifeStreamPeople’s Experience of LifeStreamOpening to Life

All our lives we try to achieve a balance of the contradictory opposites within us, and whether in our egos we succeed or fail, every function claimed by the ego is balanced by its opposite in the subconscious. Only in the fusion of infancy, or of sexual orgasm, or in religious ecstasy do we escape the psychic wound of division.

Put bluntly, dreams are said to compensate for conscious attitudes and personality traits. So the coldly intellectual man would have dreams expressive of feelings and the irrational as part of a compensatory process. The ascetic might dream of sensuous pleasures, and the lonely unloved child dream of affection and comfort. But this is only the most basic aspect of compensation and is demonstrated in the example below.

Somewhere within the total personality, however, there appears to be a continuing integrative force; though an individual may be overwhelmed by their life experience, some part of one’s mind still seems to observe, evaluate, comment, and even attempt to integrate this otherwise hidden material with the knowledge of conscious life. This may disappear for brief periods, when the fears or pain occurs, but for most of the time it is clearly at work. No one knows what type of ‘thinking’ this may be. It appears to be different both from ‘reality thinking’ and ‘autistic thinking,’ from the patterns of conscious thought and the imagery of fantasy a kind of bridge between two types of mental process. Lawrence Lessing, in a Fortune article on recent sleep research, has written: ‘At the same time recent evidence shows that there may well be a second, lower level of dreaming extending down even into deep sleep, consisting largely of abstract thoughts or isolated symbols, much harder to recall than the generally vivid, active imagery of rapid-eye-movement dreaming.’

Example: In his book Psychology in Service of The Soul, Leslie Weatherhead tells the story of a little girl who while on a visit to a zoo was given a coin to get a small chocolate bar from a vending machine. She eagerly asked for more coins to obtain all the bars in the machine. The mother refused. The next morning the girl said she dreamt her mother had come into her bedroom and thrown a lot of chocolate bars under her bed.

Jung’s view of compensation was far more inclusive however. He quotes, as an example the dream of an elderly general he met while sitting opposite him on a train journey. The general told Jung that he had dreamt he was on parade with younger officers while being inspected by the commander in chief. On reaching the general the commander asked him to define beauty. This surprised the general as he expected to be asked technical questions regarding his service. He was embarrassed and could not give a clear answer. The commander in chief then asked a young major the same question and received a clearer answer. The general experienced feelings of failure and his grief woke him. Jung’s questioning led the general to realise that the young major who successfully answered the query about beauty actually looked just like himself when he was that age and a major. Further questioning led to the information that at that age the general had been interested in art, but the pressure of work and the rigidity of the military life had eroded the interest. Jung goes on to suggest that the dream in his late life was helping to compensate for the one sided development necessitated by his army career. The dream in fact reminded the general of this neglected side of himself.

This concept of wholeness, linked with the Self, which such compensatory dreams connect with is best seen in the collection of many years dreams by an individual undertaking their own personal journey to self acceptance and integration. Through an overview of dreams gained in this way, the two aspects of compensation become much more clearly drawn. The dream work, aimed at meeting the neglected or hurt parts of oneself, opens the way to more pronounced compensation. A man who was investigating a feeling of lack in regard to his marriage, gives the following account.

Example: As I was exploring my feeling I suddenly began to change direction and realised that from the very earliest period of my life I had certain filters in place that influenced incoming sensory information. This had come about because I noticed how critical I was of our next-door – upstairs – neighbours, and in examining it saw that I had filters to search all information for danger. This burst open in intense feelings and awareness of being a ‘weak chick’. A powerful internal struggle and something like an ‘oh God no!’ feeling accompanied it. I then experienced what it was like to be a premature baby and so weak. Being born two months prematurely had thrown my infant self into a high state of anxious survival where everything was felt as a potential danger. So my filters were examining everything for danger. Everything that moved or made a noise was a potential threat to my existence.

At first with laughter, then with pain I saw that this had made me suspicious of my own mother. I had not fitted the ‘norm’ in terms of size, strength or behaviour, so not only had I lived with a ‘danger alert’ process going all the time, but also with the realisation I was not up to scratch. Instead of the full term child who is more adjusted to the environment I had emerged still in a condition adjusted to the womb. My psychological state was also, I felt, quite different, a sort of experience of the death world, the world before birth and after death.

Society, I felt, has a sort of labelling or measuring system. It has emerged out of biological criteria of survival and fitness, and is largely unconscious. People haven’t even acknowledged they are acting under such drives. ‘My genes are best, and everybody else’s are abnormal. But only the best of mine are going to get through’. Out of this I sensed that mothers who have children who are not ‘the best’ suffer a great internal struggle about their child. Part of them cries out, ‘That is no child of mine!’

So the people who are not seen as ‘fit’ are not given social rewards, starting with such rewards as recognition and warmth from ones own parents, and escalating from there into recognition and rewards from social groups and organisations. I personally felt as if I were not seen as fit for several reasons. My premature birth led me to be slightly less robust, and also my mixed cultural background during a time of war made me less fit. I didn’t have the right label attached. Christy D.

As can be seen, Christy feels himself much less capable and accepted by his mother than someone who has had a normal birth. He feels his premature birth left him always paces behind those born full term. He sums this up by saying:

Example: Due to constantly searching for something I had lost too soon – the security of my mother’s womb – due to feeling I never bonded with my mother, I had felt agonised most of my life that I couldn’t be an ordinary husband emotionally and sexually. I pushed and pushed to see if I could grow to this ordinariness and finally felt that I had arrived, only to find that I was too late. Not only had my wife entered the menopause and lost interest in a sexual relationship, but also my children had grown up and I had lost the huge satisfaction of being with them as youngsters. So here I am in my late fifties without a sexual relationship and without the loving contact of youngsters.

The gaps in Christy’s life are obvious, and the urge or need to compensate is also plain to see. In fact Christy has an experience that he describes as follows:

Example: I realised that because I had always felt inadequate in a certain degree, I had used religion as a means of compensation. Suddenly I saw the need for hero figures to use for compensatory purposes for individuals and groups. The person may not be able to live out some aspect of their life. They may not get a sexual partner; they may not get recognition in their work; perhaps people treat them as of no account. For some people an actual physical disability stops them from living out their life fully. The hero/ine figure is then used as an image that has several functions.

For instance nuns in a convent will not live out their ability to get married or have a child. The figure of Christ is used as a compensatory symbol for this in that they marry Christ and their passion is through meditation on his being. In this way people use a hero/ine figure to compensate for what is missing in their own life. They can live their unlived soul through the passion of Christ for instance.

The figure such as Christ represents our own wholeness and complete potential. To compensate for our own unlived areas we look to this figure and have a taste of what we are not expressing outwardly through identifying with the hero/ine. Meditations on the figure might produce great feelings of love, pain, wonder, and recognition – in fact whatever is missing in everyday relationships. The Christian festivals appear to be a way of living out via the image of Christ the passions of life that we might not meet in our everyday life. The birth, the struggle, the love, the death, can all be partaken of. We can share the passionate experience of living in this way, even though in our own actual life we might not be able to live such a passionate and eventful existence. And I suppose television does this for many people today.

At first I had a strong feeling this sort of compensation was used by people who are inadequate in some way, a path for the weak, and a path that I had taken myself. This suggested by inference that I was less capable of living a full life than most. I had a sneering feeling about how people use this as a crutch, but then realised I was judging once more. ‘I need a kick in the arse. I’ve got an ability to see, but I put all these judgements on things.’

As I looked at the situation more fully though I saw that in fact nobody lives a complete life. No one is completely whole, expressing every aspect of their potential. So in fact we all relate in some way to the Christ or other such figures who represents, or in some way ARE the total potential of human existence; a mighty example of what human life can achieve.

Now I came face to face with Christ. I felt knocked over emotionally by it. It was an experience of meeting the most amazing creature or being one could imagine. I stood in front of a god, something that totally transcended human existence. Gods are often depicted as having some great power of destruction or creativity. They might be like a human being magnified many times, with loves and hates, huge powers, throwing lightning bolts and so on. My experience didn’t show Christ as anything like this. The transcendence was in the manner of Christ’s consciousness. Here was a being with no real power in a worldly sense. This being hadn’t created the world and couldn’t influence world history through power.

The consciousness, the being of Christ, existed by a form of love so magnificent I could barely look upon it. If love is the right word, this love penetrated every living thing and absorbed their most intimate life experience. The Christ took in every aspect of existence without any judgement whatsoever. This was its life and sustenance. So one could say this wondrous creature was a sort of parasite living off the energy of life forms. But this is only a part of what I experienced. Through total acceptance it took in all. It took every tiny memory of each individual. But in return, if we can share its immense passion it offers us its own life that compared with our own is eternal.

I experienced that not only does one inherit the gift of eternal life through identification with Christ, but also we share the awareness of all life forms. Through this we participate in the life and passion of all beings present and past. As I met this I was on my knees as it were because I couldn’t help loving this wondrous being. I couldn’t help feeling my own smallness. I wanted to lose myself in this being and be washed through by its radiance and hugeness. To be in its presence was the most amazing thing. If you can imagine standing before a cosmic being that had arrived from some other galaxy, and was millions of years old, perhaps ageless, had no physical form except our own teeming lives, radiated love so much that you were engulfed in it, and simply by being in its presence shared its magnificent awareness, this might give some idea. Christy D.

Christy acknowledges his own need for compensation due to feelings of inadequacy. But he goes beyond this to see that each of us are in some measure incomplete and compensation in its largest sense is about finding awareness of the wholeness underlying our own life.

The description of compensation above is an example of something functional. To be able to survive crushing life experience is a real achievement, not an imagined one, and is therefore functional. Using an image to evoke hope and motivation doesn’t make it less of an achievement. The process of compensation also links with patterns of love and strength actually lived by others. They are then patterns remaining in the collective experience of humanity and can be accessed. When we touch these powerful racial memories we may clothe them in the image of our cultural hero or saviour.

To be clear about this, the power that is found is a release of our own potential emerging from our core self. So in this sense the compenstaory image is a graphic presentation of our own innate potential. This emerges from our unconscious clothed in whatever imagery or ideas we can accept or allow, as do dreams. It can also be evoked by using such images in a compensatory way.

See: LifeStream; biological dream theory; self-regulation dreams and fantasy; movements during sleep; People’s Experience of LifeStream; Introduction to Dreams



-Ira Kirschbaum 2012-02-17 16:12:39

Our daughter died after a long struggle with an eating disorder… perhaps related to the disorder but perhaps not. She was resistent to in house programs, but we provided all we could by way of therapy. This happened 5 years ago. My wife still has recurring dreams of guilt… if only I had done more and differently and better. There is no rational reason for this self torment. Can you help us understand how this might be compensatory? Ira Kirschbaum

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