Soul Sessions by CreativeMind

How to Use Dream Work for Personal Growth

September 12, 2023 Debra Berndt Maldonado and Robert Maldonado PhD Life Coach Training and Personal Transformation Experts Season 7 Episode 178
Soul Sessions by CreativeMind
How to Use Dream Work for Personal Growth
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Our series on Jungian Psychology continues with a discussion on dream work. Learning dream interpretation is like learning a new symbolic language, and there is so much to gain from doing so.  We explore:

  • The difference between Freud & Jung’s dream work
  • How to use dream work for personal growth
  • An exercise to help recall dreams
  • How to interpret dreams


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How to Use Dream Work for Personal Growth Transcript

INTRO  00:00

Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin. 

Debra Maldonado  00:28 

Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions. I am Debra Berrndt Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. We’re continuing our series on this episode of Jung’s philosophy. We're talking about dreams today. Before we begin, I do want to remind you, if you’re listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, all those wonderful podcast services, please don't forget to subscribe to our channel. So dreams, we're not talking about reaching your dreams, we're talking about actual dreams.

Robert Maldonado  01:00

We talked about Carl Jung's personality types and psychological types. Then we talked about the bigger aspect of the collective unconscious in our types. Now we get to dreams. We talked about a little bit of mythology on the last episode. Dreams follow in those footsteps of mythology because they represent the personal myth. It’s a way for you to experience your personal mythology.

Debra Maldonado  01:39

I always think of dreams as this other part of yourself that's having another experience besides the waking life. It's like another life that you're experiencing. Many times it has no bounds, it doesn't have the same rules that we have here. Just another way our psyche is expressing itself.

Robert Maldonado  01:58

There's a quote by Jung where he says modern people forget that the way God used to speak to people was through dreams. You see it in the Bible, you see it in the Quran, you see it in many Hindu scriptures and epics. Dreams were a gateway into the divine or the way the divine expressed itself through human nature. Very powerful elements that we're not saying, that's the reality, or that's the truth right there. That's the way ancient people understood the dreams. But Jung gives us a way to understand them psychologically. If there is the collective unconscious that’s the reservoir of humanity's experiences, then we're drawing from that well of wisdom through dreams.

Debra Maldonado  03:00

You'll notice dreams aren't limited to your personal experience. A lot of people relate their dreams to everyday life. They had a dream about their school, when they were kids, or childhood home, or the work stress. I have a zoom nightmare sometimes. But we're talking about these weird dreams that we are like “Where did we come up with that? What part of our mind created that?”

Robert Maldonado  03:25

I did a lot of work with families. When I’d speak to the kids in the families, I’d ask them “What do you dream about at night?” Incredibly rich and mythological symbols in their dreams. What happens is, as they're growing up, the adults in the family usually don't know how to help them interpret and understand what the messages that are coming through in the dreams mean, therefore they start to not pay attention to them. Gradually, by the time they're older kids, teens, and young adults, they've forgotten about those important experiences in the night through dreams. It's a shame because you can cultivate children's attention to their dreams by simply acknowledging it and just talking about them, helping them talk about it, draw images, experience those things in a meaningful way. That was my experience. I grew up in a family that they had some great dreamers in it. They understood the importance of dreams and the connection to native traditions in Mexico and the great Southwest, in the America and North America. I always paid attention, I always kept a record, I always tried to interpret my dreams. Once I got to school, I headed straight for the depth psychology department. Whoever was doing those kind of studies and looking at those things, that’s where I hung out. I got to an introduction to the scientific understanding of dreams.

Debra Maldonado  05:16

Did you originally study Freudian dream interpretation or Jungian dream interpretation?

Robert Maldonado  05:23

Initially, Freud, because Freud is still considered the father, or the godfather, or the grandfather of psychology. Anybody that develops a new psychology has to pay homage to Freud and compare it to his thought, how it compares to the work he did. We go back to 1898-99, Freud completes his book on dream interpretation. He's about 40 years old at that time, but he waits to the year 1900, being the great promoter that he was, he knew it would have more of an impact perhaps, a symbolic turn of the century, and here's a new psychology about dreams. Unfortunately, the book was a flop in his time, it only sold a few hundred copies. But we know it today, we're still talking about it, because as time went on, as he developed his psychoanalytic theories and promoted his work, his interpretation of dreams became a staple of psychology. We owe a lot to Freud, we should not dismiss his work. But of course, his heir apparent at the time — he was ready to hand the mantle over to Carl Jung — Jung at that time started publishing his own ideas. There was a big break, because Jung was more interested in the mystical and the comparative religious symbolism he was seeing in his patients’ and his own dreams. Freud was very cautious about appearing to be mystical in any way because he was trying to establish psychology as a science, or psychoanalysis as a scientific approach to the mind. They had a big break. What is the difference between Freud and Jung as far as the dreamwork? Definitely that Freud only saw the psyche as a personal matter. Anything that came from your unconscious mind was about your personality, your experiences, your mother, your father, your work, very personal, whereas Jung, because of his understanding, or in his model, included the collective unconscious, which is that repository of symbols, images, experiences of all humanity, his work with dreams is very different. We were getting into archetypal realms of these numinous symbols, as he calls them, arising from the unconscious and having a direct influence on human behavior, human culture, human society.

Debra Maldonado  08:48

Freud still talks about myths, like the Oedipus complex, and the dreams, but they weren't interpreted as universal, they're more interpreted as symbolic in that way. Jung would say there's a bigger picture here. There's something more profound happening than just you dealing with your mommy issues or complexes. There's something more profound happening on there.

Robert Maldonado  09:12

Again, we’re simplifying Freud's contribution because if you read some of his work, he's suggesting that there is a connection to mythology, to ancient history, but he shies away from acknowledging it openly.

Debra Maldonado  09:32

I wonder if he really was curious about what Jung was doing but wanted to market himself as a scientist, and that held him back. Maybe unconsciously, or subconsciously as he would say, he prevented himself from opening up that can of worms where Jung was more ready and open to explore more of the psyche in that way.

Robert Maldonado  09:54

Although Jung himself didn't publish his Red Book until after his death. He left instructions not to publish the Red Book until well after his death.

Debra Maldonado  10:07

It's so interesting. What can we do with dreams? The everyday person that just wants to have a better life, wants to have more spiritual connection to their deeper selves, how can dreams contribute to that?

Robert Maldonado  10:23

There's two levels, because you only saw the persona, the over identification as persona, the mask, our social role is paying attention to dreams in a sense, because dreams have this compensatory function for our conscious attitude from the unconscious, like homeostasis is a balancing act that’s taking place in the ordinary world of everyday life. Your personality is always being balanced out by the dreams, by the unconscious, giving you hints. Now, even if you're not aware of dreams, even if you're not paying attention to dreams, just the fact that you dream at night will tend to balance out your personality. Let's say, we've seen this very clearly in some people we've worked with, when they have very logical, strict jobs, let's say they're accountants or those careers that demand structure. Often, the dreams are very colorful, mystical, full of symbolic creative expressions, to balance out their persona, the way they present themselves in the world.

Debra Maldonado 11:52

Even the perfectionist, they’d have a lot of messiness in their dreams, dealing with the messiness. 


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Debra Maldonado  12:54

Another compensation I see a lot is we're not taught to express our anger. We’re not even conscious that we have anger. We have dreams where people are angry at us, or there's a lot of anger in the dream. When that shows up, it's like “Am I expressing anger? Am I in touch with my own anger in my conscious life?” It's a way for our psyche to say this needs to be more integrated because when you're off balance, you can exhaust yourself, you can actually harm your body, if you're repressing a lot of anger. It’s happening on the unconscious level, your body is hanging on to that energy, you're not able to even consciously perceive it. Dreams are a great way to see where we're off balance. There's also been ways to restore health, the famous dreams people have of knowing there was a health issue happening. It’s telling us symbolically “You need to do this or that to bring yourself back into balance.”

Robert Maldonado  13:59

We can see that one of Jung’s contribution to dream work was this idea of compensation. It seems to hold true because as we work with people, we see this in active practice, the dreams are performing this function very well. But the second level he talks about is dreams as a guide to the individuation process. Now it takes it to a whole other level.

Debra Maldonado  14:31

Not just fixing surface issues. This is the life journey that you're on, your personal myth, basically.

Robert Maldonado  14:38

Individuation is the process of transformation that each individual can undergo and is meant to undergo but because there are no social structures to guide people through this process, people miss out on this opportunity, they don't fulfill their destiny in this sense, they're not able to transcend their persona. The ego persona, from Jung's perspective, is a temporary function. It helps us survive in the world. Then it helps us fit into society by creating the persona. But he says that's not the whole aim of humans as a human life. It is to transcend then the persona. Transcending is what he called individuation.

Debra Maldonado  15:37

First part of life is building up the ego, having conditioned defenses and responses to survive. The second part of life is letting the ego go, transcending it. The difference between Jungian work and Freudian is that Freudian is about making the ego better, shining it up, where Jung talks about transcending the ego. There’s another self besides the ego identity, the self identity we call I personality, we're so much more than our personality types. We are a deeper, more profound self. That is what he wanted to lead people to experience, which is the universal, unlimited self that people talk about. Striving to access that is what individuation is. It's not individualism, it’s more individuating. You are becoming your own self from your conditioning, which was formed by society, culture, life experiences, you're actually making a choice as to who you want to become versus managing this self identity in the past that you become.

Robert Maldonado  16:41

To put it bluntly, as he did sometimes, the herd mentality. You’re individuating from the herd mentality. Instead of following the rules of society and going along because everyone else is doing it, you're starting to think for yourself and finding inspiration from within you. He says dreams take on a very different role than the ordinary compensation function. Dreams become a map or guide. I always think of it as how the headlights of the car illuminate the road up ahead. Dreams serve this function. As you start to individuate, your dream life is illuminating what is coming up in your inner work. It's illuminating what's ahead.

Debra Maldonado  17:38

To distinguish, because I get this question a lot from our students, from clients, is it predicting the future? People often take their dreams literally. They don't see it as a symbolic interpretation because many times people in the dreams are someone in their waking life. They think “That person's leaving me, or this person is angry at me, or I'm going to lose my job.” But what is the symbolism here? Looking beyond just what the dream is, is literally saying and understanding what is really happening. When we think about it from individuation, these are the things that are ahead of you in your own process and your own psyche’s process versus looking at just life events in general, like the outer life. It is the inner world we're becoming versus “this is going to happen next year, I'm having a prediction.” Now we do have precognitive dreams. We've all had them where we had a dream, then it shows up. But it's understanding your own mind and practicing dream interpretation that you start to distill which ones are precognitive and which are more symbolic. Of course, don't get scared when you have a nightmare or a terrifying dream. Many times, it's just the psyche trying to get your attention and not warning you of a danger, talking about cultivating an emotion that you need to pay attention to or predicted this emotion is up for you right now that you have to deal with. It's really important to remember that it's not literal. When you think of the spotlight, “I'm gonna get married in six months, I'm gonna have this happen, I'm getting a new job.” Sometimes it's not like that at all.

Robert Maldonado  19:33

It is a symbolic language, very akin to mythology. That's the connection right there. That's why our dreams are our personal myth. The universal myths that people write down and pass on are the collective dream. It's the dream of our collective mind in Jungian dream interpretation. Especially the way we use it in our Jungian coaching model, becomes a way of guiding our path of individuation towards the self. How do we transcend our ego? How do we go beyond our persona and our personal conditioning so that we can transcend and find deeper inspiration, deeper sources of wisdom within ourselves? Jung says, it's the source of all great art. The collective unconscious that we're tapping into, it's where these powerful images that then become religious icons or spiritual practices, that's where they come from. They come from this deeper layer of the psyche called the collective.

Debra Maldonado  20:50

That's why when we see symbols in a church or in a temple, the symbolism reaches us at a deeper level. Dreams bring me closer to my divine self versus my human self. It makes life more rich and colorful, more creative and imaginative, when you really pay attention to them. I always find that the more you pay attention to them and write them down, the more they come. The more you remember them, the dream recall. One of the things we hear a lot, some people say they never dream. We all dream, we dream about four to five dreams at night, it's just that you probably can't recall it. Some things impede our dream recall. Sometimes, if you have sleep aids, if you're using any medication to help you sleep, you probably won't get into that REM state where you can have the recall and then bring it back. Not always, but that could be the case. But you can always train yourself to remember your dreams by every morning. Set the intention before you go to bed in the morning. Just write down anything on a piece of paper, even if it's like “I had a good night's sleep”, or “I didn't remember my dreams, but I will tomorrow”, just start writing it down. It sets the intention so that you can remember. A lot of our clients say it works when we do that. Those of you who have trouble and want to remember their dreams, that would be a great tip. Then how do we interpret them? How do we look at them?

Robert Maldonado  22:23

Because it is a symbolic language, it is very similar to learning another language. If you hear another language, you might hear sounds that sound familiar to you. But other sounds that you're not used to, they're unknown to you. The mistake that people make is that they go for the literal interpretation. They think “If I dreamed of something dramatically violent, that must mean something bad.” That's a mistake. Dreams, in using a very ancient symbolic language appear very bizarre to our waking consciousness. Like what was that about? But once you start to understand the symbolic language, the phrasing, the code that it uses visually, it uses puns and humor sometimes to get its message across, then it starts to make sense. In myths, blood often represents sacrifice or cleansing, it doesn't mean what it means for us in our waking world, like danger and alarm.

Debra Maldonado  23:51

Death means transformation. That was a big thing I learned. When something is dying, it's transforming. It's not saying that person is going to die, but people get scared when they have those dreams. There's a transformation happening, the psyche uses people we know because it helps us connect it. Like when you speak to someone who doesn’t know your language, you find some common symbol that you can relate to. The unconscious is trying to make a connection, it might not be exact. It's your boss you're dreaming about, what does that person represent to you? What is the emotion around it? What's that relationship? It’s showing something more symbolic about it than that actual person.

Robert Maldonado  24:36

Other people in the dream are really talking about you, not the other people.

Debra Maldonado  24:44

Everyone is you in the dream, you ear that but it's true. In waking life too, Jung says everyone reflects your own psyche that you're seeing in the world.

Robert Maldonado  24:56

Obviously, dream interpretation is a much bigger conversation. But in general, the principle to remember is that it’s a different language, it’s a symbolic language, don’t read it literally, don’t take it literally. The practice begins by learning mythology, understanding the language of myth, what it’s trying to communicate morally, metaphorically, because if you understand myths, you have a pretty good chance of understanding dreams as well.

Debra Maldonado  25:32

If you think about movies, even modern movies, fantasy movies have symbols, like The Lord of The Rings. There's always a symbol of taking someone on a journey. Think about your own personal myth, your own journey, that dream is giving you the jewel or this magic sword. This is what's going to assist you on your journey. If you think about it that way, not how to get things in the world, but how to become the best of myself, how to go on the journey of self realization, then it becomes a very mystical, deep exploratory experience to look at dreams. We’ll give you some simple tips. There is something Jung came up with, which was active imagination. It’s a tool you can use to interpret a symbol if you don't know what it is. How would you describe active imagination or way to use it with a symbol? I dreamt of a boat that was sinking. What would I do?

Robert Maldonado  26:37

When you get fragments or really important key symbols, you can use active imagination to get more information from the unconscious mind.What you do in a meditative, contemplative state, you visualize that symbol, just like the way you remember it in the dream, the boat in the water sinking. You take your time focus on it, to where you're able to see it clearly. Then wait a little bit, it'll start to move. The mind is never static. It's always evolving and moving, the unconscious will start to fill in the blanks and provide more information about that symbol. All you're doing is observing.

Debra Maldonado  27:31

It's not like a guided meditation where you're going to do something with the boat, it's more you're open and just receiving, letting the psyche speak to you. It's like listening, basically. He has another tool he calls amplification, where you look at all your associations. If you have a dream about a person, write down all your associations with that person, what they represent to you, what their personality is like, that will give a clue. It's like putting a puzzle together. You're getting this sentence in a different language, you're trying to decipher, like the hieroglyphics, what's the story. My psyche is trying to tell me. What I love about dreams is that I feel like there's a part of me that loves me so much, it’s helping me along the journey. It feels like you're not alone. When you really start working with your dreams, you feel this sense of there being a deeper part of me that's holding the space. It's showing me the way. It's just such a beautiful sense of being with that part of yourself.

Robert Maldonado  28:37

One of the important aspects in dream interpretation is the feeling tone. Which means what emotions these images elicit in you, what comes up for you in understanding the feeling, the emotion associated with the symbols. It gives you a big clue as to the meaning because emotion is about meaning. Therefore, whatever emotion comes up, you can read. Especially someone who is in the process of individuating, you can read it as an important part of your work that you need to look at, this emotion through this symbol, or that this symbol is pointing to this emotion. It's a great way of adding to the understanding of the symbols.

Debra Maldonado  29:30

You might not get the full meaning. Sometimes there's a sequence of dreams that you'll dream every night that gives you a different chapter. We recommend that you have a journal where you put your dreams in and keep a record, so you could go back. I remember a dream I had 20 years ago or maybe 30 years ago, it was a long time ago. I remember it very clearly, but I didn't understand Jungian dream interpretation. I just wrote down my soulmate dream. It was this really elaborate dream about me being in a hurry and going to miss this plane. This man shows up, it's interesting, a lot of symbols. Now that I know Jungian dream interpretation, I can go back and look at that dream and say “That was interesting what that dream was actually telling me.” Even though it doesn't help me today, it helps me understand how dreams work and to not take them literally. One more question. What about dream dictionaries? A lot of people ask about that. What is your opinion on getting a dream dictionary?

Robert Maldonado  30:50

I used to be more of a purist but now I'm a little bit more loose because there is no right or wrong way to approach. Just like approaching the learning of a new language, there’s many ways to do it. Most of the stuff that we see on the internet, I would not take it seriously because most of them are not using serious models of the psyche, superstition, perhaps, or stuff they borrow from different models, from the tarot cards, or different myths, or something like that, or their own intuitive interpretation of symbols. Always consider looking at a comprehensive system because that is really the function of the psyche. Remember, it's a living organism, it has principles and laws that it operates under. Jung's work, for example, accounts for a lot of the things that are going on in the psyche.

Debra Maldonado  31:57

Understanding individuation and the stages of individuation, from shadow work to working with archetypes to working with patterns in the psyche, collective unconscious, understanding and applying it to the dream is a lot more comprehensive than giving it a quick fix, like “I think I'm gonna get a raise next week because I had a dream about a case of gold showing up.” I agree with you that you don't want to be a purist, like “Don't look at those”, we want to be careful. The number one reason is that your dream is very personal, unique to just you, like a fingerprint. If you’re judging your whole psyche on a generic interpretation, that's where we can get in trouble because we're missing the point because it's personal to us. There's some universal symbols, if you understand the universal symbols and have the framework, the scaffolding of the dream, then you can go in the little symbols that are more personal to you, especially people in your dream or things that are going on your journey in life that are reflective in dreams. We don't want to discount and take a generic interpretation of a symbol and not take it on a personal level. A sword can mean one thing to one person and another thing to another person.

Robert Maldonado  33:20

It's certainly a deep topic. Then there are different types of dreams. You can only really understand through practice. Practice and learning from other people that have more experience gives you that understanding of what kind of dream this is. What is it, at what level is it operating? Is that just the persona level? Is it talking about my everyday experiences? Or is it pointing to something bigger? Because we all have those big dreams that we know, just like that dream you remember 30 years later, those are big dreams. They contain much more than just a compensation of your persona. They're talking about your spiritual purpose, something much bigger in your life.

Debra Maldonado  34:13

The dream was about a man but I didn't know it was my animus, I thought it was a man coming into my life. But no, it's connecting with the animus, which is part of human psychology. This is why in our training we always have our students post their dreams, we all look at them, that's the way to practice and really get good at it, to interact and get feedback from people that understand dream interpretation. If you're into Jungian dream interpretation, people understand the individuation process. Then it's like an art that you learn, you get better with time. In the beginning I could do basic interpretation. Now I could, as I've been working on it for years, give more elaborate interpretations, but the best person to interpret your dreams is yourself. If you work with a coach, we train our coaches, they don’t interpret the dream. They're guiding and giving a framework, so the client can interpret their own dreams. That's very powerful. You don't want anyone telling you “This is what this dream means”, because they don't know, they're not in your psyche. It's about understanding and working collaboratively with someone to understand that deeper layer. Then what do you do with it? Once you understand it, what do you do with this dream now that you know it? That's another part of the psyche.

Robert Maldonado  35:36

That's a good ending point for us. The aim of Jungian dreamwork is integration, integration of the unconscious content. You want to integrate it into your awareness, into your conscious world, then it becomes part of your conscious awareness.

Debra Maldonado  35:56

Thank you again for joining us for another episode of Soul Sessions. Don't forget to subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or any podcast services. We'll see you next week for another episode. 

OUTRO  36:09 

Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Session. See you next time.

Difference between Freud & Jung’s dream work
How we can use dreams to improve our lives
How to start recalling dreams
How to interpret dreams