Do you trust your moods? Do you have a reasonable degree of confidence that you will not suddenly feel awful for no apparent reason? If you do you’re one of the lucky people who enjoys relatively stable brain chemistry. Many people are not so lucky. Their moods can change quickly and dramatically, they can be easily triggered by any number of things, or things can suddenly change at random, with no external trigger. Many such people are afraid of their own moods. They watch themselves vigilantly for signs of change. Even when they are feeling relatively good they live in fear of the next depression or anxiety making a sudden appearance. They cannot trust their own feeling body since it is not a safe and reliable place.
How does this instability of mood appear in the dream life? There is a common group of dream motifs that I have found often connects to the issue of mood change– dangerous figures who can capture normal people and convert them. In popular entertainment this motif often appears as body-snatchers, aliens, zombies, or vampires; the same cast of characters can appear in the dream life. The ‘normal’ people are in danger of being caught and converted by the ‘others’, so the normals must be constantly vigilant. Often it is difficult to know who has already been converted to the other side, so a normal must be very cautious about trusting anyone. Nasty surprises can happen when least expected.
Here’s an example. The dreamer, Vanya, is a 23 year old woman who has been through several dangerous depressions in the last 10 years. At the time she had this dream Vanya was not depressed, but she was worried that she might be ‘due for one’. She called this dream Three Kinds of People:
“I’m in a city, walking down a busy street. I suddenly become aware of the fact that there are three different kinds of people in the world–unaware people, evil people, and aware people. The unaware people have no idea that there are these three types. The evil people are bad guys, they have the ability to change the way they look to make themselves fit in. They look like demons or monsters, but they can put on disguises to look like regular people. They can tell when someone sees through their disguise and recognizes them. Their goal is to capture as many unaware people as possible and either brainwash them into evil people or hold them hostage. The aware people are good, and they are aware of the evil people. They work behind the scenes to help keep the evil people from brainwashing the unaware people. They have to be very careful not to show any signs of recognizing the evil people.
This was all new knowledge to me. I didn’t know what I needed to do to keep my identity as a good person safe from the evil people. At one point I feel like I’m being watched and followed, so I start running. I have two companions with me, who are both good people. We’re on a bridge. We turn to face the evil people who are coming after us. Suddenly I have a new ability to confront and defeat them which I haven’t had before. I know these amazing defensive moves that keep them away. I didn’t know that I had these skills, but I do! I also know that I’m not alone, my two companions have my back.”
The feeling scape at the beginning of Vanya’s dream would be familiar to anyone who has watched films in the body-snatcher genre– fear, vigilance, hiding, uncertain who to trust, and a life or death intensity. This was a familiar cluster of feeling motifs for me, having come across it many times in the dreams of people with unstable moods, so I suspected the opening scene was a depiction of Vanya’s fear of her own depressive tendency. When I asked her who she thought the evil people might represent, her first response was to externalize them: “I think they are the people in power, the elite, they want to keep everyone brainwashed and obedient.” This is a perspective that people often take when considering a powerful and evil ‘they’ that has appeared in a dream. It may be partially true but it often doesn’t feel like the whole truth.
At these times try to facilitate a perspective shift from outer to inner. Give the dreamer a chance to consider the evil ‘they’ in an internalized way, as an aspect of self. I will typically use a set-up that does not negate their first connection, but opens things up to the other perspective, for example: “Okay, and now if we were to look at the evil people as a part of you, what part might it be? (pause) It would be something in you that you are afraid of, you tend to hide from it, you can’t trust it, it is dangerous, if it catches you it could brainwash you….”
With the help of this set-up Vanya was quickly able to connect the evil people to her depression. This inner perspective, which was new for Vanya, proved to be much more resonant and more useful than the externalizing perspective. She immediately understood the dream’s reference to ‘three types of people’: “I have my depressed part, which is always lurking around somewhere, I never know when its going to creep up on me and take over. Then I have an unaware part of me, just walks along, going about my life oblivious to the danger. Then I have this new part of me which is learning to be proactive about the depression. I’ve started to sense when I’m in danger of it coming and I can take steps against it.”
This dream, in spite of its terrifying premise, turned out to be very encouraging and empowering for Vanya. It gave her an embodied sense of positive feedback about the new defensive skills she had recently acquired in relation to her depressions. She took a stand on the bridge with two companions standing beside her, and she prevailed against the bad guys! It was a great moment when she realized what this meant—she was learning how to take effective action against her depressions. Dreams like this one which give positive feedback to the dreamer are wonderful gifts. They commend the dreamer for some recent change or accomplishment, as if to say: ‘What you’re doing is working! Keep doing it.” It is critical for the dreamer to make the connection to exactly what is working so they can invest further energy and intention into it going forward.
In Vanya’s case the dream underscored that she needed to be aware and watchful for signs of an impending depression, and when these signs appeared she needed to take quick defensive action. The defensive actions that were turning out to be very effective in her case involved being careful with her diet, doing regular vigorous exercise, and staying in extra close touch with her friends and support system. When Vanya re-entered the dream scene of the victorious stand on the bridge she felt something new in her feeling body– she now possessed some effective weapons that she could use in the war of the moods, she no longer needed to run and hide in fear.