Understanding a Childhood Dream: With Help from Jean Raffa
When I saw the picture that author Jean Raffa sent me to represent the landscape of western North Carolina, her summer home, I smiled.
The picture shows a root cellar, a place that must be important to Jean as she looked for landscape to represent who she is.
Synchronistically, cellars are also important to me. One of our houses actually had four cellars, each descending lower into the ground. Talk about a place full of potential for influence in the mind, that was it!
Jean believes that if we remember a dream from childhood, it may be a “Big dream.” My dream took me into the cellar of our house. I have enjoyed exploring this possibility with Jean. Here’s my question and her answer:
Q: I can only consciously remember one dream from childhood. How might I explore its depths of meaning beyond the rather obvious ones? You remembered one dream also. From it, you constructed much of your life’s work. Is it possible that a dream about finding a television set (something I longed for but could not have) in the basement of our farmhouse could hold larger meaning? The dream was so real that I actually went down to the basement to look for the TV.
Dreams that stand out from childhood are very often Big dreams. A Big dream may contain one or more of four characteristics. First, it makes a powerful emotional impact on us that is impossible to ignore. Second, a Big dream may have a numinous or sacred quality about it, filling us with awe and making us feel it might contain a special message from God. Third, in a Big dream the dream ego is usually actively involved in the events instead of passively watching or waiting for something to happen. Finally, especially with childhood dreams, it can prefigure the essential issues and direction of our lives.
Your dream definitely meets the first and third criteria, so to start with, I’d ask myself some questions. I’d begin with the dominant emotion and ask myself when I’ve felt that same emotion in waking life. Another question I’d have would be: In the big picture of my life, what might my childhood longing for a television set represent? The first answer that pops up in my mind is that since I grew up in a rural farmhouse which probably didn’t have a lot of modern amenities, it might symbolize my longing for a much broader knowledge about life, a wish to see the big world and perhaps to live a more urban, civilized, educated and sophisticated lifestyle.
To me that, combined with the fact that I find the television in the basement, (a symbol of the unconscious), suggests a strong unconscious wish to move from a more primitive, more instinctual form of consciousness (farms almost have animals on them) into greater self-knowledge and wisdom. You don’t say how old you were when you had this dream but I would suspect it would be between the ages of 10 and 12, a time when most children acquire greater self-awareness, and with it, self-consciousness and the growing recognition of internal conflicts.
So could this dream have a deeper meaning? Most certainly. Could it prefigure the essential issues and direction of your life? Well, only you can answer that question by looking at your ambitions and the inner motivations for your later behaviors and goals. Could this dream, in fact, be a sort of “message” from the sacred within, the archetype of the Self that inspires us to find the sacred meaning of our lives? Again, only you can say; however, if your life has, in fact, been marked by a powerful desire for self-understanding, purpose, and fulfillment of your potential, I would expect it very well might be.
Dr. Jean Raffa is an author, speaker, and leader of workshops, dream groups and study groups. Her job history includes teacher, television producer, college professor, and instructor at The Jung Center in Winter Park, FL. Through formal and informal means, including a five-year Centerpoint course and an intensive at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, Jean has been studying Jungian psychology and her own inner life for more than twenty-three years. Her book, Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dream Work has been used in dreamwork courses throughout the country and is included in Amazon.com’s list of the Top 100 Best Selling Dream Books, and TCM’s book list of Human Resources for Organizational Development.
Do you remember any dreams from childhood? Do you think your dream (s) qualify as Big dreams? I hope you will feel free to ask questions about them to our generous Dr. Raffa, who has answered a number of dream questions in this previous post. If you missed it, you might want to begin the dream exploration journey there.
[…] in childhood was to be like the other kids and have a TV. This desire was so powerful that I dreamed about it. So looking at a valentine featuring a TV set and sent to me from another little Mennonite girl who […]
Good evening Dr Raffa,
I had sleep issues as a child, I think they would call them night tremors today. I have three very distinct repetitive dreams from childhood. The following 2 I would find myself standing in my mother’s door way screaming from within a trapped state of self, screaming for her to wake up to wake me from this dream, but no voice would come out and I’d be paralysed from within: the first dream that would bring me to this state would be like a ghetto blaster, but where the speakers would be would be like cassete reels slowly turning at first getting faster and faster and faster. The second dream would be a white room, filled with hay like straw, dull yellow in colour,not on the floor but all around me…I would be moving it out of my way, whirling around me like a maze, I’d be moving through but with no purpose then a door would appear, I put my hand out to the door handle and then something about a 2 wakes me with a feeling of fear confused with excitement. I had these dreams from the age of 3 (may be younger) through to age 12 to 13.
The third dream, that I still have today and that I recently found out from my sister that she also has a very similar dream idle of a house. I do not know what the external oft this house looks like but this house gives me a sense of secrecy yet a sense of safeness. The rooms inside this house are misshapen, they start off looking normal but then you see ab oddity, on investigation this passage or hole leads into a secret room, onto a secret room onto an attic or a cubby hole. all the rooms have little beds all made up with white sheets and white pillows. the rooms are light and cosy, but plain and comforting. There are bathrooms that lead into shower rooms and toilets, multiple toilets, some with doors and some without. this is the only uncomfortable place, but by this time it’s no longer the house but a public space then I wake up.
Any light you can spread on these dreams would be much appreciated
I found it quite unnerving where it was mentioned in the text above about them being God messages. I always felt these dreams did not come from within, but never heard or read anywhere where someone else has thought them messages from out side of self. Who knows!!
thank you xx
I’m happy to give you a few of my own associations to your dreams. Please understand that my response is purely personal and may or may not have anything to do with you or your reality. We are all so very different and grow up with such different experiences that the same image can mean many different things to different people. All I can do is look at a dream and think about what its symbols and plot might mean to me if it were my dream, and offer that in the hope that a few of my associations might resonate with the dreamer as well.
If this is my dream, feeling trapped and screaming in my mothers doorway for her to wake me up with no voice coming out makes me think that I want desperately for my mother to notice and accept me and help me find my voice. In other words, my feelings and emotions are trapped in me because I’m afraid to say what I’m thinking and feeling for some reason. Perhaps she’s always so busy or preoccupied or impatient with me that I feel that she’ll be angry with me for annoying her. Or perhaps she’s somewhat fragile, and in my waking life I’m trying very hard to be good so I don’t bother her even though I need her. But all the time there’s a part of me that only comes out at night that feels a desperate need to be myself and to find acceptance from her. But for whatever reason I feel she’s not really there for me.
The ghetto blaster and spinning wheels that go faster make me think of the noise and confusion and fast pace of my outer world that is way too fast and intense for me. I’m very sensitive to all this input and it drives me to a state of entrapment and confusion in which I can no longer express myself.
(I must say, this sounds familiar to me. I was a highly sensitive child and still find crowds and noise so intense and uncomfortable that I withdraw into myself. I do the same when I’m confronted with emotion-laden conflicts with others. I just shut down and can’t express myself. This, of course, is why this image means what it means to me. Again, it may not mean this to you at all.)
The white room with yellow straw whirling around me evokes a similar feeling of intense stimuli that make me very uncomfortable. I associate the color yellow with intelligence and consciousness. Maybe I’m awakening to the intensity of ideas or thoughts that swirl around in my head and which I can’t yet make sense out of or organize or control. At this point in my life I just want the confusion to go away, so the door represents a way of escaping into a new space that I’m beginning to suspect might be available to me. I’m excited by this new idea— or way of living or thinking or perceiving myself and my life—and I hope it will be more comfortable for me. Yet at the same time, stepping into a newer way of being in the world scares me. (Change is always frightening to children and adults as well. We never know what to expect. A very sensitive child might be more frightened to change habitual attitudes and responses than a less sensitive one.)
The house with a sense of secrecy and safeness” For me, the house represents me, myself, my psyche: all that I am and have the possibility to be. The condition of a dream house tells me the condition of my psyche when I have the dream. The sense of secrecy related to this house might refer to my tendency to keep my feelings and thoughts to myself, as I’ve been doing ever since I was a child since it felt imperative to do this at that time of my life. But now that I’ve grown older, I’m much more comfortable in this house of my psyche — I like myself better and feel freer to be myself.
The fact that my sister has similar dreams suggests that the parenting we received as children gave us little choice but to withhold our true voices and store them away in odd little passages and secret rooms. (Everyone has secret inner chambers where they store unknown or disowned or frightening aspects of themselves.) The fact that these rooms are light and cosy and comforting and not dark or frightening suggests I’ve come to terms with some of my darker, more shadowy aspects. (We all have them.)
The multiple toilets suggests that I now have many ways and opportunities to release some pent up feelings and emotions….a very good thing. The fact that some of the bathrooms don’t have doors and that this makes me uncomfortable, suggests that I’m still uncomfortable about expressing my true self/voice in public. Perhaps I fear criticism or judgment from others.
Dreams do come from within us. However, our egos don’t make them up, so we aren’t responsible for them and shouldn’t judge ourselves or feel guilty about them. They come from our unconscious selves, which are trying to make themselves known to us, to our conscious ego selves. Our unconscious contains everything we don’t know about ourselves, both positive and negative, and everything we don’t want to be. The more we can see everything in our dreams as a part of ourselves, even the bad things, the better we begin to feel about ourselves.
Everyone has the potential for both good and evil. When we see bad things in our dreams, that’s the unconscious trying to get us to realize that we’re just human, we don’t have to be perfect, it’s alright to have a dark side because everyone does. Sometimes our dreams have to exaggerate to get our attention, to get us to stop being afraid of our true selves and to motivate us to start exploring them. Our dreams can lead us to health and wholeness if we’ll listen to them and work with them.
If these were my dreams I would not be frightened of them but simply see them as pictures of my normal, human emotions: those I felt as a child, and those I’m feeling now.
I hope this has been of help to you, Dawn.
Hello, im 38 now and I remember a dream that occurred around the age of 3. The dream was sort of a nightmare but it did not scare me in the typical sense. In my dream I was selling items in a wooden fruit stand type structure with an awning. The color yellow was everywhere. As I was in the structure selling something this woman came in and offered to buy my soul. I said no and became sassy with the lady. The lady began to argue with me and said that I would struggle if I didn’t. I remember the lady driving off and I was so distraught. To this day I try to avoid the color yellow.
So much better to struggle with a soul than to travel this world without one. I hope you see your own strength in this dream and turn that prediction on its head. Maybe you could start by embracing the color yellow?
I don’t know if Jean still gets these messages. Probably not. She’s the expert. But I can send you the wish that you are now ready, at age 38, to take back the power that dream tried to steal from you. You must have been an amazing three-year-old child, which means you are even more amazing now. All best.