Of all the skills called upon in dreamwork, a tolerance for ambiguity is perhaps the most vital. As with relationship dreams, it can be difficult to decipher on which ‘level’ they occur: is the dream about the actual person, or does the character represent an aspect of myself? I find yes is usually the right answer to either/or questions.
Since we can only see the world filtered through our own perspective, that differentiation somewhat falls away. What triggers me about a certain individual might not even register on someone else’s radar. So while the person may well possess difficult qualities, it is no coincidence that I can spot them like a hawk.
We attract people into our lives who possess matching or companion pieces to our own. For instance, let’s say your ex-lover was painfully distant and even though you’ve broken up, you keep dreaming that he’s abandoning you. The dream is showing you that this ‘aloofness’ is still active somewhere in your life.
Like many people, you may have chosen a new relationship that is playing out the same, disappointing drama. But if you are always attracting aloofness, it might be because you are also aloof. You can see it clearly in the other, but are unaware of it in yourself. Perhaps you are aloof towards your own vulnerability and gifts, or maybe you have the puzzle-piece to match your partner’s aloofness. For example, choosing inaccessible partners may be a roundabout way to avoid intimacy.
While behaviours may grow as valid responses to early life relationships, they often stop serving us as adults. They begin to operate unconsciously, drawing us into an endless loop until we learn to cut a new groove. Rather than seeking validation from unforthcoming partners, you might need to become the tenderness you crave.
Dreams help us to push forward into our limitations and pull back from unhelpful habits. Others may appear in exaggerated roles to show us how our own attitudes are imbalanced.
As an exercise, choose a recurring character from your dreams and list ten of their defining attributes. What about them irritates you the most? What do you envy or admire?
When you’re done, gently but frankly contemplate the list you have made. You might recognize a trait you’re repeatedly drawn to, or its complement to overcome in yourself. Maybe you’ll discover the irritable quality is also enviable, and you would do well to cultivate a small measure of it. Begin to think of the dream character not simply as someone you might have a relationship with, but whose patterns resonate with your own.
Dreams ask us to dismantle the Us and Them binary and get cozy with the wacky, glitched-up crowd that lives on our insides. Though often uncomfortable, choosing self-responsibility instead of culpability brings greater balance and compassion into our lives.