A woman in her thirties struggled with bouts of depression and anger. Her anger seemed to have a life of its own. It was usually directed at her husband and frequently was out of proportion to anything that he had actually done. She would dig up old resentments, focus on his shortcomings, and basically make life miserable for both of them. Her anger had become like a drug, energizing and inflating her ego, but in a negative direction. When she wasn’t angry, she was depressed or anxious.
Through the course of therapy she started to loosen the hold of anger and negativity in her life. She began to appreciate her husband more and to accept him as he was. Although recognizing his faults, she came to see and place greater value on his positive qualities, such as how he was a good father to their son. As she made more of an effort to live in the present and let go of her anger, she enjoyed more periods of closeness and harmony with her husband. However, after one such period of relative peace her mood and perspective started to slip backwards into dissatisfaction, discouragement, and anger. It was at this time that she had the following dream.
I am with my husband in a dark, cold place. He is emotionally distraught, crying. He tells me that Rita, my best friend from childhood, has died. Then I am in our apartment bedroom. I have the sense that my mother is also dead. Although the room is dark, I can see Rita lying motionless on the bed. I am scared and upset and begin shaking her to see if she is dead. A part of me also hopes that I might be able to bring her back to life. Surprisingly, she starts to move on her own a little bit. I feel very relieved and go into the kitchen to get her some water. In the kitchen I see my mother is alive and is washing the floor. I also see four people I don’t recognize there. Three are sitting at the kitchen table but the fourth is a rough looking woman. She reminds me of someone I might have met during my adolescence when I was abusing drugs. My mother has gone to help my friend and I want to go back to the bedroom with her but this woman doesn’t want me to. She tells me I don’t need to be there. When I disagree with her she starts yelling and swearing at me. I tell her to leave my apartment and push her out the door. Then I hear the sound of a gas engine. I grab a knife from the drawer but the woman comes in with a chainsaw. She backs me into the corner of the kitchen and cuts through my wrist before I awaken.
The dream begins in a cold, dark place. This reflects the lack of consciousness and emotional coldness that often characterize her relationship with her husband. Negativity, irritation, and resentment tend to dominate her feelings towards him. When she is in this state it is as if her friend and mother have died for she associates both women with an optimistic and loving outlook on life. It is her more feeling-oriented husband who awakens her to the “death” (neglect) of this part of herself.
In the next scene the atmosphere of death is again present; it is dark and her friend lies still upon her bed. Now, however, the dreamer is more conscious of the loss of her own cheerful and loving side. She is moved by the intensity of her husband’s (her inner masculine’s) grief and shakes her friend trying to bring her back to life. Her friend begins to move, revived by the dreamer’s own depth of feeling. (The dreamer’s passion and her friend are perhaps one and the same.) In the kitchen she encounters her mother who is also alive. Her mother is washing the floor, representative of her own need to “clean house.” Cleaning house would mean addressing unpleasant issues in her own life, such as her hurtful behavior towards her husband.
New life in the form of loving feelings have come into the dreamer’s life, but then she encounters the four strangers, one of whom is a very aggressive woman. A symbol of the dreamer’s shadow (the disowned part of her personality), this figure wants to interfere with the revival of a relationship between the dreamer and her childhood friend. Within the psyche a certain hierarchy of influence and power develops between the different parts of the personality. The aggressive woman may embody the dreamer’s anger and egocentric tendencies. This part of her is used to having its way whenever it wants. It possesses her at times. It rules her thoughts, attitudes, and decisions. It enjoys the power it has within the dreamer’s personality and becomes aggressive at the thought of the dreamer becoming more soft, loving, receptive, or hopeful. The dreamer is able, momentarily, to banish this self-destructive part of her from her home. But the woman returns with a chainsaw, threatening dismemberment in an attempt to restore her dominance.
The dream reflects shifts in attitude and power within the dreamer’s psyche in the days preceding the dream. Her relationship with her husband improved when she made contact with the more caring and accepting part of herself. But when her anger and negativity reasserted themselves, her mood and the quality of the relationship declined. The dream illustrates the fact that lasting shifts in attitude or perspective can be difficult to achieve and maintain. Such changes are often resisted by the ruling “government” within the psyche. These inner battles are reflected in our dreams, in psychological and physical symptoms, and in outer world events such as social pressures to remain the same.
The dream also shows that the dreamer feels over-powered by the aggressive woman inside of her. She has come to rely on anger and negativity to get by in the world. She has become so habituated to these attitudes that they have become automatic and unconscious parts of her identity. One way for the dreamer to work with her dream for personal growth would be to dialogue in her imagination with the aggressive woman. She could ask the woman why she is so angry, or why she wants to keep her from experiencing and expressing her more tender feelings. It is possible that the angry woman represents a destructive force that wants to keep her enslaved to anger, chaos, and misery. (Sadly, such forces do exist.) On the other hand, perhaps it doubts her ability to defend herself and wants to keep her from ever being emotionally vulnerable. Or, it may have some other goal. Whatever the case, work with the dream can help the dreamer to understand and gain some control over what often feel like overpowering and unpredictable shifts in mood.