During recent years, dreams and their symbols have been subjected to empirical research and scientific study to help researchers get insight into emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. Much of this study has been based on the work of Carl Jung, a well-respected psychologist and psychiatrist, who believed that dreams are filled with symbols that stem from the unconscious, giving us a glimpse into the mind.
“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.” – Carl Jung, The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man
The Study of Dreams and Their Symbols
Dr. Lance Storm, a visiting research fellow with the University of Adelaide‘s School of Psychology in Australia, recently published a new study in the International Journal of Jungian Studies, which suggests that analyzing archetypal symbols in dreams can provide insight into mental health problems and aid in their treatment.
“[Jung] described the most common archetypal images as the Hero, in pursuit of goals; the Shadow, often classed as negative aspects of personality; the Anima, representing an element of femininity in the male; the Animus, representing masculinity in the female; the Wise Old Man; and the Great Mother,” Storm continues. “There are many hundreds of other images and symbols that arise in dreams, many of which have meanings associated with them – such as the image of a beating heart (meaning ‘charity’), or the ouroboros, which is a snake eating its own tail (‘eternity’). There are symbols associated with fear, or virility, a sense of power, the need for salvation, and so on.” – (source)
Dr. Storm’s research claims that a common set of archetypal symbols and their related meanings can be objectively validated, instead of randomly and individually interpreting them. Jung believed, these symbols allow a glimpse into the brain’s “unconscious code.” Storm argues that this code can be decrypted and employed in clinical treatment for conditions such as depression. Yet, Jung himself warned about the esoteric nature of dreams and their symbols:
“It is plain foolishness to believe in ready-made systematic guides to dream interpretation. No dream symbol can be separated from the individual who dreams it, and there is no definite or straightforward interpretation of any dream.” – Man and His Symbols
Jung’s efforts to help people overcome mental conflict and enable them to naturally cultivate personal growth led him to develop the process of Individuation.
“By observing a great many people (at least 80,000 dreams) Jung found that not only were all dreams relevant . . . but, they seem to follow an arrangement or pattern. This process Jung called ‘the process of individuation.’”
“The process of individuation is real only if the individual is aware of it and consciously makes a living connection with it.” – Man and His Symbols
The complexity of the human mind and its capacity of self-perception, self-reflection and consciousness development continues to baffle neuroscientists. Learning to interpret dreams and their symbols is perhaps another step towards understanding both the physical brain and the totality of the Psyche.
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