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Do Dreams help you Individuate?

A prophetic dream foretelling the unexpected death of my young sister two decades ago shocked me into recognition that dreams have more power than I realized. At the time, while fascinated, I didn’t fully trust it and took no action. Years later, as I became familiar with the theories of Carl Jung, I began to appreciate that dreams routinely cross commonly understood boundaries. “Dreams prepare, announce, or warn about certain situations, often long before they actually happen” (Jung, The Undiscovered Self, 1957). Since that first prophetic dream, I have had several similar dreams. Often, the message only became clear in retrospect. My prophetic dream piqued my curiosity as to the purpose of dreams. I propose that one of the functions of dreams is to help you individuate.

Individuation was the goal of Jung’s psychoanalytic therapy. Individuation is the process of differentiating oneself by getting to know your “Self” through shadow work. The Self as opposed to the Ego, is your hidden inner wisdom, which some might call your soul. “According to Jung, shadow personifies everything that we refuse to acknowledge and accept in ourselves. It is a hidden, repressed, or supressed part of our personality” (Bright, 2020). The first sermon of the dead in Jung’s Red Book is about differentiation (Jung, The Red Book, 2009). “Differentiation is creation” and the alternative to differentiation is to fall into the Pleroma, which is the great void of “nothingness” that religions and mystics sometimes refer to. We can deduce by this text that our differentiated creations are an important aspect of our journey. Individuation helps us discover our differentiating qualities.

Jungian Analysts rely on dreams as an important source of unconscious content. The unconscious communicates through symbol, image, emotion, and somatic means. Dreams come from the unconscious and communicate through this same language. It is well-known by Jungian Analysts that the first dream a client brings often signals the primary area of focus for the course of their work together (Wellings, 2000). Unaware of this fact, when I began seeing a Jungian Analyst, the first dream I brought to her contained, among other symbols, a roadside sign which read, “Drama of the gifted child”. I had purchased Alice Miller’s book Drama of the Gifted Child the week prior but had not yet read it….

Drama of the Gifted Child is a self-help book about how the ‘gifted’ child adapts to living with difficult or critical parenting by learning people-pleasing coping mechanisms. The child stands out amongst her siblings and peers by seeking approval, and this often leads to seemingly successful careers and life paths (Miller & Ward, 1997). People-pleasing becomes a destructive cycle when people-pleasing leads to rewards, which leads to more people-pleasing. The child, and later adult, builds confidence under false pretenses, leading to a loss of a core part of their identity. Shamans call this soul loss. Jung considered people-pleasing coping behaviour to be an example of inflation (Lee, 2024). The paradox is that on the surface it doesn’t seem like a problem. I can think of many benefits I received because of this behaviour, but soul loss is a high price to pay. Because it was unconscious, I remained unaware of the negative impacts it was having on my relationships and life path until one night I had a dream that picked up where the initial dream left off.

I am in a house, and work or live here. There are many levels and a narrow wooden spiral staircase that goes up to the top where there is a library full of books in a circular room. There is a man here wearing a black cloak and his name is Inflation. He is following me, intent on catching up with me as I try to avoid him. I ascend to the top of the stairs, and he follows and starts chasing me. Then I am running down the stairs, almost flying, barely touching the ground as I flee him. He catches me though and I must face him.

The dream threw me into a dark place for a few days as I grappled with the new awareness of my Inflation. After working with an analyst for several months, I trusted the dream had valuable information, but it took a while to settle into accepting it. As it turned out, the dream was instrumental in helping me transform a problematic shadow and recognize the bright side. “Dreams have the power to disgust, shock, terrify, and warn us, but they can, too, enlighten us and lead us to the wisdom that is waiting to be discovered within” (Hamilton, 2014).

There are many theories about the function of dreams, but our current Cartesian model for scientific evaluation leaves no room to “prove” subjective data. Jung once said “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot prove as false” (C.G. Jung, 1997). Like Jung, I believe the Cartesian model is imperfect and believe we should be less absorbed with the need for proof and more interested in a wider spectrum of acceptable scientific evaluation methods. My theory about dreams is that they do have the power to facilitate individuation, but only when you trust in their power.



Bright, B. (2020). Transcript Part 2: Jungian Concepts and Ideas, Video 2. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

C.G. Jung, R. M. (1997). Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal. Psychology Press.

Hamilton, N. (2014). Awakening in Dreams: The Journey through the Inner Landscape. In N. Hamilton. London: Routledge.

Jung, C. (1957). The Undiscovered Self. Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. (2009). The Red Book. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Lee, J. R. (2024, June 3). Inflation: The Challenge of Archetypal Possession.

Miller, A., & Ward, R. N. (1997). Drama of the Gifted Child. New York: BasicBooks.

Wellings, N. (2000). Transpersonal Psychotherapy. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Copyright 2024. All rights reserved. No portion of this document may be reproduced without consent of Tami Denice Cartwright

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Jun 14

I wanted to just touch on one aspect of your “Inflation” dream. Not long ago I ascend and descended a narrow wooden staircase several times and each time I did I was keenly aware of how noisy I was climbing those stairs no matter how much I tried to be quiet. You are only noisy going up the stairs in your dream, but practically silent as you are “almost flying barely touching the ground” coming down. You so quickly recognized the possibility of being caught by the cloaked inflation man at the top of the stairs and then the chase really begins and you rapidly descend with him following you into the unconscious (bottom of the staircase) where you “m…

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