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The Titanic and the Important Family: Working with a Client’s Dreams

Written by: Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC

Ginny (*not her real name) is a highly sensitive and intuitive Client whose dream on the night preceding 9/11 frightened her and startled her husband. In her dream of 9/10, bad men attacked twin houses in a neighborhood. She and her husband got out alive, even as planes dove toward the houses. A few hours later, her husband called her to the television to bear witness in reality to what her dream had seemed to predict.

Although she saw clearly the relationship of the Twin Houses Dream to the reality of the Twin Towers, she has been known to dismiss other dreams on the grounds that they are “silly” or “don’t make much sense”. I ask frequently about Ginny’s dreams to show my Client that they may indicate things we need to work on. Two of her recent dreams seem to point to the roots of the depression that has been part of her life since childhood.

Noting that dream language is a special language that the Unconscious Mind uses in order to show us aspects of ourselves, we looked at two of her dreams in detail. It should be added, again, that dreams always belongs to the dreamer. A therapist who knows something of dream language can suggest an interpretation; but only the dreamer can say what the dream means.

Background
Ginny grew up in difficult circumstances with an alcoholic father and a mother who worked at several jobs and was rarely home. Money was scarce, and there was great tension in every aspect of their lives. Ginny was an overly responsible child who never had a childhood. It was she who ran the house and who protected her younger sister from the father’s verbal abuse. In addition to their other difficulties, the members of Ginny’s immediate circle have suffered illness after illness – grandparents and an uncle who died of cancer, a best friend who died of the same disease, a delicate daughter with an addiction to narcotics, and, most recently, a stepfather with cancer. Ginny’s dreams seem to point to her fears about her family and about her role in it.

A Big Ship in Ice
In this dream, my Client, her mother, and her daughter are on a very large ship. In my Client’s words, “There is ice everywhere.” She and her family members are looking for something “cold to drink”; but the only drinks available onboard are coffee, hot chocolate, and other hot beverages.

Saving an “Important” Family
In this dream, my Client (who is actually a beautiful, blonde, non-smoking woman) is a male paratrooper and a “heavy” smoker. It is World War II, and she is about to parachute behind enemy lines into Nazi Germany on a mission to save an “important family”.

Possible Meanings of Dreams
After discussing the images and events of the first dream in detail, I asked my Client if she knew anything about it, a ship that had been threatened by ice, or a ship that sank as a result of being surrounded by ice. She asked, hesitantly, “The Titanic?” The Titanic is a dark symbol in our cultural mythology and, for some people, might denote doom. I asked Ginny if this family trip on the Titanic might suggest an unconscious fear that her family was doomed. She thought that this interpretation seemed appropriate. Many of us believe our own family to be uniquely difficult, problem-ridden, unhappy, or “doomed”. We often view other families from the outside, imagining them to be happier or healthier than our own. The search for something cold to drink in a landscape filled with ice made us both laugh. I asked Ginny if looking for iced drinks on the Titanic reflected a suspicion that her family “borrows trouble” or attracts it by being the way that they are. She is unsure about that.

The second dream borrows elements from Ginny’s childhood to depict her hidden feelings about her role in her family. Ginny’s father was fascinated by German uniforms and Third Reich paraphernalia which, according to Ginny, he associated with “power”. In this second dream, Ginny herself must outwit the evil power to save an “important family”. Since a paratrooper is a soldier on duty, I asked my Client if the dream could be about her perceived “duty” to “save” her family. What family is more “important” than her own? Ginny thought that this was what her dream was about.

To combine and encapsulate the meaning of the two dreams, Ginny unconsciously believes that her family is doomed and that it is her duty to save them. Those are both uncomfortable thoughts.

Goals for Therapy
It is important for Ginny, and for each of us, to understand that most families are problematical in some way – our family’s health, attitudes, and behaviors may frustrate and alarm us. Families are not, however, “doomed”, even when hard times seem to prevail. All in all, they are just families. They are there to teach us, and to learn from us. They often test our love and patience to the nth degree; but they are not doomed. When Ginny understands that her family, like most families, is a wonderful family with many challenges, she may be able to release some of the sadness she has carried for so long.

It is also essential for each of us to know that we cannot change or “save” another person or group of people. This is not only true for Clients; it is true for therapists as well. In our session last week, Ginny and I agreed that, when it comes to other people, we can love them, be present to them, and support them; but it is neither our “duty” nor within our power to “save” them. This understanding may be a second key to Ginny’s healing process. At least, I hope it will be.

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