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Home » Introduction to Working with Dream Characters

Introduction to Working with Dream Characters

Dreams
are a common occurrence for most of us as we sleep. Dreams are a combination of
memories, fantasies, and thoughts that the brain sorts through when we are
asleep. When we dream, there is often a main character or characters that
appear and play a major role in the dream. These characters may appear as
people we know, or they may be a completely unfamiliar face. These characters
are sometimes referred to as dream archetypes, a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist
Carl Jung.

What are Dream Archetypes?

While
we all dream differently with different images and different characters, Carl
Jung believed that dreams fell into a dream archetype, and he developed this
theory in the early 1900s. In this theory, Carl Jung believed that our life
experiences carried over into our unconscious mind to play a vital part in our
dreams. Because of this, Carl Jung developed five main dream archetypes: the
self, the shadow, the anima, the animus, and the persona.

The 5 Main Dream Archetypes: Definitions, Explanations, and Examples

1. The Self

The self is the center of the psyche, sometimes referred to as the archetype of
wholeness. It is the unification of your conscious and unconscious. Carl Jung
believed this archetype possessed your consciousness (what you know about
yourself to be true) and your unconscious (what you don’t know about yourself
or what may be the opposite of your consciousness) in a contrasting effect.
This means that your conscience, which is what you know about yourself to be
true, will be the opposite of your unconscious.

An example of this would be nervous vs. confident. If you are nervous in your
life, your unconscious will be confident. This is the self as a whole, covering
both the conscious and the unconscious of your psyche.

Part of Jung’s theory of dream archetypes as it pertains to the self is in the
individuation process. Jung described the individuation process as the journey
a person takes to discover their true destiny. In this journey, the person
increases their consciousness, which has an effect on themselves as a whole.

2. The Shadow

The shadow is appropriately named because it is dark and unknown. The shadow is
symbolic of our dark side and represents the area of our psyche that we have denied,
suppressed, or unacknowledged. The shadow can manifest itself as any lifeform
that brings fear. This may include a monster, a drug addict, a killer, or a
criminal. The shadow is typically the same gender as the dreamer.

With the shadow archetype, it is important to remember that this is normal. Everyone
has fears, regrets, insecurities, anger, and frustration. Just because you have
the shadow archetype doesn’t mean that you are a representation of evil
personified. It is simply the darker side of your psyche coming out in your
unconscious that you have otherwise tried to suppress.

3. The Anima

The anima is the feminine qualities, image, and attributes within a male dreamer.
Jung believed that every man possessed feminine qualities within his psyche,
and those qualities would come out in the manifestation of dreams. Further,
Jung believed that the anima archetype was developed during infancy, as a male
infant begins to gravitate towards the mother-figure in his life.

There are symbols and animals to represent the anima. These include the cow, tiger,
cat, ship, and a cave. These symbols and animals are associated with the
female. For example, a cave symbolizes a woman’s womb. These symbols and
animals represent the anima archetype.

4. The Animus

Opposite of the anima is the animus. The animus is the male qualities, image, and
attributes within a female dreamer. Just like the anima, Jung believed the
animus archetype was developed during infancy when the female infant began to
gravitate towards the father-figure in her life. Jung believed that women
possessed male qualities within her psyche, and those qualities would come out
during dreams. Jung believed that the anima archetype was one dominant female
figure, while the animus encompasses many complex parts.

Symbols and animals that represent the animus archetype are an eagle, a bull, a lion, a
tower, a spear, or any other phallic symbol. Spears and towers are symbolic of
a male because they represent a phallic symbol, the metaphor of an erect penis,
something that has been studied in psychology since Ancient Egypt.

5. The Persona

The persona is your public image. It is how you feel you are viewed in public, but
it is also the mask you put on when we present ourselves to the world. The
persona is usually our best impression, but it can also be a false impression
of who we truly are.

The persona archetype begins at a young age when children are learning how they
need to behave and be perceived in public. The persona is where all urges,
impulses, and reactions are controlled. The persona archetype can adapt to any
situation or environment it is in.

Understanding The Great Mother Archetype

While these are the main 5 archetypes that are most discussed when studying the analytical
psychology of Carl Jung, there is one additional archetype that is worth
mentioning: the great mother.

The great mother archetype contains a dominant mother-figure that appears in the
dream and plays a major role. This role can be either positive or negative.

The positive role of the great mother is a nurturer and protector. The great mother
may appear as your own mother, grandmother, or another mother-figure in your
life. The great mother may also possess features that represent nature and
growth in nature.

Alternatively, the great mother can also be negative. The negative version of the great mother
may give an appearance of a witch or unsightly woman. In addition to a
repulsive appearance, a negative great mother will likely be seductive, vile,
dominant, and mysterious. The negative great mother will seek to get the
attention of the dreamer through seduction, dominance, or temptation.

Archetypes and Dream Characters

As Carl Jung explained, there are several categories of archetypes that a dream
will fall into. Within these archetypes will be certain characters, and it is
important to be able to distinguish the difference in the characters for what
type of dream you are having.

One of the most common types of dreams that we often experience is to dream we are
being chased. It’s a common dream for many of us, especially those who are in
their 20s. These dreams are known as chase or pursuit dreams. These types of
dreams occur when you are going through a transitional period in your life,
such as starting a new job, getting a divorce, or ending a relationship. In the
beginning, these dreams are intense and nightmarish, but they dissipate over
time as you get older, and your conscience becomes wiser.

If a monstrous figure, such as a dark, evil creature, is chasing you in your dream, this
is an indication that you are losing control of your emotions. These dreams can
also be associated with wild predatory animals, such as wolves or wild dogs.

Expanding Your Consciousness by Working with Dream Characters

Because we have identified these archetypes and dream characters that are commonly
found as we dream, we can now understand how to identify them and work with
them to expand our consciousness as we dream.

Archetypes have the power to change our behavior, control our emotions, guide our minds,
and help provide meaning to our lives.

Dream Characters and Behavior

The characters in our dreams, according to Jung, are personified instincts. When
instincts come to life in the form of these various archetypes, a specific
behavior within us is triggered. You can begin to predict these patterns and
triggers. Depending on the archetype of the dream, you can predict the
characters that will appear and what behaviors, traits, and characteristics
they will possess.

Dream Characters and Emotions

Archetypes
are related to our conscious, unconscious, or both, so it is no surprise that
they have the ability to prompt emotions. Characters within these archetypes
will prompt an appropriate emotion that relates to the archetype. For example,
a shadow archetype in the form of a monster will invoke fear and panic.

Dream Characters and Our Minds

A
person’s mind is compiled of many different parts, so it only fits that many
characters also exist in our minds, subsequently make an appearance in our
dreams at any time. The presence of this variety of characters has given them
the term subpersonalities and parts.

Subpersonalities
are half-permanent and half-autonomous that combine together to act as a
person, and there are many of these subpersonalities within our mind. When
dream characters appear, they play a specific role, and they have the ability
to have an effect on many different areas of our minds.

Dream Characters and the Meaning of Life

The last area of dream characters that you will want
to be familiar with is the association between dream characters and the meaning
of life. The meaning of life often transpires in our dreams and fantasies
before they come to life. It is in this space where archetypes help guide us to
our meaning of life by taking our innermost thoughts to give our lives a sense
of purpose.

About Author

Forrest Webber, At Dreams and Mythology, our aim is to cultivate a more conscious relationship with the whispers within us. Our goal is not to decipher some cryptic message sent from an unknown source… thereby achieving some enlightenment or transcendence.

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