Pedagogy of Individuation –or- Much Ado About Nothing?

Ginnette, 24

I had a recurring dream as a 5 and 6-year-old child that was so curious to me as a little girl, and so confusing to me as an adult, that I would really value feedback on it.

Please note that this dream only happened when I stayed at my grandparents' house for sleepovers. It only recurred 4 or 5 times, but it really stuck with me. The line between when I was in a wakened state and when I actually fell asleep is blurry for me. I am lying in the bed in the back room of my grandmother's house. I am facing the wall, very sleepy. I anticipate the dream, and I feel strange, but not really afraid. This is always when what I define the "dream" state begins. 

I have been kidnapped or abducted my small thin men/beings. I realize this sounds strange, but they are completely wrapped from head to toe in white, clean bandages, like mummies from horror movies. I am absolutely not afraid of them, they are clean and sterile-looking, and not hostile. I find them fascinating. They have taken me somewhere other-worldly, and I am on long lines of conveyer belts. I am completely nude, and have a delightful feeling. It is strange and tickly, and I am not old enough to understand this feeling as sexual. The beings cut out neat little wedges of flesh from my body, including arms, legs, buttocks and genitals, and spread a clearish-white liquid on the surfaces of sliced flesh. They then attach it back onto me, without pain, and I immediately feel wonderful. It is a very sensual and foreign feeling. Then I am placed back on the conveyor belts and run under heavy rollers. My body seems to go under these rollers effortlessly, and again there is no pain, just an increased delightful (but not quite sexual) sensation.

I always woke up after experiencing these "procedures" feeling nice, with butterflies in my stomach, but terribly lonely and unable to tell anyone about what happened. They were never nightmares: I was never afraid of these beings. But it was so real to me, that at 30 years old, I can physically recall the sensations of the dream.

I have delved into my childhood with a psychiatrist, thinking that the "experience" is an obvious metaphor or "hidden memory" of sexual abuse, but I really don't think I experienced anything of the sort as a child.

Have you ever heard of anything like this? I must admit that it has become an ongoing obsession to get to the bottom of it.

Mr Hagen's Reply: The Child's Body Image and the Melodramatic Imagination

You tell us that your dream was recurring when you were 5 or 6 years old. The dream seemed curious to you as a child. Curiosity is a fundamental drive that fuels the child's need to know about the world and themselves.

Peter Brooks The Melodramatic Imagination, tells us that: "Use of the word drama is authorized here precisely by the kind of pressure which the narrator has exerted upon the surface of things." By surface, Brooks means the narrator's surface of the narrative text and reality. The melodramatic (read rhetorical appeal to emotions) force of desire attempts to penetrate the surface by stripping away the façade of the comedy of manners . We find this stripping away of appearances in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing revealing the essential dramatizations of the human condition and everyday poetic conflicts which are at work. Such melodrama is found in the soap operas and the films of the genre of the damsell in distress.

Where can we enter the narrative surface of your text? One literary topos is where you say; "I can physically recall the sensations of the dream." Joy Davidson in The Agony of it All: The Drive for Drama and Excitement in Women's Lives finds that a drive for dramatic sensations, feelings, thought, and behaviour exists in all women. Applying this idea to dreams, one can see that the narcissistic autopsychodrama that is the dream, plays out within the theatre of the dreaming mind, where the romantic need for thrills, stimulation, and arousal can be channeled and sublimated. In waking existence, the rewards and the punishments of sensation-seeking make us feel alive or dead, and experience pleasure or pain.

Margaret Mahler The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant research into early child development provides a stage theory of the human individuation process and the libidinization of the body. From Mahler's perspective, it appears that your dream writes about the conflict of separation anxiety (from parents) and stranger anxiety (you are kidnapped). Mahler has placed this conflict in the first subphase of the differentiation of the body image. For Mahler the spectacle of observing the "building of bodily feelings, body image and eventual self representations..." are difficult to observe. However, we can see this developmental process of integration in children's dreams such as yours. We can see your affects (feelings) related to the integrated sense of body emerging. If we could collect large numbers of children's dreams we would be able to better achieve a pedagogical understanding of children's individuation needs that would enable them to create healthy body images. Many dreams received by the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR) speak of developmentally arrested and pathological body image development. The dreams almost invariably speak of sublimation gone awry and the obscene and grotesque body. From the perspective of the literary topos of the grotesque, they live on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams (read IIDR article).

From an aesthetic perspective, we can enter your dream, where you say; "I am completely nude and have a delightful feeling." In this passage of the text you show how you understand all your body parts; flesh, arms, legs, buttocks and genitals. You also tell us that the feelings of nudity are sensual not sexual. The artistic female nude provides the basis for another interpretation found at the IIDR website The Female Nude -or- The Mysteries of Paris.

Finally, we can also discuss what you have called the "procedures" which leave you feeling nice with butterflies in your stomach. Having also worked in a child psychiatric unit, it was always a marvel to watch the child's oft-time enchanting developing sense of poetics of the body (butterflies in my stomach). The sanitizing procedures you experience, most likely harkens back to early memories when your diapers were being changed and the scatological body sensations you were sensing.

For those who are asking about the image in the theatre above, it is Rembrandt's Andromeda an archetypal artistic representaion of the damsel in distress.



All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.