My recurring dream
Is this a dream or reality?
A warning: This post discusses partially traumatic memories and dreams, involves brief mention of assault and abuse. I have the moral and ethical responsibility to forewarn my readers that reading this post could trigger some uncomfortable feelings especially if you have a history of abuse. If you have any history of trauma, emotional or sexual abuse, please consider reading this post very carefully. If you decide to read and it triggers some uncomfortable feelings, I encourage you to talk with someone you feel close or talk to a therapist.
I have a recurring dream that comes back to me in different shapes and forms.
Last night I had one those, and I thought its time to write about it, finally.
It is not easy for me to write about this. But I know writing will help me to process and it will get easier eventually. (Quite a paradox, huh.)
In my dream, I am in a closed space, a building I guess ,as I remember being entrapped in a space. As I went down the corridors of this place. I remember it being quite dark and quiet, kind of very spooky.
I usually have the same dream in different settings, once I was in a large room with doors on both sides, and the door were made of glass...(meaning I was not able to hide) In all these dreams, someone is following me and I am not able to escape or hide from that person in these enclosed places. Somehow this person always catches up to me.
I can't exactly recall the incident yet I remember I got assaulted by this person. I don't exactly remember how, but I recall being very ashamed, violated so I believe there is a sexual component to this assault.
Then I remember seeing my father in the dream and telling him about this assault, that I am attacked and harmed. I remember him telling me that he will investigate this issue further and going away physically in the dream.
I remember getting very upset with him, because I don't recall him accepting the abuse or even acknowledging it. I felt like it was brushed away and he was ashamed of me, that I was attacked and somehow this was my fault.
The emotional core of the dream was rage and underlying disappointment when he went away with the excuse "to investigate it" and I knew in the dream that he was not coming back when he went away.
Deep down my disappointment was getting very hard to deal with... I remember thinking: "aren't' you suppose to protect me as my father?"
"aren't you suppose to believe me when I tell you that someone harmed me?"
"what do you need to investigate?? I already told you."
"I need you be there for me and believe me, when I tell you I am assaulted."
The dream usually ends with him leaving, and me trying to deal with a bunch of feelings underlying my anger towards him, alone.
Well, quite a dark dream, huh? So many things go on here, so let's look deeper at each one of them, one thing at a time.
What does this dream represent?
A little disclaimer, I am well-used to thinking about my dreams, as my therapist used to ask me to bring some dreams to discuss in our sessions and I always like to think about the deeper meaning of dreams with her. She used to help me see some patterns and how my unfinished psychological business or unprocessed feelings keep coming up in my dreams.
I kind of support Freudian view that dreams are representations of our unconscious mind and shows deeper insights to our psychological functioning. As Freud used to consider them "the royal road to the unconscious".
It is also important to mention here that the last book I was reading, The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom has it's seven last chapters dedicated to importance of dreams and how to use them in psychotherapy. The need to use of dreams in psychotherapy are well-known, and he reiterates them in the book as "they (the dreams) represent an incisive restating of the patient's deeper problems, only in a different language -- a language of visual imagery."
Exactly. So, let's take a "Freudian" approach and think for a second on what does this dream represent.
A lot actually.
I haven't explicitly spelled it out before in my blog, or outside my very close circle, but I am estranged from my father for a couple years now. We had on and off periods of contact, but there are times when we have not spoken to each other for years.
I have written many letters to him, some of them I sent and some other ones at times like when I really wished to see him, like on his birthday last year (read here) or when we first came to Canada (read here) and I have written many others that only I have access to.
My father has been one of the most important figures of my life. He has been one my strongest supporters ( for a long while ) and someone that I deeply respected and loved.
You might be rightfully wondering why someone would decided to cut contact with their father, someone they speak highly and loved much and sadly there is no easy answer to this.
I guess all I can say is, if a relationship comes down to choosing one's self or the relationship, then you have to make a decision.
I know family estrangement is a big taboo and that is the exact reason why I have never talked about it openly, except my husband, therapist and a few close friends. I was ashamed of not talking to my father. I was ashamed that something was deeply wrong with me that I decided to cut contact with a close family member, who deeply hurt me.
When family hurts you, the family who is suppose to be close to you no matter what, who should love you under all circumstances, and who should support you against all evils - it changes you.
It changes you because you can not tell many people that you decide to cut contact with family. Most people will tell you that "they are family" and shrug of their shoulders, as if it means they are allowed to hurt you and you are suppose to endure it. Some people will dismiss you and others will feel just pity.
It is a lose-lose situation to talk about it, in my experience. That is why it is a deeply alienating experience when you decide to cut contact with family. You just not only lose your family connections, this decision also cuts a certain bond between with you and other people who seem to have "good" family relationships on the surface. and that is A LOT of people.
It leaves you like an alien, from another planet. And shame loves being an alien. It creeps in and eats your soul.
My therapist reassured me (I don't know how many times...) that estrangement is a more common theme that I ever thought yet, I didn't fully believe her. It felt so lonely and shameful for years and I never have came across anyone who cut contact with their family, (except my husband). I have not even heard that that was a possibility.
Up until, I read the book Fault Lines by Dr. Karl Pillemer. (you can check my other post here, where I discuss this book in detail) I was not even sure how many people out there were feeling the same, or going through a similar process... I thought it was me, my husband and some other people here and there.
Now I know the exact numbers 65 million people in the US alone who are some how estranged with a family member.
And that is undeniably a lot of people.
I feel so relieved to feel that this is not some extraordinary or crazy thing that only I feel (and of course sad for these 65 million people who are suffering like me...) I don't feel like I need justification or support for my behavior yet it feels "good" to know that it is actually a common theme that families have to grapple with. "It is a silent epidemic" as Karl Pillemer puts it.
I was blamed and shamed to think that something was terribly wrong with me if I decide to put boundaries and protect my wellbeing, by cutting contact with my family. Now after several years, I don't feel that exact way and able to write about this.
The long story short, this recurring dream of mine, is not just a dream. It is my reality. It represents my (unfulfilled) need for protection from my father who psychologically walked away from me and did not protect me under assault. It depicts my deep disappointment towards him.
Why do I keep seeing this dream, what is my trigger?
The obvious reason on the surface is that this is my ongoing struggle to forgive and accept things as they are. The part of it is an unprocessed trauma keeps coming back to me in my dreams in different shapes and forms.
I tend to see this dream, especially when I have an incident to trigger something in me. So, what was my trigger this time?
I believe yesterday talking to my mother on the phone, where she told me that my father is upset that he is not able to see his granddaughter much, kind of triggered this dream. Perhaps I slightly felt guilty about not talking to him, but also unable to accept him as he is and still being disappointed with him. (Welcome to my dilemma) My unconscious mind decided to deal with this while I was sleeping, because after several years I am tired of thinking about this during my awake hours.
The second reason that might have triggered this dream is my experience with an educational parenting group that I am part of. It is called Circle of Security and the purpose of this group is to learn about the emotional needs of our child and how to support them, how to develop a secure attachment.
It was week 5 and we were discussing the path to security. The facilitator was explaining to us, how our own histories as parents affects the way we perceive our children's behavior and needs and how we relate to them. She mentioned that these experiences might act as a background music (a peaceful music or an ominous one which they call shark music) to what is happening in between us and our child and it can determine how we perceive our children's cues.
For example, we might feel uncomfortable if our child is crying and whining and when we are in the middle of a thing (a work call, a household task, can be anything basically...) The cue itself (crying or whining) is a neutral expression of needs, yet we might perceive this as a nuisance and our "shark music" might start to play, which would make us uncomfortable and eventually we might not meet the need of our child due to our shark music. This can be the case especially if we were treated unpleasantly as a child when we expressed our needs. It is okay not being able to meet 100% of our child needs, yet if our "shark music" interferes with our ability to show up for our kid, then this affects the secure attachment between us. adversely.
Please watch the below video for what this brilliant program is all about.
After the session ended, I started reflecting on my own "shark music" and specific times when I hear it, while we interact with Eleanor.
I guess I hear it especially when she needs me to be there to comfort her, when she is crying and also when something is bothering her, that I can't see or understand.
If she cries, for example, in the middle of the day, for no apparent reason and when I am in the middle of something, I feel my blood boil. I just keep asking her "what is it? tell me." and I know she can't, as she can't yet talk. Even if she was able to talk, she might not be aware of what is exactly bothering her or may not able to articulate this properly.
I am usually bothered when I can not understand what it is that is bothering her and I feel this urge to understand and FIX things for her. If I can't fix things, I feel very frustrated and defeated. As you can imagine, it doesn't go as well when I do this... (tears and screams on both sides...)
Sometimes I can bring myself to just be there for her and not to fix things. Not trying to understand but just be there and say "hey, it is going to be okay. I am here"
I wonder how she feels when I keep asking her, "tell me, explain me..." My money would be on the fact that she feels very upset, misunderstood and disappointed with me, when I force her to tell me stuff, so that I can fix it, and can not just be there for her.
Well, that reminds me a very familiar dynamic. The dynamic that we used to have between my father and me: Me getting upset about something and him trying to make me explain and fix it.
There goes my trigger. Whatever I went through with my own parents, manifests itself as my trigger with my own daughter. (Damn it....)
The reason why I keep seeing this dream and why I can't forgive my father because of my feelings of being misunderstood and disappointment are triggered through my relationship with Eleanor.
I still can't make my peace with the fact that my father couldn't just be there with me, when I told him that I was hurt. The fact that he tried to understand it and fix it and then leave me, when I was not able to explain... I still can not let that go.
He was not able to see or understand my hurt, as at the time it was too shameful and complicated for me to explain and he just couldn't bring himself to tell me, "OK Kumsal I hear you. I try to see your point yet I don't really understand where you are coming from. I might not even agree with you on this, but it seems to be bothering you, causing you pain and most importantly you are telling me that, you need me to be there for you, to understand you. So as hard as it is, I will try this for you Kumsal. Because I love you and I want to be there with you, Kumsal."
Of course he was not able to say any of this (both he and I tried to do some sort of unsuccessful reconciliation attempts...) and I was not able to accept his "negligence and abandonment" and continue to stay in a relationship with him.
Now that I was able to assess the dream, what it represents and why I was triggered, one might ask what is next.
That is a great question. And I don't know the answer.
When it comes to family and difficult family relationships, there are no shortcuts, there is no magic wand.
I don't know if I would be able to forgive my father for what he did or did not do.
I don't know if I would be able to move on and process this wound within myself.
What I know is that, it is an amazing start I started speaking up about this topic.
The fact that I am writing this here, means I am no longer ashamed of the fact that I am not speaking to my father and what happened between us.
I am on my road to recovery. And it is a tough road.
When our core needs are not met, when we expect something from a loved one and that need is not seen or met, we feel abandoned, disappointed and raged. The closer this loved one is, deeper and stronger the response.
Perhaps one way to come out of this rabbit hole, is to think about their needs, when they were acting a certain way and disappointed us. What was their motive? Why did they behave the way they did? That kind of perspective can go a long way, to understand and accept that person as they are. An imperfect human after all.
It always comes down to the fact that whether we can accept people as they are, and be present as we are in a relationship.
I am able to see what is on play with my dynamic with Eleanor and how my attempts to understand and fix things, when she just needs me to be there, is making us both suffer, could be the way out from this rabbit hole. Maybe eventually down the line, I will be able to accept and forgive my father, for behaving a certain way and find peace within myself.
I guess at the end of the day we need to ask ourselves, whether we can let go of anger, bitterness and the higher ground and be the bigger person here.
and that is the question I am asking myself, every single day.