Dreams: Pictures of Emotions


In the early years of working with my dreams my focus was almost entirely on head work: thinking, reading, discriminating, clarifying, understanding, analyzing symbols, and so on. I had heard that dreams were pictures of emotions and I enjoyed dreams that left me feeling happy or good about myself, but others that left me feeling bothered after I woke up were deeply puzzling.

As a child I learned to ignore uncomfortable emotions, or ones which, if I expressed them, would earn the disapproval of my family. By the time I entered junior high school, instead of responding authentically to each situation as it came, I automatically — and completely unconsciously — processed my reactions through a filter of how I thought I was supposed to act, which was calm, nice, reasonable, and, above all, unemotional.

I assumed — again, I was not aware of this assumption at a conscious level — that what my mind thought and how I appeared to others was more important than what my heart felt. I thought if I was tough enough to take whatever was handed to me and didn’t let it get to me, it simply wasn’t a problem. I thought it was just a function of mind over matter, and I was rather proud of my will power. The habit of being emotionally stoic was so deeply ingrained that I was almost completely unconscious of it as I was doing it, although I could sometimes see it after the fact.

It wasn’t until about twelve years ago that I finally began to see it as it was happening. The catalyst was a dear friend and gifted dreamworker, Justina Lasley. After I related a dream to her, Justina focused in on a part where some men were treating me unkindly and asked me how that made me feel. “Oh, fine. It’s no big deal,” I said offhandedly. Justina just sat there looking at me. “Really,” I said. “That’s just the way some men are; I understand that.” She just looked at me. I squirmed a bit under her penetrating gaze, and then the lightbulb went on. “Oh,” I said. “You mean, how do I really feel about this down deep? Oh, I get it! Well, I guess there’s a part of me that feels… sad? Hurt? Maybe…a little angry?”

I was stunned at this revelation. For the first time, I really got it in my gut that my automatic denial of strong feeling was part of my persona, the social mask I had built around my inner self to cover up my vulnerability. (Like the ego, the persona is neither good nor bad; we all have a social personality that helps us adapt to the requirements of everyday living.)

This was a huge breakthrough for me. I had always assumed that ignoring painful feelings was the right thing, the noble and spiritually desirable thing, akin to not being a whiner or complainer. But I was wrong. Why? Because our emotional realities are as important to our well-being as mental ones, and repressing them saps the life out of us. When we lose touch with our feelings we lose touch with our souls. Indeed, in our compulsion to elevate logos over mythos/eros we’ve lost our souls.

This is a major reason for the epidemic of anxiety in Western society today. The path to wholeness lies in accepting the whole truth about ourselves, including all our emotions, and not just the socially acceptable ones! Allowing ourselves to feel them without having to act on them is one of the best ways I know of to become who we are. This is something I’m still working on!  How about you?

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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0 Responses

    1. Hi Rachel, I had a rebirthing experience too. For me it didn’t bring up any painful feelings; only feelings of wonder and awe, but feelings nonetheless. And they felt healing to me, very much like a prayer. I’m convinced that getting in touch with our deepest feelings is key to healing the anger, fear, anxiety and meaninglessness we’ve created for ourselves in today’s world, and you’ve added a lot to this post by noting that paying attention to our dreams is not the only way to do that. Best, Jeanie

  1. I think that one of the things that can happen with emotions so long repressed is they can eventually break through and begin expressing themselves in ways that baffle outside viewers.
    I’m working at letting myself feel but not be overwhelmed by the feelings.

    1. That’s true. You decide to express how you really feel, but because there’s so much energy in the pent-up emotions they come out much stronger than necessary, and can be intimidating and off-putting. And you just don’t see that because you feel so justified in feeling what you do and so frustrated when the other doesn’t understand that.
      Another factor is that there are often other hidden emotions beneath the ones you’re trying to express, and these deeper, unconscious emotions color the ones you’re expressing in ways that others experience negatively. It’s a long process to dig up these hidden gems, and then, as you say, to learn not to be overwhelmed by them….or, overwhelm the person to whom you’re expressing them. But it’s the way to find the treasure buried in the toxic garbage dump of our life!!! Jeanie

  2. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been trying to express for a long time.
    I have been on my journey of self awareness for only two years, thank you for this valuable insight .

    1. You’re welcome, Karl. Unrecognized and/or unexpressed emotions are a huge obstacle to self-awareness. They probably comprise the bulk of most people’s shadows. The reason it’s so hard to understand this is that the process of repressing them begins when we’re small children and continues throughout childhood without our awareness, so that by the time we’re adults we have these deeply rooted, utterly unconscious habitual ways of hiding from or responding to our honest emotions that are as pervasive as the air we breathe, and as unnoticed by our ego selves. Then when we do notice a repressed emotion, we respond just like the little child we were when we first felt it. We’re afraid of expressing it, but for reasons which no longer apply and are no longer helpful to our adult selves, even though they felt necessary for self-protection when we were children. Don’t be daunted by the process of uncovering them. It can take a long time, but it’s utterly, completely worth it, in terms of our ability to learn to understand, love, and forgive ourselves for being human! Thank you for writing. Jeanie

  3. I can relate Jeanie, to your post and your replies. Thank you.
    I am in the midst of working and recovering hidden or temporarily lost emotions/feelings and challenging inner and outer truths. Sometimes it feels soooo difficult. Sometimes it feels like circling round and round, rehashing. Sometimes it feels soooo boring (accomplishing something, studying and learning is so much more interesting.) Sometimes it feels empty or weird. Sometimes it feels confusing. Sometimes if feels like “ugh,” will this ever end? Sometimes it feels isolating. Sometimes the small insights I glean feel huge, deeply inspiring and transformative. Sometimes I just sit, wonder and marinate in my dreams, feelings and thoughts – waiting, listening, feeling, seeing, etc – mixed with heart (even when my heart feels heavy) and hope. Most often, it feels like the hardest work I have ever done! Yet I continue (with my inner work/dreams), because I feel called to this. I must. As I dive more deeply, I moved from interest to – this is imperative. Choosing a different path feels less likely, even sometimes impossible. Although it feels like a calling, it also sometimes feels like an experiment – sometimes a scary experiment – and sometimes I wonder – is this the right path? It goes against the grain of “accomplishment.” Yet, being and being with all of who I am, and what I know, facing my truth, inside and out feels so right. What will come, will come – naturally, authentically.
    We’ll see.
    Thanks for sharing your experience and insights. Thanks for your encouraging words Jeanie.

    1. Dear Sandy, you’ve written a beautiful summary here of what the inner journey is like for everyone who takes it. There are no quick and easy answers because each of us brings our own unknown baggage with us as we travel into a dark place where no one else has ever gone before. I’ve experienced everything you’ve shared and after 23 years can honestly say it’s been the most exciting, worth-while, soul-satisfying adventure of my life and worth every moment I spent on it or tear I shed over it.
      It is by no means over yet, but I’ve gotten so used to walking through dark tunnels and finding powerful, healing, restorative light at the end of each one that I know it works and totally trust the process; hence, any discomfort I might feel nowadays is very short-lived and quickly forgotten! This, by the way is one of the greatest benefits of the process: no more beating up on myself for days on end! Blessings to you, brave and beautiful Sandy on your journey to your soul. Jeanie

    2. I can relate so much to this… especially the part about rehashing the same thoughts over and over again. It’s a vitally important process but it can feel so much like a wild goose chase sometimes.

      1. Hi Emerald,
        I really relate to your story, (as told in your comment below. I thought this comment would be after that one, but WordPress put it here!) especially the part about not being able to feel anything. At the age of 11 I cried long and hard when my parents divorced, but when my father died 3 months later all I felt was numb and didn’t shed one tear. I’ve read this is common in children who experience trauma; something just shuts down in the brain and body to protect us from unbearable pain. But all children also repress emotions and passions and ways of being that bring unwanted reactions from their families and peers, just as you describe.
        Thank you for sharing your story here. I think it’s wonderful, and somewhat unusual, that you knew this by the age of twenty. It gives me hope that our culture is becoming more emotionally savvy and articulate. I think it’s possible that the pervasiveness of television in everyone’s lives has been a positive influence in this regard. We see a lot of unhealthy stuff on TV, but there’s more emotional material displayed in one day of TV watching than I was exposed to in the first twenty years of my life!! Seriously. I think this may be making it possible for young people to understand their emotional selves at earlier and earlier ages, and I think this is ultimately a very good thing for all of us.
        I was in my late 30’s before I figured out “I’d been wrong about a lot of things” and began to think it might be a good idea to get back in touch with the vulnerable little girl in me. Then It took a lot of dreamwork and meditation, (for quieting that “rehashing” monkey mind you mentioned) before I could hear and allow myself to feel the more tender and vulnerable feelings I had repressed for so long.
        Good luck with your work in reclaiming your feelings. Know that in doing so you are not only healing yourself, but contributing to the healing of the world.

      2. Emerald (what a beautiful name!),
        Thanks for your reply and understanding. I agree with you how wonderful it is that Jeanie takes the time to reply to us with such generosity and wisdom. I appreciate it too! We are blessed! I appreciate you sharing your story too. I could relate to so much of what you shared. I love it that young people, as you, are able to tune in to this “consciousness shift” at a young age. That is so encouraging and heartwarming! I look forward to hearing more from you, if you feel like sharing!
        Blessings to you Emerald, on your journey and as always blessings to dear Jeanie too, Sandy

        1. Thank you for your kind response, Sandy. It’s beginning to feel like we’re establishing a little community of like-minded thinkers and feelers here! I love it! Jeanie

  4. Thanks for your recent posts on dreams, Jeanie. They have been very instructive and helpful. Yes, I have been working on being more in touch with my feelings and allowing them to be what they are also. My pattern has been to assign words/judgments to what I think based on what I’m feeling, as opposed to just feeling the feelings and discerning how and when they might need to be expressed or not. It is a deeper integration of my “masculine” supporting the “feminine” which serves to relate in more life-giving ways with myself and with others.
    Gratefully, Julie

    1. You’re welcome, Julie. Thanks for sharing your emotional pattern and how you are changing it. I think my pattern has been pretty much the same as yours. I’ve always judged my feelings as good or bad, right or wrong, from a mental perspective based on ideals, i.e. how I think I should feel instead of how I truly feel. Then I beat myself up over feeling the “unacceptable” feelings. And the more I judge myself, the more energy just seems to drain out of me until I feel mildly depressed and unhappy with myself.
      Now when I hear my self-critical thoughts I tell my “spiritual bully” that I hear him, but he’s being too hard on me because I’m just human. Then I tell my “wounded orphan” that she’s just fine and I love her and she gets to feel exactly what she feels. And when she’s feeling better we’ll decide together if we need to express these feelings, and if so, how! It works pretty well most of the time!

  5. Yes, thanks, that’s it!
    Emotional mastery is not easy for our emotionally sensitive souls/orphans, but it is so empowering to make that shift. Julie

  6. I began repressing my emotions when I was twelve.
    When I was a little girl I was often ridiculed by my peers for being eccentric and sensitive. So, when my ability to ignore my emotions became a social asset, I embraced this as one of the key points of my personality. In fact, many people have told me that they couldn’t imagine me getting upset at anything. Whenever I would get such a “compliment,” I would swell up with pride. This was also accompanied by an underlying sense of superiority of which I was mostly unconscious.
    All throughout my teen years I constructed so much of my identity around this repression. In fact, by the time I was sixteen, I thought the most important things about me were my unrelenting work ethic, my ironclad moral fiber, and my ability to take any situation in stride with a smile on my face. Anything short of perfection was a threat to my self worth.
    However, this could not go on forever. I realized something was missing. I couldn’t feel anything anymore. I couldn’t cry when loved ones died or when tragedies happened. I couldn’t get angry or defend myself when it was justified. I couldn’t feel joy or excitement when good things happened. The only thing that made me feel anything was the brief high I would get if I achieved something or proved my superiority in some way. I was stuck in my head to the point that I would have trouble not talking to myself in public. I began to wonder if I was a sociopath.
    Fortunately, when I turned twenty, everything finally came to a head. I realized that I’d been wrong about a lot of things. Most importantly, I realized I missed the eccentric, sensitive little girl that I had been trying so hard to get away from. So, for the past few years, I’ve been blazing a bumpy trail to regain the lost parts of my personality and to live more in reality. It’s been a crazy ride and I’ve taken a lot of wrong turns. But my feelings have been coming back little by little.
    I know it will be difficult, but I hope I can regain the level of compassion I had as a child.
    I remember a situation when I felt deeply compassionate. My dad likes to tell this story:
    At the age of four or five, I was watching the news with my dad. The reporter was presenting a story about a mudslide that was happening overseas. The reporter said that families had to leave their homes and that many people were starving because of inability to access food. Upon hearing this I began crying and said, “I’ll give them my food.”

    1. Thanks again for sharing your story, Emerald. The bulk of my response to it is above, but I’d just like to say here that I loved your touching story about wanting to share your food with the victims of the mudslide when you were five years old. I believe all children are born with the capacity for this sweetness and generosity of spirit. And I believe the hope for our world lies in the ability of as many of us as possible finding our way back to this way of being and responding to life. Jeanie

      1. Thank you for replying to my post! I think it’s wonderful that you take the time to respond to your subscribers. I greatly appreciate your insights and I find them extremely relevant.
        But in regard to your last statement, I agree 100%. I think more and more people are making sincere attempts at finding their way back to innocence and authenticity. I believe that the pain, violence, and warfare of the past several hundred years has been very traumatic for humankind. However, through the dark cloud of trauma, comes the silver lining of heightened awareness and healing.
        I believe that through globalization and the media (as you mentioned), our consciousness has been shifted in a direction that enables us to step back from ourselves and see the things that our society and our selves put upon us. I think this broadened perspective allows us to shed unhealthy ideas quicker and to “tune in” to ideas that are more universal and spiritual. This consciousness shift could be why I was able to tune in at such a young age.
        I’m very excited for the future of humanity, because I believe it to be a bright one. I look forward to doing my part to contribute to the healing of the world.
        Thanks again,

        1. You’ve described my thoughts exactly and eloquently! Thank you for your wonderful contribution to this blog! I look forward to further dialogues on this and other topics. Jeanie

  7. Hi Jeanie,
    The truth of your observations resonates throughout my body and soul. Wise words for connecting and rejoicing in our authentic selves.
    Even so, I am beginning to understand there may be another layer of dealing honestly with that which lies buried in my unconscious, or perhaps better said, the collective unconscious—that which is beyond self, that may be tugging at my psyche and heart.
    I am finally beginning to understand that when negativity surfaces it is usually an unresolved issue of which I am not yet aware. In acknowledging the authenticity of a repressed emotion and considering its roots, I am learning to recognize a larger reality. There are times when I may not even be aware of a frustration or negative feeling and it will emerge unbidden, usually in a surprising, destructive way. If an eruption occurs, I try not to place blame on myself or on another, but ferret out what is going on inside . Awareness and acceptance of my a negative feeling does not mean I have to act on it, but sure helps to understand it.
    More and more I am finding that changes in my own and other’s personal situations–new limitations, health issues and loss can obviously create fear, anger and/or sadness. It is a challenge to claim change, own the feelings and then live through to a new and perhaps different reality.

    1. These are insightful observations and wise words, Sally. There is, indeed, always more to learn about ourselves: layers of truth beneath layers of truth beneath layers of truth. If the inner world is as vast as the outer world, as many believe, then we currently know about as much about the unconscious as we know about what lies within the cosmos beyond our moon. There are unimaginably vast unexplored regions yet to be discovered in the inner and outer universes, enough to last for as long as humanity exists. If this doesn’t humble the proud ego which believes it fully understands itself, nothing will! Thank you for adding your thoughts. Jeanie

  8. Thank you for this wise post, Jeanie. In over two years of raw grieving after my husband vic’s death, I lost my ability to be “a good girl” and stop my tears. They had a life of their own. I quickly learned who could handle my emotional wetness and who couldn’t. A few friends disappeared, but my closest friends stuck close by and encouraged me to express my pain, outrage, and loneliness. Now one of them is losing her husband and I’m holding her hand and allowing her to express her pain. When I express my true feelings and then open my heart to the authentic and difficult emotions of others, deep layers of trust and love emerge.

    1. I’m humbled in the face of this kind of courage, Elaine. No one chooses this path. But you, and those like you who travel it out of love are the wounded healers who restore soul to today’s rampant soullessness. Blessings, Jeanie

  9. I always hide my emotions so well behind the smiling mask. I spent more than 15 years of my life not able to cry and was criticized around me for becoming so “passive”. The thing is that I was always bullied for being TOO emotional until the day I took the attitude “it’s OK and I don’t care”. I lost my mum when she was 55, my child was very sick, in an abusive marriage, and I didn’t have any reaction. I don’t know if I even felt sad or angry. I believed the mask and hated myself.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Nikky44. It’s a very sad one: criticized for being too emotional, criticized for being too passive, which was the only way you knew how to protect your tender heart. “I believed the mask and hated myself.” These are true and powerful words. Many of us can relate to them.
      I sense from your story that you don’t believe the mask any more, that you’re beginning to see how truly lovable you are, that you’re beginning to love yourself? I do hope so. Seeing and loving the truth behind the mask is how you can heal your heart.
      My wish for you is that this is happening to you, and that in the healing you will find strength to be who you truly are, and that seeing your transparent, authentic soul will inspire others to be real too.
      Blessings, Jeanie

      1. Thank you very much Jeanie for your beautiful and very kind words. In fact, I am trying to get out of “my shell”. I am trying to start loving myself which is very hard considering the life I have. I was so convinced that there was nothing to love in me until a year ago I had a friend who could see the real “me” and who loved me as i am. I am trying to look at myself through her eyes. We never met, and I think that helps to know a person’s soul without being influenced by other things.

        1. I agree. I also see your soul’s beauty shining through your posts and comments. I believe you are known and loved by the Mystery that pervades all creation, the Mother of us all in whose womb you were created and nurtured and protected. If you listen very closely, you can hear her voice in your highest goals and aspirations and in your dreams. Wishing you love. Jeanie

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