Note: The International Association for the study of Dreams will have its annual Conference in Virginia Beach this weekend. As some of you know, I’ll be presenting Friday night’s keynote speech. Since I’m still polishing it, I don’t have the time to write a new post, so this is one from a few years ago. Interestingly, last month I wrote a post about the mother complex and several of you wanted to know more. Then last week I wrote about a friend’s dream of killing Lance Armstrong that received more comments than any other post I’ve written. So it feels especially appropriate to repeat this one which features both themes. I’m looking forward to meeting some of you at the conference this weekend.
A friend recently sent me this dream. I want to share it with you, as it brings to mind the very interesting topic of the mother complex.
An old lady is beating up a boy. She is beating him up really badly, he has a bloody face. When she is done, she comes towards me, moving to my right. I go to the left to see if the boy is still alive. I fear he is not. She comes at me, and I kick her in the stomach and she goes flying backwards, off a cliff.
She comments: “This was not a positive dream. Kind of freaked me out a bit, had a hard time going back to sleep. Was wondering what you thought, if you have time.”
My initial response: “Think of the waking life context a day or two before you had this dream. Did anything happen that gave you the same feeling you had in the dream? Were you angry or worried about something? An older woman in your life? An uncomfortable awareness of your own aging? A memory of something hurtful involving an older woman?”
She responded: “This dream came right before I played in my first big tennis tournament. In retrospect, I was the oldest lady on the courts I played, all my opponents were at least half my age. I think it had something to do with that, being something I was worried about. The older feminine who squelched my ambition and drive in waking life was my mom. Since her death I have finally come into my own. This dream seems like a significant one.”
Being the oldest woman on the courts may have triggered emotions which activated the ancient Great Mother. In her positive aspect this archetype creates and nurtures new life. In her negative aspect she smothers and destroys it. The way we see her depends to a certain degree on our experiences with our personal mothers although other factors can enter in as well.
In this dream she’s a mean old lady trying to kill a boy. I’d see him as my growing Animus, associated with my drive to individuate. He’s the part of me that wants to rise up from my unconscious bath in the maternal matrix wherein I just float along enjoying being taken care of and respond to discomfort by blaming outer circumstances while remaining innocent of all personal responsibility. He wants me to light my own fire, forge my own identity, prove myself through tests of my own choosing, accept responsibility for my own behavior, and assume my own authority.
The fact that the dreamer kicks the woman off the cliff suggests a mythical motif Jung called “The Sacrifice.” Jungian analyst June Singer writes about “the child’s sacrifice of the paradise of the early and rewarding unity with the mother” that “All children have to work it out with their own mothers or mother-surrogates in the process of moving toward maturity.” Why? Because until they do, they will struggle with a host of debilitating issues and emotions which prevent the fuller development of their unique and creative selves. This is essentially what is meant by having “a negative mother complex.”
While the imagery of this dream may be shocking to a waking ego which does not see itself as a raging killer of little old ladies, there’s a deeper metaphorical meaning. In my projection, the mean old lady represents her negative mother complex: the factors that have stood in the way of her individuation.
This dream seems to say that the dreamer has acquired the psychological strength and self-awareness to acknowledge the wounding she received from her mother. No longer dependent on or controlled by her mother’s opinions of her, she is ready to empower herself, even if it means sacrificing her unrealistic fantasy of uniting with Mother in an innocent blissful paradise. This creative and courageous act has freed her dammed-up libido, (the positive aspect of the Great Mother, the divine creative force of nature), to be used toward protecting and manifesting her truer, fuller self.