The Wilderness of Our Emotions


getPartIn 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 I 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 18 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 uncomfortable feelings was part of my persona, the social mask I had built around my inner self to cover up my vulnerability. 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 and depression in Western society today. We have long believed that the path to healing, spiritual growth, and happiness can be found by accepting mainstream beliefs and devoting our energy to straight-forward, one-sided, stiff-upper-lip, upward-striving, people-impressing mental effort!  But, the true path takes a wandering way deep into the dark forest of our unconscious selves. This is where we’ve been dumping  unacceptable truths about ourselves, especially painful emotions, in the hope they’d go away. Unfortunately, they don’t, and they never will until we can find and face them.

Fortunately, our dreams send pictures of the contents of our personal garbage dump every night. Sometimes they are images of angry, cruel, sad, suffering, self-pitying, or fearful people, animals, or objects.  Sometimes it is we, our dream ego, who feel these and other disowned emotions. Either way, recording and reflecting on these images, paying special attention to those that bring up uncomfortable emotions, and trying to see where they show up in our waking life, is how we find the treasure buried beneath the garbage.

Once we can see and admit to our true emotions, the next step is simply to allow ourselves to feel and grieve them without having to act on them.  This is how, step by step, dream by dream, picture by picture, we walk the path of healing our pain and moving into the fullness of our lives. I wish you well on this healing adventure into the wilderness of your true Self.

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. Good Morning, Jeanie Up early and read your post. Think you would enjoy this Atlantic article about the new Pixar film Inside Out. drove over to Asheville today to catch a late afternoon showing. I wish I had thought to call and see if you wanted to join me. It is a very clever look at our emotional underpinnings ~ core memories tucked away and recalled unexpectedly, joy, sadness, anger, disgust… Pat Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2015 04:03:26 +0000 To:

    1. Hi, Pat! Thanks for sending the link to this great article. I just read it and loved it. I really appreciate your thinking of asking me to join you in seeing Inside Out, but I just got back from Aspen yesterday and am still in Orlando. But I’m returning to the mountains tomorrow! Anyway, I saw Inside Out late last week and think Pixar did an amazing job of explaining the power our emotions have over us and the importance of seeing and respecting them without necessarily having to give in to uncomfortable ones. For anyone reading this, I highly recommend this film, Inside Out! Especially for children! And I love the synchronicity of my scheduling this post last week before I had seen the film or knew what it was about!

  2. Yes, I learned many years ago, that for me, my depression was unexpressed anger. Once I acknowledged and dealt with my anger my depression stopped. I truly believe that many depressed people may have the same experiences. Left over anger from childhood.
    Anger/feelings are expressed in many interesting forms. I enjoyed your post.

    1. Hi Gwynn, yes, I’ve heard many people make the same connection between their depression and unexpressed anger, and I agree that the roots of it are in our earliest experiences. Thanks so much for making this point. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post.

  3. Thank you; this is such a supportive post and encouraging post. You said: “I assumed — again, I was not aware of this assumption at a conscious level — that what I thought and how I appeared to others was more important than what my heart felt.” I was nodding my head vigorously; because my husband and I are seriously considering moving closer to my mom, this past year has been a practice for me of doing a little “undercover” work about my childhood and adolescence. Wanting to build a closer relationship with my mom — without disappearing myself — has led us both into trying to have conscious conversations about how we perceived the past differently, and how to move beyond that into a healthier relationship.
    This also entails how much of a misfit I felt myself to be, as I mention in my latest blog post:
    “Either way, recording and reflecting on these images, paying special attention to those that bring up uncomfortable emotions, and trying to see where they show up in our waking life, is how we find the treasure buried beneath the garbage.” Indeed! I had a confusing, discomfiting dream last night that I’m trying to unravel! Thank you! 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, Darla. I’m so glad to know this is useful and that it shed a bit more light on what you and your husband are working through. And I hope you’ve managed to glean some meaning from your discomfiting dream. When I have one I ask myself questions like, “What did I think or feel or do in the dream that makes me feel uncomfortable now? What was the dominant emotion? When do I feel that way in waking life? Is that a reasonable or unreasonable way for me to feel, given what I’ve been going through recently?”
      For example, when I was questioning my religion and finding my own spiritual way I had lots of dreams about breaking the law or being questioned by authority figures who found my behavior suspicious. Once I was helping someone rob a bank and couldn’t figure out why I had done that and was worrying about being arrested. A few times I was in jail, or breaking out of jail, or aligning myself with a group of “dangerous” rebels, or doing something else I considered wrong or illegal. And when I woke up I’d feel guilty or ashamed and thought maybe these dreams were telling me I was a terrible person; maybe somewhere inside I was actually a person of low character, too easily persuaded to do wrong, or amoral.
      But that was taking the dreams literally. They weren’t saying I had a character flaw. They were about my emotional life, about the way I’d been feeling lately because of my “spiritual divergence.” I finally realized that it was my choice to do something that my community felt was aberrant or divergent that was making me feel guilty! I wasn’t breaking any formal laws, but I was breaking an unwritten law of my community whose attitudes and behaviors conveyed the not-so-subtle message, “Believe what we tell you to believe. If you don’t, you deserve to be punished!” It took me a long time to gain the confidence and personal authority to stop feeling guilty about being true to myself instead of blindly conforming out of fear of rejection.
      I enjoyed reading your latest post and totally resonate with your circumstances. Being an introvert can make one feel like a misfit, especially when most people you know seem to be extraverts. And having different religious views from the mainstream in your community can make one feel even more isolated.
      Thank you for writing.

  4. Thank you Jeanie for this powerful post and your responses to those who commented. Our parents were of the school of stoicism as were their parents. This was ingrained in us and all parental and social conditioning that requires us to hide our own true selves is a huge task to unravel, uncover and re-discover. Dreams are an enormous help if we take the time and pay attention. I loved what you said about robbing a bank – I’ve done that in my dream world! Money is of course a metaphor (energy) for much –
    I’ll be keeping a lookout for Inside Out – what a great title!

    1. Thank you, Susan. In your astute and succinct observation that, “Our parents were of the school of stoicism as were their parents. This was ingrained in us and all parental and social conditioning that requires us to hide our own true selves is a huge task to unravel, uncover and re-discover. Dreams are an enormous help if we take the time and pay attention,” you described my exact issue that led me to dreamwork, and a major, if not ‘the’ major benefit of dreamwork for me.
      It has, indeed, been a huge task, and it is still going on (I just finished recording and deriving meaning from an amazing dream I had the night before last about a very healthy new development with my animus!) But from the very beginning I realized that the benefits so outweighed the burdens that dreamwork quickly transformed from being a task into a life-serving passion. It’s my life-blood now and I so wish I knew how to trigger that passion in others so they might experience the exciting inner transformation I’m undergoing, I know you are experiencing it as well, and I love the way you express it in your blog. We have been very lucky indeed, to have found a way to tap into our inner Wisewomen haven’t we?

  5. Jean, not only you, but all of us whom you influence are grateful to Justina Lafley for helping you unlock this part of yourself. We have not yet met, but I become a bit angry at the thought of “some men” treating you badly. Thank you for your wisdom!

  6. Oh, what a delight to read this today – I had the MOST disturbing dream last night, and just to know their are tender sensitive dreamworkers out there who have worked through so many issues gives me that sense of community at least 🙂
    Thank you, Jean, for all the good work you do… xxx

    1. Thank you, Katalina. And what a delight you are to me, to be so open to your inner life and so willing to work through your issues, and to let me know. This takes so much courage.
      Just to reinforce your sense of community, I’ll tell you about a disturbing dream I had the other night. It featured three nuclear plants, one after the other, along the left side of a dirt road, each spewing smoke from tall smokestacks. And I was walking along the road in the company of a male friend, trying not to breathe in the toxic smoke, both of us determined to reach a healing center. When I arrived, the lovely woman doctor told me they had found a drug that might work for me; it was one they had been using for Altzheimer’s.
      This was so disturbing that I avoided recording it for 3 days. I think I was hoping I’d forget it. Seriously. I know better. I know this needn’t be taken literally, that it had to do with uncomfortable feelings I’d been having lately after two stressful weeks in which I’d had no time for healing solitude. Yet, the mention of Altzheimer’s was so scary. This is how fearful the ego is, even one that’s spent a third of its earthly life on inner work. Growing up and facing life’s truths is hard work, the hardest there is. And, as they say, getting old is not for sissies! Yet, from a cosmic perspective, healing ourselves is the only work that counts because its effects are lasting and beneficial to all.
      So hang in there, my sister. You and I and people like us can take comfort in knowing that although this way is difficult, deep within us a spiritual warrior is engaged in holy work.

      1. Part of what is so interesting about dreams… when you say the scary part of your dream was the mention of Alzheimer’s. That is the part that resonates with you as the terror, bigger than say, the 3 nuclear plants, which sounds pretty scary to me 🙂
        One of my closest girlfriends is caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s, so for her too, it is one of her greatest fears.
        In my recent dream (which at first I felt very ashamed of, somehow, cause it seems so extreme, but I told it to some friends last night and am getting over myself a little…) it began with me wearing a kind of clear plastic bubble helmet over my head, and then I cut my head off, beheaded myself.
        The dream kept going, and there was something inside the house of a film critic / teacher in Montreal – a guy I barely know but who is very active on facebook so I end up reading a lot of his posts. In the dream, I think I was suggesting interior decorating ideas, and he was surprisingly receptive and it felt like the beginning of a friendship.
        At a certain point it occurred to me I had cut off my head and didn’t have much time left, that I would likely die soon if I didn’t do something about this situation.
        So I walked through a kind of hotel lobby / mall complex space until I got to the ER entry of the hospital.
        In the little front reception area, there were several bodies on the floor and blood everywhere, and the triage nurse kind of cackled with a vengeful pride that she had dealt with these people in the way they deserved.
        I was beginning to get light-headed at this point – the disconnect between my body and head was beginning to feel like a really dire problem and I fainted – as I fell, I was hoping that this would get me the attention from hospital staff that I needed.
        Now, in the Robert Moss school, at this point I would offer a “reality check”, and part of this reality check would be that I have been working on a really tight deadline for the last month or so, and I feel like I am a head sitting at a computer, and my body is just there to move me between computer, kitchen, computer, bathroom, computer, bed.
        So the separation between head and body feels very real, but the dream has brought it to a much more vivid place….

  7. Yes, it is interesting to see how different egos respond to different images. I immediately associated the smoking nuclear plants with a bit of toxicity escaping from my unconscious. I’d had two very full weeks with a bare minimum of alone time to recuperate. This can be very difficult for an introvert and I could feel my shadow seeping through in the form of uncomfortable attitudes and emotions that were polluting my “environment.” My ego knew this was what the plants meant to me and so I wasn’t so alarmed about that image. Years ago when I had little awareness of my emotional life I dreamed of a nuclear plant exploding underground. I didn’t know what that meant until a couple of days later when my cooped up, disowned shadow finally burst out in a powerful explosion of emotion. So the plants were a reality check that alerted me to a potentially problematic shadow.
    The allusion to Altzheimer’s was a bit scarier because new, even though my reality check reminded me that the more stress I am experiencing from the outer world, the worse my memory gets and the more addled I get in general. This has always been the case with me, but it took me a few days to put these images together in a way that clarified the message: I was “dangerously” (as far as my ego was concerned) in need of some extended down time, and there would be trouble if I didn’t get some soon!!!
    I’ve had the “head-separated-from-the-body” theme show up in a dream or two and have the same associations with it as you: Too much mind work that is unconnected to the body and emotions. You were so smart to let your dream out into the open by sharing it with your friends. In my experience, that always helps to put scary dreams into perspective. Sometimes the unconscious has to greatly exaggerate to get the ego’s attention, and while that frightens the ego it is also a sign that the dreamer is ready to deal openly with the issue at hand and will benefit greatly for having done so.
    Love this conversation! Thank you for keeping it going. I’m sure there are readers who will benefit from it.

    1. Oh, I love the way you know and recognize the nuclear imagery – you’ve seen it before, and it is now an image that speaks to you in a direct way. That you can then relate it to what is happening in daily life is really a great place to be at – the dialogue is well developed.
      Your words about perspective on the scariness are much appreciated – I’m still kinda shakin’ in my boots… 🙂

  8. I love how this moves through what was to what you have learned. I’ve been working with those inner judges for too many decades. They still show up with new tricks. I stumbled over “Fortunately, our dreams send pictures of the contents of our personal garbage dump every night.” I read on and already knew what you meant, but those words took me to a self-critical corner that scolds me for expressing continuing grief. You poked my shadow, helped me take a look, and reminded me that my personal garbage dump is an inner world of rich treasures and revelations.

    1. Thanks, Elaine. So since you know that poking your shadow was a good thing, I won’t apologize! And you can poke my critical bullies and judges any time! 🙂

      1. No apology needed. I notice where I’m reactive (as well as I can) and I’m glad to look again. This is an old issue for me. If were something new, it might take me longer to be willing to look.

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