REDEEMING THE FRUIT-FLY - Redecision work with a Recurring Dream
Abstract: Hypothesis: Most of our dreams are symbolic pictorial representations of our response to current issues in our lives, produced by the inner Self on the “ inner screen” of the mind. The author posits that recurring dreams identify a particular script issue which continues unresolved in the dreamer’s life until new insight or wisdom, or a change in the environment, enables the dreamer to change the script. The author has worked with many recurring dreams and nightmares to free the dreamer from lingering script decisions. After a brief review of the literature, a recent example is described.
Eric Berne wrote briefly about the use of dreams as identifiers of script behaviour in his last book, What Do You Say After You Say Hello? (1972, ch.9H), calling them “script-set dreams” which encapsulate the client’s “world-image.” He did not however record examples of working directly with a dream image to enable the client to change a self-belief.
Jongeward and Scott, in Women as Winners (1976/84), gave a number of clear examples of working actively with dreams, using a Gestalt process, to achieve redecisions, such as the one when Emily enacted a beach scene, and reclaimed her right to be her full self: “I don’t have to hold back… I can be all that I can be!” (p.285-6).
Bob and Mary Goulding, in their seminal book Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy (1979-82), stated clearly (p.196): “Dreams, like fantasies, are excellent tools for redecision.” They give a striking example of a man who was stuck in the process of writing his dissertation. His dream portrayed his car stuck in a garage behind a pile of bricks, and no one taking responsibility to clear the way out. Bob and Mary asked him to stay experiencing the frustration of the stuck ending till his frustration overflowed into action, and he decided to shift the bricks himself. Within the week he was getting on with his dissertation. In an earlier example (p.149), the Gouldings had pointed out how important it is to move from expression of feelings into a positive ending: “To urge a client to feel and then to leave him without a redecision can be a therapeutic rape.”
In an article in the TA Journal, Vol.17:4 (1987), George Thomson gave a clear example of using redecision work with a dream. The client had dreamed she was trapped in the middle of a busy road with traffic whizzing past her on both sides. He invited her quite simply to create a new ending for the dream, which she did, holding out her arms to forge a pathway across the road. This provided her with an image of taking effective action in her life, which motivated her to start making changes in her reality.
In TAJ Vol.19:1 (1999),Bowater and Sherrard gave four examples of redecision work with dreams, three of them recurring nightmares. In the first, Daniel dreamed of attacking a child who was afraid to stand up for himself; but when he enacted the roles, he quickly recognized the child as his own inner Child, who had never learned how to do it. This immediately shifted him from Critical Parent into Nurturing Parent, with a desire to help the disempowered Child. In a recurring nightmare, Ernie was relentlessly pursued by a dark animal shape, till he finally turned (within the dream) to face the dog, and discovered that it would not hurt him; rather it appeared to symbolize his own suppressed anger. Mavis had a series of post-trauma dreams after experiencing a home invasion, and was gradually able to transform the memory of the robbers into harmless figures. Samantha also had a distressing series of post-trauma dreams, which threatened her new relationship, till she was gradually able to change the unconscious fear of abandonment she had carried since childhood.
Following that article in 1999, there have been several articles on dreams from a Transactional Analysis perspective by Margaret Bowater, most incorporating examples of Redecision work. A vivid example is described in “Windows on Your Inner Self” (Bowater, 2003). Timothy at 65 presented a dream in which he identified himself as a paint-covered man inviting a spotlessly clean child to come outside into the garden and play with paint. Timothy then enacted the Child’s delight in “getting messy,” as his inner Child at last broke through the old injunction, Don’t be a Child. The Gouldings proposed that since Early Childhood decisions about Be or Don’t Be are located in the Child Ego State, the appropriate focus of lasting change also occurs in the Child Ego State; hence the visible change in Timothy as the dream encouraged him to let his Child out at last.
The power of metaphor
Metaphors are so freely embedded in our everyday verbal language that we scarcely notice them. We use them constantly to ground our ideas in familiar experience. Our dreams, like other visual arts, intensify this process, creatively cross-matching new ideas and emotions with those already stored in the dreamer’s memory, such as Ernie being “dogged” by bouts of suppressed anger, and Timothy’s longing for greater freedom, like a child playing with colourful paints. This concept is fully explored by Ernest Hartmann in chapter 6 of his excellent book on Dreams and Nightmares (1998). (How many metaphors did you notice in this paragraph?)
In each of the nightmares mentioned so far, the dream identified and reinforced the dreamer’s real-life vulnerability, and was essentially a cry for healing. In clinical practice, I use the metaphor already provided by the dream, and ask the dreamer to continue the story, using his or her Adult ego state to help create a healthy outcome – and actually feel the shift as they imagine it. This provides a symbolic experience of hope, relief or acceptance, and in fact begins to exert a pull towards change, all the more powerful from having arisen within the dreamer’s own psyche. As folk-wisdom says, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Consider now a recurring dream presented rather hesitantly in one of my dreamwork courses by Florence, a quiet professional woman of 60. She said it had begun at about age 5, happened frequently in childhood, and still recurred occasionally, accompanied by a sense of fear. Trying to make sense of it as she grew up, she had sadly concluded that it was an image of herself as unwanted, inferior, and destined to a life of insignificance.
Dream report: Fruit Fly
I am a large fruit fly, conscious of who I am. I am hovering, as fruit flies do, in their particular jagged up and down motion, around a metal dustbin that is in the foreground of the house where I lived most of my earliest years, in London, specifically in the front of the dining room near the door. Many other fruit flies hover around this dustbin. There is mouldy food in the metal serrated dustbin which has no cover and there is a sense of decay, old furniture and life not being lived there. I am observing the fruit fly that is me and watching it.
Reflecting now on the context of her life at the time when the dream first occurred, Florence began to make connections in response to questions from the group. She had been born during the Blitz in a working-class suburb of London, when her parents were under severe strain in the War. Her paternal grandparents had disapproved of her mother as being of a lower class; and she had also been evacuated with her sister to a “posh evacuee home” where they were disdainfully treated as lower class children; she even recalled her sister looking in a mirror and describing herself as “You horrid horrid ugly little thing.” At school Florence had been bright enough to pass the 11+ exam and attend Grammar School, where again she was looked down on by most of the other girls as lower-class. It all fitted with the fruit-fly image, as having no value, existing at the bottom of the social scale. In TA terms, she had carried the injunctions Don’t Be You and Don’t Be Important for most of her life; and these were vividly reinforced by the dream, which recurred at intervals whenever there were setbacks in her life.
But the rest of us in the group could see that she was grossly undervaluing herself.
We discovered that she had gained a Degree, emigrated to a different country, raised a family and worked successfully in a demanding professional career. As her understanding dawned that the fruit-fly image had really arisen from judgments imposed on her by others, I invited her to transform it into a more attractive insect or a bird (hoping for something like a dragonfly or a seagull) - but she said it was so familiar that she couldn’t imagine changing it.
I thought it very important, however, that she not go on picturing herself as a fruit-fly hovering round a rubbish-bin, so I asked her if she had ever dreamed of being any other kind of flying creature. She thought for a moment, said a surprised “Yes!” and described a visionary experience she had had recently when in hospital after a medical misadventure, very afraid for her life.
Report of experience Wounded Bird
I “saw” in the hospital room on the floor of the shower a white bird like a dove, trembling with fear and with a broken wing. A dimly lit white figure with no discernible face bent down and picked up the bird and held it gently close to his breast, soothing the trembling.
She had identified the robed figure as divine, probably Jesus or an angel. As a Christian she had found the vision comforting at the time, without consciously applying it to herself. I asked her to close her eyes and imagine herself as the little bird, being comforted and valued, which she was now able to do, this image having arisen from her own mind. As Florence connected the two dream images for the first time, something began to shift inside her. Perhaps she was valuable after all! A week later she was amazed as she reported how differently she felt about herself.
Two weeks later she wrote: Over the coming days I was increasingly aware that I felt much more at peace with myself and the interpretation. Expressing it all through the questions and discussion seemed to give considerable relief in itself. The low self-esteem which has been a damaging part of my experience for most of my life seemed suddenly to have gone, and I felt positive, warm and accepting towards myself. I have also been blessed in thinking about dreams as part of God’s care of us during the night.
Six months later, she attended a follow-up dream course, and shared a series of dreams which showed how she was taking a more confident direction in her life. The fruit-fly days were over at last.
Berne, E. (1972/78), What Do You Say When You Say Hello? Corgi Bks, London.
Bowater, M. and Sherrard, E. (1999). “Dreamwork Treatment of Nightmares Using Transactional Analysis,”
in TA Journal Vol 29:4, October.
Bowater, M.M. (2003). “Windows on Your Inner Self: Dreamwork with Transactional Analysis” in TA Journal
Vol.33: 1, Jan.
Goulding, M.M. and R.L. (1979-82), Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy, Grove Press, N.Y.
Hartmann, E. (1998), Dreams and Nightmares – the New Theory of the Origin and Meaning of Dreams, Plenum
Jongeward, D. and Scott, D., (1976/84), Women as Winners – a guide to Understanding, Growth and
Authenticity. Addison-Wesley, Menlo Park, California.
Thomson, G. (1987), “Redecision Work with Dreams,” in TA Journal 17:4, Oct.