Dreams illustrate the themes being played out in waking life. (Interpretation of dream messages is always personal, so keep that in mind while reading.) Last night, I dreamt about being in a store, within a mall, initially with a group of friends, and then on my own, staying behind because I felt that something needed to be finished.
When considering a thematic approach to dream messages, always look for ties to current life situations. Apart from a recent trip to a mall with a friend who was willing to push me, I have not gone mall shopping for over two years. So, the context (as with most metaphors) is not literal. Even when well, I prefer shopping out of need over browsing for recreation.
So my connection to shopping is that it is a necessary means to an end.
To what end am I “shopping” now, I might ask myself. Off the top of my head, I would say I am looking for some understanding of my current life situation. Who am I now that my profession, role within the family, and ability to socialize are gone? I am shopping for a new sense of self.
In the dream, I start out with a group of friends, which reflects a time when I was very socially active. Friends are mirrors that help us see ourselves, support our esteem and growth, and are often representative of our goals and aspirations. When I became ill, many people moved on, as they do in the dream. It is at the moment (in the dream) when I run into a former colleague, a man I admire for his commitment to others and the compassionate way in which he deals with students, parents, and others who come to him for guidance. Dreaming me was shocked to see that he is a shadow of his former self, moving lethargically and needing to be helped along by others. I want to hug him, but am overwhelmed by what I witness.
Even as I type this, I realize he is me: I was the compassionate teacher, always looking for a solution, mediating turmoil. This must be how my colleagues view me: someone they only barely recognize and no longer know how to relate to. It is certainly how I see myself.
In the dream, it is ego that lets everyone go on ahead, compelled to finish something up – intending to catch up later, but as in life, everyone is gone by the time I am ready to join in, and when I finally do, I am an awkward outsider. Story of my life. The question that arises for me is whether the dream is representative of my feelings of not belonging, or the reality of being a loner? I have never been afraid of letting go of the crowd to pursue individual interests – while gregarious and outspoken around others, I have a strong introspective impulse too. Maybe, I have just never reconciled my feelings with the reality of my actions?
What is it, I wonder, that I need to finish up? The setting for this part of the dream is the dressing room: the place where to try on outfits, privately, before going public. When I shop for clothes, I want something that is both stylish (fits in) and comfortable (puts me at ease). Not long ago, the doctor told me it was time to start socializing again – an important element in wellness, she advised. Last week, I heard from three people who have been out of my life for quite awhile, all of whom were unaware that I’ve been sick. It sent me into a bit of a panic.
“I am afraid that they are expecting me to be something I no longer am,” I explained to my therapist. “I can’t be that old person any more.”
Emotionally, I am vulnerable, and don’t feel as if I can handle further rejection. I am metaphorically hiding in the dressing room – waiting for a more confident self to emerge – coming to terms with the fact that I don’t like who I see when I look in the mirror, and none of the “clothes” I try on “fit”. I have not yet come to a place of acceptance, and it is holding me back.
I do catch up with the others in the dream, and my colleague is there, silent while his spouse does all the talking. She is talking about changing her identity (obviously a topic I’ve been dealing with) and when I say I can relate, she totally misreads me. I am caught off guard.
This reminds me of my attempts to socialize – the silent (almost invisible) disabled self, compensated for by my fore-mentioned gregariousness, who worries that others misread me.
Isn’t anyone else noticing how pathetic I am starting to sound?
Dreams also use humour to illustrate meaning and help us laugh at ourselves. The more I work on this message, the more I am seeing it: I take myself way too seriously.
After all, everyone shops. Not everyone misses out on life because they are obsessing in the dressing room! Damn!
(For more on dream interpretation, read this article and others here.)