I’ve generally been fairly anal about keeping to my dream incubation schedule in one way or another because I’m committed to recording this experiment. This week, however, mood swings got me. Monday was fine, but by Tuesday night, I was feeling uncomfortable, like I was doing everything wrong. This led to a lack of motivation to tap into the guidance of my dreams, even though I continued to dream throughout the week. I ended up making mistakes in some of my dream interpretations. Luckily, the dream process is forgiving (and persistent), and I learned some very valuable things about how the past is still influencing me.


From Wednesday to Friday, I became depressed over y life like I haven’t done in years. I had no motivation to keep up with dream interpretation, though I was having plenty of dreams that were trying to help me. Wednesday’s dream did answer my question, but the question was off due to these snafus in my dream interpretation schedule, and the majority of the dream was about other things. By Saturday, however, I’d gained insight into what had been going on and got an indirect answer to my question.

My Procedure

Dreaming in general this week was influenced by my mood. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday had weird sleep schedules where I’d fall asleep in the afternoon, wake up late at night for a few hours, and then go back to sleep. Half of my dreams this week were interpreted days after I had them, bringing delayed realizations and errors in interpretation (I include the corrected versions below).

This brings up an important point that’s even more important when dealing with dream incubation. If dreams are long and rich in symbols, we may be reluctant to go back and re-interpret them, even if we feel that we were off. Generally, dreams keep up with what’s going on in our lives, so even when misinterpreting a dream, it’s not always absolutely necessary to go back and re-interpret it.

When incubating dreams, though, it becomes more important to do that because dream incubation, as I’m learning, isn’t just about a single night’s dreams. Dreams from subsequent nights, sometimes for weeks, can still be helping us work out whatever problem we incubated. Unless the dream was short, I don’t go through the entire dream interpretation process from beginning to end again. Instead, I focus on key symbols or parts of the dream and re-interpret them in light of what I’ve discovered from subsequent dreams. I figure that’s enough to regain continuity in the dream incubation process.

Thankfully, insights from the week helped me gain clarity by Saturday, and I was able to go through my normal dream incubation procedure. I mentioned last week that I’m reading Joseph Campbell’s biography, A Fire in the Mind. This is a long book and it’s a library book, and I’ve got only 3 weeks left on it. It’s really important to me to finish it before the due date, so I read from that and will be doing so on dream incubation nights for the next 3 weeks.

The Dreams

Note: To keep this section concise, I’m only sharing summaries of the main messages in the dreams.

The main thing my dreams from last week revealed was a hole in my development. Circumstances during my late teens and early 20s had made it impossible for me to go through the maturation process that we typically go through during that time involving identity, autonomy, and meaningful work. As a consequence, I’m stuck dealing now with these issues, and getting over them is key to progressing with my business project (and life).

I did a lot of reflecting on what I’d accomplished since then and what I still have to accomplish and felt on Sunday that I’d gotten a lot of things organized in my mind about that. However, I had the following warning dream on Sunday night:

Dream #1: Part of me feels lost because I’ve let go of some crutches from the past. Rebirth is happening, but the phantoms of the past still linger to tempt me back into my old ways.

I unfortunately didn’t heed this warning and was sucked into a downward spiral of depression. Monday and Tuesday nights were productive in a way I hadn’t been for a long time. I was later to discover that this triggered a destructive psychological process that can easily drag me down, if I let it.

I’ve been blessed never to have suffered from major depression except for when I was in the army (which led to my subsequent suicide attempt). Depression, however, often lingered beneath the surface, which isn’t unusual in abuse victims. Negative feelings like sadness, anger, confusion, and frustration are often punished, and in my family, such negative feelings were strongly rejected.

Now that I’m no longer living with or around my family, I’ve learned to release some of those negative feelings. Bouts of depression rarely hit me anymore, but it built up over Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I felt like nothing I could do would ever make my life better. The damage from the past was too severe, I was too weak, and time was too short.

I later discovered this was all coming from an automatic psychological process from the past. It may not be easy to understand just how damaging emotional abuse can be. Many people tend to think that over-sensitive young victims are able to get over their harsh parents’ comments when they become adults and leave home. It’s not that simple. And when the family is enmeshed, it becomes even more complicated.

The most important thing in an enmeshed family is to keep the family members enmeshed. Enmeshed parents who set up this system truly believe they’re sacrificing themselves for their children’s sake. In return, whether they admit it or not, they expect their children to give up their lives for them. When the child shows signs of autonomy and independence, this is like a threat to their lives. What do they have to live for except for their children? They will do whatever they have to do to keep their kids enmeshed. This was the situation in my family.

I’m not a big fan of Sigmund Freud, but he talked about a concept that hits the nail on the head: retribution. Retribution is defined as a pay-back. In other words, it’s not just punishment; it’s punishment with a vengeance. Because my parents were convinced that their love for their children was pure, they had no qualms about doling out retribution when I deviated from their wishes.

Painting of two angels pursuing a thief

“Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime” (1808) Painting by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, in the public domain

They did this by making me feel like everything that I desired or needed was wrong, evil, or unobtainable and clothed it with concern for my well-being. On top of that, there was a kind of righteousness in their messages because they were convinced they knew best and were shielding me from failure. They could also turn mistakes, obstacles, and challenges to their advantage. Such things were an indication that I was doing something wrong because the right choices were easy.

As a child, teenager, and adult up to my early 30s, I believed them. And yet, I felt something was wrong with this picture. But things had become so distorted in my mind that I could only feel joy when I did what I knew would please them, which was usually very different from what I really wanted and needed. As a consequence, I got into the habit of allowing myself to feel satisfaction only in the things that were consistent with my family’s worldview. Most everything else caused extreme anxiety and was sooner or later abandoned (though there were exceptions).

This was the tune that had been playing in my head throughout the week, but I didn’t recognize the content of those automatic thoughts. I felt like the progress I’d made Monday and Tuesday nights was bad somehow. I felt like I was fighting something I wasn’t supposed to fight, but I didn’t really know what.

Monday’s dreams weren’t interpreted until Thursday night. By then I’d become thoroughly confused about what I was doing and how I was doing it. As a consequence, I misinterpreted Monday night’s dreams. Here are the correct interpretations:

Dream #2: I’m scared of what’s being born within me. I feel like I can’t pay the price for it, so I regress into automatic thoughts (retribution) from the past because they make me feel safe.

Dream #3: I’m trying to create a more fulfilling life, but these automatic thoughts are interfering. Understanding who I was in the past can help me out of this, but I’m reluctant to do this because I’m worried it’ll take what I love away.

I thought they referred to how I was trying to over-control my life and that I needed to flow with my intuition. The control in them was actually coming from the beliefs of retribution, but I couldn’t see that at the time.

I got to Wednesday’s dream incubation and felt like the problem was in my attempt to control my life too much, so I asked a question on an issue that had come up during the first week of my dream incubation experiment: How can I trust in the Universe in my everyday life?

Dream #4: The youthful energy that has been awakened within me can help me trust in the Universe, but it’s threatening to me, and so I lean on automatic beliefs that involve me feeling like I need to constantly seek permission to progress with my goals.

This dream did give me an answer to my question, but that wasn’t the real focus. The real message was about the nature of the psychological process that was dragging me down: retribution. In the dream, I was talking to a group of immigrants who complained that the government was making them constantly pay to keep their work permits valid. I told them the government was jerking them around. This, I believe, reflected the psychological process that’s been going on for weeks and has been causing such havoc in my work through fatigue and headaches. I progress a little and then regress into retribution, seeking permission from some past authority to do a little more work before I’m jerked back into retribution.

Thursday’s dreams weren’t interpreted until early Saturday morning, but they were disturbing enough to bring my mood way down on Friday:

Dream #5: I’m trying to numb myself from the youthful energy of the previous dream, but at the same time I recognize that this is unhealthy.

Dream #6: This is a shadow dream that shows distorted beliefs from the past about submission and how they’re interfering with the birth of something beautiful within me.

When confusion began, I felt like I had to surrender to something. Surrender is a disturbing concept in the West because it implies giving up. Non-Western cultures recognize that surrender to the inevitable or to something that’s not worth fighting for is a valid choice. It’s a surrender to reality that allows us to move on.

Surrender, however, isn’t the same as submission, and this was what was confusing me. Submission in my house got me many gold stars. In fact, love from my family was dependent on submission. As a consequence, when I feel like I’m wasting my energy fighting something, I stop responding altogether. That’s submission, not surrender. Instead, I needed to keep working, stop fighting illumination with all its accompanying crappy feelings, and trust in the healing process.

When we choose to receive guidance through our dreams, we partner with a caring but firm counselor. This counselor sits on our shoulder 24/7 and tracks everything we do and think. If we’re headed in the wrong direction, the counselor knows and sends us guidance through our dreams. If we ignore the guidance for one reason or another, the counselor gets more and more in-your-face about what’s going on. If we’re driving ourselves into a destructive state of mind, the counselor can do nothing but sigh and await the moment when we’re ready to listen again.

Sinking into a depressive funk on Friday was a purification process and helped open the darkness again to the light in Friday’s dreams:

Dream #7: I’m beginning to see that the delusional beliefs about submission from the previous dream can’t nourish me and won’t allow me to make changes in my life.

Dream #8: I’m fighting these delusional beliefs, but at the same time, I’m not tapping into the aggressive ram energy within me, and this is dangerous because these delusions could overtake me if I don’t fight them.

By this time, I had caught up with interpreting dreams and recognized that the depression had come from feelings of retribution that had no basis in reality. This, I’ve found, is key to climbing out of distorted thoughts and beliefs: What is going on in reality?

I’d gotten back on track with my mood and had a better idea of how I could continue with my work. On Saturday, I did some work on my business project, which I hadn’t touched all week. For Saturday night’s incubation, I really wanted to know more about dealing with this kind of attack from the past, so I asked What will help me resist past influences as I proceed with my work? I got an indirect answer to my question:

Dream #9: As I progress, I’ll have to deal again with feelings of retribution because I still feel an obligation to return to the punisher within me and receive just punishment for violating his rules.

Dream #10: The punisher within me attacks a vulnerable part of me to stop me from progressing. Consciously, I see through this, but there’s still danger that it will hold me back, especially if I enjoy the progress I’m making.

These dreams made me realize that the only way to avoid retribution is to stop working on my business goal (which, of course, I don’t want to do). Any progress is going to bring the punisher into my mind. Any joy from what I accomplish as I work towards my business goal is going to give the punisher a reason to punish me. Any mistakes, obstacles, and challenges will add fuel to the punisher’s fire. The only solution is to surrender to the crappy feelings and keep going. I truly believe that the punisher, though tenacious, will eventually die away because he doesn’t serve any purpose anymore.

I really learned to appreciate this week the value of consistent dream interpretation. At the same time, we need to remain open to mistakes in interpretation. That counselor that sits on our shoulder has a much wider view of life than we do and anticipates problems we can’t always see. This is another reason why writing dreams down is so helpful. We can go back and correct misinterpretations to gain greater wisdom.

Please see the introductory post for an index of all dream incubation experiment articles.