Abused children grow up with a lot of restrictions that don’t make sense. Sometimes they’re in the form of outright rules, as in “you’re not allowed to bring friends home” or “you can’t go out trick-or-treating on Halloween.” But many of the restrictions that are placed on us are more subtle. When we want to do something, we get disapproval, ridicule, lectures, and so forth. These rules work themselves into our brains and are tough to let go of, even when, as adults, we can see they don’t make sense.

The Dream

My sister and mother have brought me a combination TV/radio from the 1980s. The radio is playing rather loudly, and I want to turn it off. I have a complex remote control and struggle to figure it out.

My mother fiddles with it and turns the radio off. I ask her how she’s done that. She says she just turned a certain knob, but she can’t explain to me exactly what she did. I play around with the remote and eventually realize that you have to press on it in a certain way. I keep pressing it to get to know how you do it, turning the radio on and off.

In doing this, I turn the TV on without realizing how. “Miami Vice” is on. I fiddle with the remote but can’t get the thing to turn off.

The Interpretation

The radio/TV combo represents the voices and pictures in my head. A black, box-shaped gadget in a dream can represent the “black box” of the mind. This refers to the mind when it’s processing information in ways we don’t fully understand. Something goes in and something different comes out, but it’s not always clear how we got from one to the other. The dream is allowing consciousness to interact with the “black box” of the mind.

I’m dealing here with old brain material. In particular, it’s from the 1980s, when I was going through my teen years. In our teens, we’re supposed to get our first experience of independence. We’re gradually given more responsibilities and more privileges. This doesn’t always happen for abused teens, and it certainly didn’t happen in my house. My smothering, enmeshed parents continued to treat me as a child even in my teen years (actually, they continue to treat me as a child even now!).

I seem to be aware that these old voices and visions are of no use to me because I’m trying to figure out how to turn them off, but I’m struggling. My mother figures out how, but she’s not able to tell me.

I’ve often found that my parents appear as defective parent archetypes, so to speak, in my dreams. Here, my mother represents self-nurturing. The knowledge is within me, but because of my past issues, I’m having trouble understanding exactly how to do that in this situation.

I have to figure out for myself how to turn off these old voices in my mind through persistence. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. When I manage to turn off the radio, I inadvertently turn on the TV. Despite my persistence in trying to turn off these old voices and visions, they’re persistent in appearing.

When I turn on the TV, I see an old police show called Miami Vice. This brings up a concept I find strange and rather archaic–the vice squad. These are police officers who deal with “vices” like drugs and prostitution. As I persist in trying to turn off the old restricting voices, I come a little closer to figuring out where they come from. There’s a “vice squad” in my head that keeps after me to obey the irrational rules my abusers taught me.

In my dream, breaking illogical rules from the past appeared brought on the "vice squad," a judgmental part of the mind meant to make me stick to those rules. "Know Yourself: Youth Between Vice and Virtu" Painting from Jacob Jordaens, Flemish painter of the 17th century. In the public domain.

In the mind of an abuse survivor, breaking illogical rules from the past can be seen as vice, which gives those rules a power over us that doesn’t make sense. “Know Yourself: Youth Between Vice and Virtu” Painting from Jacob Jordaens, Flemish painter of the 17th century. In the public domain.

Reflection on the Dream

At the time I had this dream, I was struggling with a fundamental rule that I think a lot of abuse survivors struggle with–don’t do what makes you happy. Abusive parents are egocentric people who use their children to meet their needs. They manipulate, bully, and threaten in order to make their children’s thoughts and actions center around the parents’ needs.

The message many of us get is that we’re obligated to do what makes them happy, which often has nothing to do with what makes us happy. If the two desires come together then we know peace. But often they don’t, and we experience conflict. The brain learns that doing what makes us happy is a no-no. We train ourselves to become alert to what makes our abusers happy, and we gravitate towards that in order to maintain some form of peace in our lives.

This training extends to other environments, like romantic relationships, friendships, and work. We become terrified of displeasing anyone. Or, we rebel and go against what others want, even when it’s not in the best interests of everyone involved. Either way, we feel like crap because we know that what we do and what we feel are out of balance.

So why can’t we just stop? Because it isn’t purely about the will. As I said, our brain is trained to be alert to what others want of us. Sometimes, we make up stories in our heads about what they want. And we feel compelled to do what they want, though whether we actually do it depends on whether we feel we have to be compliant or whether we feel we have to rebel.

This sense of obligation to obey (or rebel against) the will of others even extends to people who we don’t have to face. That was my situation when I had the dream. As you know, I’ve been working on launching my business, Emotional Abuse Sanctuary. And if you’ve read my blog post then you know that I’ve had some trouble (to put it mildly…) in making previous businesses stick.

It’s extremely easy to lean on the advice of business experts, and I’ve certainly read my share of business books and blog posts and even taken a couple of business courses. At the time I had the dream, I felt a pull to stray from the advice I’d been given because it felt right for what I want to accomplish.

But my brain had been trained not to disobey. That was a family rule. The vice squad in the dream represented that part of my mind that clamped down on me with guilt, insecurity, and terror at the idea of going against some of the professional business advice I’d gotten. That was not something I was supposed to do.

I had this dream the night of December 10. It’s now December 28. I’ve done a lot of journaling, meditation, goofing off, and daydreaming, and I’m ready to stick it to the vice squad. I’m ready to do things a little differently from how the business experts told me to do them.

We all have a police force in the mind that appears occasionally in dreams. In healthy people, that police force is there to steer you in the right direction. In abuse survivors, that police force may be dragging around a rule book that makes no sense. The more we violate their rules, the less power they have over us.