A Nightmare Says: “Love is Not All You Need.”


Most people consider them loving but often end  up feeling hurt and misunderstood. How come? All conceptions of love are not equal, and some are downright destructive. However, most of us are blind to that reality. Fortunately, we have dreams and nightmares that reflect the “emotional indigestion” wrong-headed attempts at loving can provoke. But such “wake-up calls” are normally misunderstood, if they are not entirely ignored. Most of us feel we have good reason to do so.  We are busy, nightmares are scary and don’t make sense. Integral Deep Listening shows how easy it is to change that typical way of thinking.

Nightmares are bad enough, but even worse are repetitive ones, like this one, that recurred for Celi for over ten years. The scene and the action changes, but the Drama Triangle is always there: someone is persecuting the dreamer’s dog; she tries to rescue it; she fails; both the dog and the dreamer become victims. Here is the dream:

“I am walking along the street where I live with my two German Shepherds, Shadie and Dayo. On my right, on the other side of a fence, there is a woman with a very big black dog on a leash. She can hardly control him; he’s pulling her along. I have told Shadie and Dayo to walk on ahead. This dog is barking ferociously at me and I am ignoring him. At the end of the property is a taller fence. When I get to it, having had enough, I turn around and yell at this dog. This dog jumps the high fence and attacks me, biting me again and again. I know I am very badly wounded. Shadie comes racing and attacks the dog. Its owner calls the police. Dayo comes and lies by me, licking and shivering with fear. The police come and, with the two dogs still fighting, shoot and kill them both. I wake up thinking about my twenty-five year old adopted daughter, Rhonda.”

What’s going on here? On the one hand, we have a more or less typical nightmare of a threatening antagonist who wins. On the other hand, there are thoughts of an apparently unconnected current relationship. Here is what Celi had to say:

“I have had these repetitive nightmares off and on for years – nightmares of a beloved dog getting hurt or killed. I haven’t had one in months now. Lately I’ve been contacted by Rhonda, who is demanding, insulting, and sees me as always right and making her wrong and unwilling to admit mistakes. I don’t know how to deal with her in a healthy way. If I give in, she takes advantage of me. If I don’t, she plays on my sense of love, responsibility, and guilt until I do.”

The implication is that the conflict with Rhonda somehow stirred up this old recurring nightmare for Celi.  She decided to interview the fence in the dream. Here is what it had to say:

“I am an iron fence, tall enough to contain most dogs most of the time, even in my lower section. My higher section should contain almost all dogs all of the time. I am sitting here, busy being a fence. I am in good condition, and ornamental. I am strong and attractive. I am strong enough but not tall enough for this wild, ferocious, uncontrollable, huge dog. I personify Celi’s boundaries, limits, and life structures that are usually enough, but aren’t in this case. If I could change I would grow up and over, creating an animal sanctuary over this property as a protective enclosure for this dog. He would be unable to get out and he would have everything that he needed inside me.”

“If I were to score myself, the fence, on a scale from zero to ten in six core qualities of awakening, I would be a ten in confidence and witnessing, an eight in wisdom and inner peace, a five in inner peace and compassion. If I were a ten in all six of these qualities I would not be a fence any longer, and a fence is exactly what is needed here. If Celi scored as I do she wouldn’t react to threatening, intimidating, and abusive situations. She wouldn’t react to the vicious, angry, prepersonal part of herself either. That’s because I, the fence, don’t answer threats. I let them figure out that I’m here and they are going to have to live with me, because I’m not going to change. I’m here for a purpose, and that is to limit freedom so that it will not be abused to the detriment of everyone.

Celi tends to think that love accepts everybody and everything and that if she really loves Rhonda she will trust her, allow her to get close, and be able to deal with it. This is unrealistic and unwise. Freedom only exists within a context; if you disregard the limits, structure, fences, or contexts, you don’t get freedom; you get chaos. She is afraid that if she communicates with Rhonda she will create chaos in her life. She is absolutely right and needs to listen to herself. Consequently, loving “unconditionally” is dog shit, if there is no agreement of mutual respect. Celi needs to integrate me into her life and trust me! There exists an abundant world both inside and outside of me. Where is there scarcity? I don’t see any”

“I recommend that Celi focus on becoming my equanimity and my confidence, that I know I am in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. I have right meanings that are appropriate and for the greater good of myself and others. She needs to cultivate within her my witnessing ability and not taking anything personally. It will also help her to cultivate my awareness of what a rich world it is that I am in! It will help her to become me whenever she doesn’t know how to deal with Rhonda and whenever she feels like hurting back.”

“I have come into Celi’s life to help her expand a part of herself that she has always had, her ability to set boundaries, so that it is strong enough to decline invitations into drama, especially from “big dogs,” like Rhonda. I am here to help her grow into a strong inner sense of equanimity and inner peace. But Celi convinces herself that the only loving thing to do is to trust untrustworthy people and parts of herself. She can fix that if she will remember me and become me when she feels angry or doesn’t know how to deal with Rhonda.”

“Celi had this dream because she was struggling to find ways to stay out of the Drama Triangle in her relationship with Rhonda.The owner is a perspective Celi often takes that is well-intentioned and wants to care, love, and help, but has taken on too big a responsibility. Despite Celi’s good intentions, she cannot control this animal. The police are indiscriminate powers within Celi that over-react and damage innocent, protective parts of herself. Shadie is a perspective that Celi normally protects but is destroyed in the process of protecting her. Dayo is a loyal and nurturing but overwhelmed perspective that is paralyzed with fear. None of them offer solutions to the problem of the dog, boundaries, or Rhonda. If Celi had not screamed at the dog she would not have provoked it, but that is not the solution, because the fence is too low. If Celi does not react to Rhonda she does not provoke her, but that is not the solution, because her boundaries are not strong enough. That dog could have attacked at any time, whether Celi screamed or not. I am being told to “Walk on! Don’t turn round and don’t look back, don’t say anything back! Trust your limits! Trust being out of the Drama Triangle! There is no love and intimacy inside it!!!!”

In subsequent days this dreamer reported that her waking worries about Rhonda and what to do about the relationship subsided. When she thought about Rhonda, Celi worked at remembering to be the fence, which gave her a sense of acceptance and emotional detachment which in turn allowed her to decline subsequent invitations from Rhonda to rescue her, without feeling guilty or that she wasn’t being unconditional in her love. After a period of distance imposed by Celi, of perhaps six months’ duration, Rhonda reconnected with a different tone and manner. She now began respecting Celi’s boundaries and treating her with respect. As a result, Celi and her stepmother transformed their relationship to one of mutual respect and ongoing friendship. Regarding the recurring nightmares, they disappeared.

Take a moment to recall the original dream. There was no “predestination” that Celi would use it to strengthen her boundaries and create a context in which her relationship with her step-daughter could heal. Normally, such dreams are either repressed or ignored, with the emotional damage that accompanies the experience of victimization left to deepen both anxiety and depression. The genuine fear and real sense of horror, helplessness, and personal failure that are evoked by such ensnaring dramas, if left unaddressed, create a waking residue that contributes to depression, anxiety, reactivity, personalization, and further immersion in the Drama Triangle, both in waking and dream lives. This is why it is so important that the tools of IDL get into the hands of parents and their children with nightmares. Deep listening to just one nightmare can end it forever: deep listening to repetitive nightmares can wake both children and adults out of needless fear and misery which, if ignored, contaminate and reduce the quality of waking life.

How do we get these tools into the hands of parents and children everywhere? In a world with ever more pressing priorities, most of them in the external world, who has time for dreams? Who has time to learn how to eliminate nightmares? Who has time to teach their children how to deeply listen to them and gain life-transforming perspectives from apparently meaningless experiences of life?  There is nothing about contemporary culture that is going to make these timeless issues miraculously disappear. However, the possibility of a powerful, fundamental transformation in familial culture, roles, and responses to trauma are available and easily learned.

Celi’s nightmare came to tell her, “You need to grow in your definition of love. It has to include boundaries, because otherwise your love is misunderstood as weakness and an invitation for abuse.”

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