“ A leg.”
The words belonged to a woman who called me two nights before a dream seminar.
“What do you think? She asked. “Should I tell you now, or would you rather we wait until Thursday’s dream class?”
I was too intrigued to wait.
“A leg?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s right, doc, I dreamt of a leg.”
“And what was this leg doing?” I inquired.
“It wasn’t doing anything. It was just a leg,” the woman answered.
Now I was puzzled. What could a “leg” possibly mean?
The truth is we can go around and around looking for symbolism. But sometimes—to paraphrase Freud—a leg is just a leg and to explore more exotic paths is not always productive.
Nonetheless, I persevered. “You dreamt about a leg?’”
“Yes, I was in the shower at the time, and there was this leg.”
“Would you please be the leg in the dream and tell me what you experience?”
“You want me to be the leg? OK, I’m the leg. No, no, no! I don’t ever want to be that leg!”
“What do you experience?” I asked again.
“I have psoriasis…ok, I’m the leg, right? Ok… and I have psoriasis and I’m ugly…”
“What is it like for you?” I asked.
“I can’t…I won’t…I’m…I’m… I’m afraid.”
“What are you experiencing as you tell me this?”
She paused for a moment.
“How am I supposed to find the right guy when I feel so ugly?”
It turned out that the woman had a Saturday-night date with a new gentleman friend. She was distraught by the thought that her psoriasis would turn him off. No matter how many showers she had taken, the fear that the psoriasis would appear at an inopportune moment took control of her thoughts.
The woman did show up at the dream seminar two days later. When I asked for a volunteer to share his/her dream, she was the first to raise her hand. “And what did you dream?” I asked.
Her response: “Fingernails.”
“Fingernails?” I asked.
“Yes. Two of them. I can’t decide on what color to paint them.”
This time I didn’t bother with the role-playing. Spontaneously, I asked, “And which man did you decide to kick out of your life.”
She took a deep breath. “John.” She said. “I’m simply dying of boredom!”
Dreams serve many purposes, most of which are poorly understood. We’re pretty sure, however, that dreams and nightmares contain within them the seeds of truths that are powerful enough to change thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships. And once we discover what some of those truths are, we encounter the next problem: what do we do about them.
If I had spent more time with the dreamer I would have tried gently…ever so gently… to peel back the layers of her lack of self-confidence, of the distortions in her self-image, and perhaps most importantly, the absence of creativity, all of which played roles in blocking her ability to find some excitement and joy in the prospect of a new friend/lover.
There are dozens of ways people block themselves from enjoying life. One of the most common blockages comes in the form of catastrophic expectations. Here are some examples:
Fear of failure: Essentially this shows a fear of disappointment, abandonment or rejection.
Fear of being open to new ideas and new beliefs and becoming overly serious about the problem.
Becoming frustrated and giving up too early.
The fear of the unknown: the need to know the future before you proceed.
All of which brings us back to the lady who thought she was a leg. She felt ugly (not to the men in the dream class incidentally). She was afraid of making a poor impression, which she compounded by becoming frightened and nervous whenever she felt she was “inspected” by new potential partners. Her need to be perfect was palpable. Her lack of spontaneity and humor became an emotional drain within the first five minutes of meeting her, according to her own observations. In short, the cure for her was not a cream prescribed to subdue her psoriasis; it was learning to experience joy.
I don’t know what happened on the woman’s Saturday night date. I’m pretty sure however that if the date was with John, it didn’t go well.
Drop by next week and say hi. We’ll be talking about why some people just can’t say “goodbye.”