Dreams may act in a compensatory manner to waking thought

Awareness of dream consciousness is of central importance to the process of integration and Self-realization. Carl Jung offer great insight into the nature of dreams, in particular their role in psychic integration.

Jung postulates that dreams compensates for the one-sidedness of conscious thought. He says:

“those thoughts, inclinations, and tendencies which in conscious life are too little valued come spontaneously into action during the sleeping state” (CW 8, para 466)

Jung felt that the benefits of the dream do not require that we ‘understand the dream.’  Even if we do not understand the symbolism, the dream may have an effect nonetheless. Jung says:

“as experience shows, a man may be influenced, and indeed convinced in the most effective way, by innumerable things of which he has no intellectual under-standing. I need only remind my readers of the effectiveness of religious symbols.” (CW 8, para. 468)

Compensatory dreams appear to have a balancing effect on the psyche. Jung says:

“It is evident that this function of dreams amounts to a psychological adjustment, a compensation absolutely necessary for properly balanced action. In a conscious process of reflection it is essential that, so far as possible, we should realize all the aspects and consequences of a problem in order to find the right solution. This process is continued automatically in the more or less unconscious state of sleep, where, as experience seems to show, all those aspects occur to the dreamer (at least by way of allusion) that during the day were insufficiently appreciated or even totally ignored-in other words, were comparatively unconscious.” (CW 8, para. 469)

Put another way, during dreams the unconscious offers symbolic material in the form of dream thoughts. These dream thoughts are in a dialectical relationship to conscious waking thoughts. Dream symbols offer insight and intuition which can be brought into our waking life.

Working with dream symbols involves “interpretation of the associative material gathered round the dream.” (CW 8, para. 468) One notices dream symbols as they appear in the dream and finds associations to those dream symbols. Dream symbols offer a dialectical perspective: contrary, yet complimentary, to waking thoughts.

According to Jung, dreams are purposive, dreams lead us. Working with the compensatory function of the dream we are given new insight into ourselves. In order to understand the purposive nature of the dream, Jung asks us to ponder the following questions:

‘What is the purpose of this dream?’

‘What effect is it meant to have?’ (CW 8, para. 462)


  1. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 8)

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