Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Dream Interpretation in Jungian Psychotherapy: The Roadblock

December 22nd, 2010 · 19 Comments · dreams, inner life, journey, Jungian, Jungian analysis, life journey, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, persona, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unconscious, wholeness

I thought that I would try and say a little bit in this post about how a Jungian approach to dream interpretation might look like “in action”.  Here’s a dream motif that appears sometimes in psychotherapy, in one form or another.  It’s one that at times will appear in the dreams of my clients.  In rough outline, it goes something like what follows below.

A Dream Motif

The dreamer is trying to get somewhere.  Perhaps the dreamer is in a vehicle, like a car, or on a bicycle, or possibly he or she is on foot.  However, there is some obstacle.  She or he might have to go down a narrow path in her car, and there’s a vehicle accident completely blocking the road.  Or it might be that he or she has to climb an impossibly steep hill.   However, when the individual starts to backtrack, something happens.  Perhaps they are injured, or otherwise hindered. 
In any event, going backward to retrace his or her steps is well-nigh impossible.

The specific interpretation of such a dream would be unique for such an individual, to be sure.  However, there are still a number of important things that Jungian psychotherapy could say about its meaning.

1.  The Individual is Not Going to be Able to Move Forward Travelling in the Current Direction

Very clearly, the dream is showing us that the dreamer cannot move forward.  There is a barrier, either in the form of an insurmountable obstacle, or something that would take an impossibly large amount of energy to overcome.  The dream is clearly giving the message that the direction that the individual is moving in, with respect to the situation that is being dreamt of, will simply not work.  The individual may have been moving in this direction for a long time, or may have just started on this path.  No matter: the import of the dream is the same.  You can’t keep doing what you’re doing.

2.  To Try to Go Back to a Previous State Will Only Cause Pain, Exhaustion or Loss of Vitality

However, that doesn’t mean that the dreamer can just go back to something that happened in the past.  He or she cannot simply retrace his or her steps.   There’s too much pain, or too many cuts of lacerations, too much loss of life-blood.  The older way, the “regressive restoration of the persona”, as a Jungian would say, doesn’t work either.  The person can’t do what he or she used to do.  Life isn’t going to let him or her get away with it, at least not without paying a fearful psychological price.  What may be recalled enthusiastically as “the good days” cannot be reproduced in the present moment.  What is the individual to do?

3.  Something New is Needed

A standard Jungian dream interpretation would be that the dream is painting a picture of a person in a dilemma.  Something new is needed: a different way, or a different approach.  This is not likely to come about as a result of the individual “just trying harder”.  The individual is going to have to explore aspects of her- or himself that have been unknown and undeveloped.  From the perspective of Jungian psychotherapy, the answer will have to emerge from the unconscious.

Is There Anything Across Your Path?

Have you ever encountered a dream of this type?  Have you possibly had such a dream recently?  As I stated, this type of dream is not particularly uncommon.  With the right kind of dream interpretation, the unconscious shows us quite an apt portrait of a person’s psychological situation.  If you’ve had this kind of “blocked path” experience, I would really welcome your comments below.

Wishing you a deep wisdom to know the way forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


PHOTO CREDIT:      Some rights reserved by lumaxart under a Creative Commons license

© 2010 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

19 Comments so far ↓

  • jamenta

    One of my most common repeating dreams is missing a public bus. And very common for me to dream of trying to get somewhere and being lost – and not being able to get to where I’m going.

    It seems to echo my life – reinforcing a sense of loss and disempowerment to some degree – and not being able to really move forward.

    What the direction my unconscious would like me to go still remains unclear.

  • Brian C

    Thanks very much for your comment, John. I think that this is another very common dream motif, and in some sense related. To be sure, it would be necessary to look at your dreams close up and in detail, something that might be more suited to a somewhat less public setting than here. However, just from your description, I do notice something that I think is important and noteworthy: it is a public bus that you miss. A bus is a very collective means of transportation. So you are trying to “get a ride” on something that is very general and collective, rather than something individual. Could this possibly be why you keep missing it — that it’s not what you need at this time?
    This is very rough and ready, I know, but if you would like to discuss it more in private, I’m certainly open to that.

    Thanks again for your comment, John!

  • jamenta

    Nice observation Brian. And what is revealing to me is you are saying that instead of trying to catch the bus – my unconscious is likely telling me to not bother with it.

  • Brian C

    In my view, that would be right John. Maybe you’ve even been putting a lot of effort into catching the bus… and yet it’s not actually the bus you need? I’d wonder if that isn’t the take of the unconscious on this matter, whatever it might be.

  • Brian C

    Thank you very much for your comment, Amanda. This is also a very striking dream, with a number of prominent motifs. I can’t help wondering about this hill that you might be coming down. I wonder what the hill might correspond to in your life at this time? This river is very interesting, too. Without knowing any details of what might be going on in your life at this time, of course, I wonder if there might be some kind of transition that you might be confronting, one that might be rather intimidating, or scary. If that is true, then I wonder what your “wise passenger” might have to say about this situation? I realize that you might be very reluctant to put personal details out on to the internet, but if you would like to share more about the dream in an email, or here in the comments section, I would be happy to explore more aspects of this dream with you. Wishing you all the very best, Amanda!

  • Brian C

    Thanks for your comment, Alecia. To answer exactly what this dream means for you, I would need to know more about you and your life. I note that the dream has you working out of town. I would wonder, is this something that you actually do? If so, what is the impact of this work away from home upon your life? Also, is the town in the dream the town in which you actually live, or, is it a creation of the dream? If it is a real place, I would probably wonder how you actually feel about this town. I also note the tornado as a recurring theme. If you were my client, I would want to learn as much as I possibly could about what this tornado might represent in your life.

    Those are some of the things I would want to open up with you in trying to understand this dream, but it would all be within the context of getting to know you, and understanding what it is that is going on in your life as a whole.

    I hope that this gives you a little bit of an idea of the approach that depth psychotherapy might take to your dream. Again, thanks very much for your comment, Alecia!

  • ann

    I have a dream every night of not being able to get something accomplished, mostly dealing with the job I retired from. I am trying to do the work but things keep happening or I am on the subway and cannot get home or too work. I feel lost and confused and cannot remember which way to go. I never do get there or get things completed. Insead I wake up with anxiety and exhausted..

  • Brian C

    Thanks you for your comment, Ann, and for sharing your dream. To understand the meaning of this dream, I believe you would need to do some personal work on it, perhaps in the course of analysis. It would seem to me that the overarching question would likely be, what is it that might need completion at this time in your life? If you would like some suggestions of some people whom you might talk to about this dream, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the contact form on my website. Thanks again, and all the best!


    I have had a recurring dream of trying to get to my childhood home but being blocked in various ways. The last time I dreamt this though I was one block away and there did not seem to be any obstacles.

  • Brian C

    Thanks for your comment, Laural. This is a striking dream. I wonder what you might be trying to get back to in your childhood home? This would be a very good topic to pursue with a therapist well versed in dream work, such as a Jungian analyst.

  • Mark

    Thanks for this article Brian, very interesting. I have a recurring (at least twice a week) dream and have done for about 5 or 6 years. The scenario is different each time but it’s basically this… I’m on a journey of some sort, time is running out and I keep getting blocked on route or get lost or take the wrong train, sometimes I can see me destination in the distance but can’t get to it and sometimes I don’t even get that far, sometimes I don’t even figure out how to get there and no-one can give me directions.

    I’m no trained therapist but there would appear to be a lot of signals in there. Lack of life/work strategy; current route in life/work is not the right one; people in life/work are blocking progression; getting old and running out of time to make changes.

  • Alicia

    I had a dream that I was standing by a roadblock to “constellation drive” (that’s a motorway exit in Auckland) and there was a lot of traffic that was stopped so a girl I was waiting for could cross the road and I embraced her when she did. There were road cones to stop the cars going down the exit and I was wearing my high school basketball jacket (I played in the team many years ago) and I asked someone what it says on the back of my jacket and they replied “swans” in the dream I seemed happy (to see this girl I don’t know) and excited/special for having this roadblock just for us. Thanks for your resource 🙂

  • sadaf

    My dream is about a car in which I am travelling and I am unable to reach university. The driver takes me through wrong way when I tell him the address and takes me to an unknown market. I ask him to drop me at my University. What does this mean?

  • Kolawole Oluwasesan

    Recently I always fail to get to my destination in my dreams

  • Stephanie

    Hi Brian, I found your site while seeking the symbolic meaning of a tornado. I dream of them frequently, and had another tornado dream last night, but I also dreamed of trying to get home, which seems strange to me bc I haven’t been home to see my family in 5 years, and am unsure of whether or not I even want to go home. Anyway, I didn’t seem to have a vehicle to do so. I tried to build a small motorcycle of some kind out of a toilet! It didn’t work out, however, and there seemed to be a lot of obstacles. I’m currently working with a Jungian analyst and am frustrated because I feel like I’m stuck, like there is no hope. When I first went into therapy, I said, “I feel like there’s part of myself I can’t reach.” I still feel that way. “What if there’s nothing underneath the complexes?” I’ve wondered. What does it really mean to trust someone? I’ve been reading The Pregnant Virgin and Marion Woodman says that, “no amount of analysis or therapy can heal a heart that cannot trust.” My father sexually abused me before the age of 3. He betrayed my trust and then he was gone..Do you see people heal from these types of things?

  • penny

    Hello. My first time engaging here. My recurring dream is now close to two years. I dream of babies, specifically a baby that is mine or a baby for which, t I have acquired responsibility – through saving or finding. Here is last night’s example: I am lying on my couch with the new born baby, and it is mine. I am holding him/her ( each sex has been the case, but mainly female ). It was night – as is 98% of my dreams. There is no light on in the living room. Light is coming in through the window, from street lights. There is a crowd of people congregating outside my window. The curtains are crossed with a gap, where i can see the busily talking people through a net curtain. I peek out for fear of being seen – the door is knocking, but I won’t answer it, hoping they will leave. The people are known to me and have come after my having told them to, if they needed assistance with anything. I know that I am letting them down and strongly feel that they saw my face in window and know that I’m hiding/pretending I’m not in. I look down at my calm, naked baby lying close to me under the blanket. Suddenly a teenage woman climbs in to the room through my living room window ( i did’t realise that it was open. She climbs over me, saying things like ‘ i’m sorry. I was bursting! I just need the loo.’. I’m shouting for her to leave; how dare she just enter! I wan’t her to leave quickly – I feel found-out, exposed, highly annoyed and humiliated. I now know that they know that I’m in. I don’t know if she has seen my baby and i seem unable to pull myself from the settee. I wan’t her to know that I’m there because of my baby. Time passes… I finally get up. I walk to the bathroom and quickly notice the window is slightly open in there as well; I wonder if anyone else has gotten into to my house without my seeing. I have never dreamt of giving birth in these recurring dreams. I have two children in their 20s – now in there own homes -and have an incurable neurological disease called cranial dystonia.I also live alone. Many thanks for reading.

  • Michael Sellers

    The most predominant dreams I have are of either trying to be somewhere but never getting there due to it being situational. Last night it was trying to get to work by way of subway and having lots of time. I stopped at the station and just relaxed, knowing I had plenty of time but when I realized I wasn’t going to make it on time, I knew I could walk the distance but needed to ask the person at the TTC booth how long it would take to walk. He kept insisting I take the subway and then I looked at my watch and I was over a minute late to start my shift.

    Another was when I was trying to get to York Regional Hospital to wash Dr. Steadman’s office windows. No matter how hard I tried to get there, I just couldn’t. None of the streets in Newmarket would actually reach the hospital. I would ask people for directions and they would just dismiss me like I wasn’t even there.

    The most common theme that runs through them are that I need to get somewhere and when I turn to others, no one wants to help. Not in any malicious way but more in that everyone lacks the ability to do so (ie; if you were to ask someone to fly you up to the top of a building. Because their anatomy lacks wings, they’d tell you to take the stairs)

  • Brian C

    Thanks for your comment Kolawole. I think it might be important to ask what the destination is, and what is stopping you from getting there. All the best, Brian C

  • Brian C

    I agree with the points you raise, Mark. I think that there might be value with working with someone to see if you can get any movement in a meaningful direction.

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