Dreams in the Nights of Terror: Continuous Stress and Coping | Tamar Kron & Or Har Even

מאמר שהוצג בכנס במונטריאול 

Since September 2000 the town of Sderot, one kilometer away from the Gaza strip, has been under the terror of rocket attacks. An estimated ten thousand or more missiles have been fired at the town since 2002. According to the Kira trauma classification (2001), among others, such continuous life threatening stimuli are considered Complex Trauma (type III). Type III trauma are a cascade of traumatic events, each of which can directly or indirectly affect one or more areas of person’s functioning. Type III trauma can be focused on one area of human functioning, e.g., attachment or survival, or can affect different or all areas of individual processing.
Studies done in Sderot and the surrounding villages and Kibbutzim show that a significant proportion of the population suffers from at least one PTSD symptom. Even residents of the area who did not report a specific symptom did report suffering from emotional distress. (Orit Nuttman- Shwartz and Rachel Dekel 2005).
Recent researches on dreams of people under continuous stress show that the content and characteristics of traumatic dreams are determined by a number of variables relating to the trauma itself and to the subjective experience. In general, dreams of people who have been experiencing stress and trauma are less symbolic and more concrete, and they include more fragmentary narratives than dreams of people who have not experienced trauma (Nadar, 1996; Brenneis (1994)).
The dreams of children under continuous stress because of war and terror were found to be characterized by the absence of solutions to problems, negative emotions, anxiety, and horror (Punanmaki et. Al, 2006). The present study addresses both the unconscious and the conscious levels of reactions to traumatic situation in Sderot, using the instruments of dream diaries, interviews and self-report. The study was carried by a group of MA students in clinical psychology and a team of teachers and advisers. The entire group collected the data from the subjects: sixty-three citizens of Sderot and its surroundings: forty-five women and eighteen men – ranging in age from fourteen to sixty-two. All the participants agreed to be interviewed and signed a form of consent. The investigators met twice with each subject. The first meeting was an open interview of thirty to forty minutes, in which the subjects were asked to
talk about the consequences of living in the area, their feelings. and their ways of coping. The subjects were also asked questions about their sleep and dreaming patterns. At the end of the first meeting, the subjects received Dream Diaries. The diary was a notebook prepared by the researchers, with an instruction page. Each page began with the sentence: "Last night I dreamed that…" The participants were instructed to write down their dreams and all associations to the dream for four weeks. In this manner, a total of 609 dreams were collected. While the dream diaries were being filled, the investigators maintained telephone contact with the subjects to follow up on the performance of the task and to answer questions and respond to problems they raised.
After about a month, the investigators met with the subjects once again. The subjects handed in their dream diaries and were asked to tell about their experiences during the past month. They were also asked to fill in two questionnaires: one on coping and the other on self-control. The dreams submitted were analyzed according to the Jungian approach in the light of the information and associations presented by the subjects. After  analyzing the content of each dream separately, a general analysis of the motifs was carried out, and the percentage of occurrences of each motif in the total number of dreams was calculated. Similarly, an analysis of the dreams was made according to the scale for the measurement of masochism in dreams (Beck 1967). The term, “masochistic dream,” refers to a dream in which there is a negative self-image, and/or a negative chain of events. With this tool, the investigator does not depend on the report of the dreamer’s emotions but upon an analysis of the content of the dream, according to a number of parameters that determine whether it is pleasant or unpleasant.
From the rich material gathered in the study, Or Har-Even and me chose to present an analysis that concentrates on the men and their dreams. The analysis relates to their conscious attitudes, as reflected in the interviews with them, and to their unconscious, as reflected in the dreams they dreamed over a month. The mirror image of the men’s unconscious conception of themselves, as reflected in their dreams, is the women’s unconscious conception of the figure of the man as reflected in their dreams. The comparison between the men’s and women’s dreams opened a window for us to the unconscious expectations of both the women and the men and to the gaps between these expectations and the men’s conception of themselves.
Eighteen men took part of the study, between the ages of sixteen and fifty-four. Of these thirteen were married and five unmarried. A total of 136 dreams were collected from the men. Twenty-three of the women in the study reported dreams in which a male figure appeared. The youngest of these was fifteen, and the oldest sixty-two. Ten of the women were married, twelve were unmarried, and one was a widow. A total of sixty-nine dreams were collected from them.

Helpless Heroes
The men living in this region must cope with both inner and outer pressures. The outer pressures derive from the social expectations of the men and the inner pressures derive from the existence of unconscious or repressed male archetypes, which are not fulfilled or only partially fulfilled in the face of the constant threat.
In the historical consolidation of the Israeli nation, from the start the ideal of the muscular and masculine Jew has occupied a central place, in reaction against the situation of the weak and persecuted Jews of Jewish history in the Diaspora. With settlement in the Land of Israel and for historical reasons, this masculine ideal has been increasingly identified with militarism. Both during war and in peacetime, activism and initiative have been admired traits in this consensus.
What happens, then, to the psychic world of male citizens of Israel who are in a continued, daily situation of threat from rocket attack, a situation that does not allow the actualization of this masculine ideal? Unlike the results of other studies on dreams in traumatic situations, 42% of the men’s dreams were concrete, and 58% were symbolic. Thirty percent of the men’s dreams were connected to the security situation, and about 31% of them indicated fear and anxiety.
The archetype that appears more than any other malearchetype in the men’s dreams is that of the hero’s journey (20% of the dreams). The need for symbols of the hero arises when the ego needs strengthening, when the conscious mind needs help
for some task, which it cannot accomplish without depending on the sources of strength that are found in the unconscious mind (Jung 1964).

The journey of the hero represents a most important psychic process: individuation. Jung points out that this journey reflects a process of expansion of the consciousness and the connection of opposites within a person’s inner world into a complete entity, the actualization and realization of the self. Campbell, following Jung, divides the journey into stages:
1.      The stage of separation – departure on the hero’s journey.
2.      The appearance of a helper or helpers.
3.      Coping with obstacles in the course of the journey.
4.      Rescue of the Anima.
5.      The return to reality or the death of the hero.
The picture of the hero's journey that emerges in the men's' dreams is one of a truncated journey, in which there is a departure, characterized by the effort to distance oneself and flee from the difficulties of daily life, and to enlist various helpers. The beginning and end of the journey are almost completely removed from the men’s dreams, and none of them is a dream in which the full process is reflected.
The motifs of the hero’s journey in the dreams are connected to the personal stories of the subjects and show that psychological development toward individuation is strongly related to daily life. The hero’s journey mingles with daily situations in which the local residents are involved in a way that demonstrates the difficulty of developing on the psychological level under constant threat.
Three stages appear in the subjects’ dreams of the hero’s journey: departure, appearance of a helper, and coping with obstacles.

The percentage of dreams in which a helper appears is quite high (56%), indicating the men’s need for help and the enlisting of inner strengths to cope with the situation. The helpers appear in the figure of friends, soldiers, women, advisers, parents, other older figures, and sometimes even children. The last stages of the hero’s journey, which point to the approach of the end of the process of individuation,
do not appear among the male subjects, nor does the stage of the birth of the hero. None of them has a real beginning or end, or an organized process. It seems that life under the severe threat makes it difficult to plan things in advance – to begin and end processes. In parallel fashion, the psychic processes that are expressed in the dreams testify to a similar difficulty.
In the analysis of all of the men’s dreams, certain characteristics are conspicuous: absolute helplessness (20%), confusion (12%), masochistic contents according to the Beck scale (37%).
Each dream diary contains a series of dreams, which, in conjunction with the personal interview, give a deep and complex picture of the psychic processes that the male subjects are undergoing. We have chosen to present two of the men who are representative of several of the typical processes.
Abraham, fifty-four years old, married with four children, from a kibbutz on the border of the Gaza Strip, recorded twenty dreams in his dream diary. He has been living on the kibbutz for forty years. He was an officer in the navy commando unit and remained on active reserve duty until recently. Abraham is responsible for security on the kibbutz in times of emergency. He calls the security tension in the region “war lite,” and belittles the experience very much. In the interview he did not speak of his fear or anxiety about the situation, even in times of “Color Red” [the alarm system calls out “Color Red” in a woman’s voice about twenty seconds before a missile strikes]. “At moments like that … you … you worry. I mean, not when there’s Color Red. You worry, but you know everything is okay. Everything is under control.” He mainly relates to the situation in rational terms, and compares the situation they are dealing with today to more dangerous situations they had to cope with in the past, so as to make it easier. Even when he mentions fear, he immediately belittles it and calms himself: “Deep, deep inside, you have the fear that God forbid something might happen, but you know that you’re okay, you know that it’s … As someone who is experienced, as someone who served in the army quite a few years,
you understand that a rocket isn’t war. A rocket is something that comes to scare you, but it just has to fall on your head so that something will happen to you, okay?”
In compensation for the position on the conscious level Abraham’s dreams are flooded with different content. About a quarter of his recorded dreams are connected with the situation. Here is an example of that kind of dream:
I go down to the grocery store … A bus goes by me. It is covered with gray curtains. Suddenly volleys of shots are fired from the bus. I know that I have to take care of this problem. That’s my job. But I go straight on to the grocery store. When I get back, I understand that they’ve taken control of the bus, and there are no casualties.
Failure to act in response to the threat is especially interesting in the light of his job on the kibbutz. In another dream, the threat and the fear appear in a more symbolic way:

"I went into the morgue a few times. It looked like my storeroom at work. There were parts of bodies on the shelves: inner organs like lungs, liver, unidentifiable organs. It looks like I’ll have to bury it. It belongs to my father (who died two years ago). Suddenly I see a package from abroad, and in it there are some religious articles and a Hanucca Menora, a mezuza, some brass vessels. I wrap up everything to bury it in the ground."
In his association about this dream he wrote: “In the dream there was a feeling of fear with the need to take care of the burial of the religious objects and the body parts. I also saw a little body that looked like a scarecrow.”
Abraham’s dream, although consciously he denies fear and anxiety, reveals an unconscious stratum of fear of death. The dismembered body, the parts that cannot be identified, are like what happens when people are wounded by rockets or in suicide bombings. The package of religious articles from abroad, which have to be buried, bring to mind religious articles and Torah scrolls that were defiled during pogroms and the Holocaustand which have to be buried – the collective memory of the Jewish people.
The dream has two compensatory functions: first, to counterbalance the one-sided conscious position; second, gathering and wrapping up the parts of body and the
religious objects for burial is a kind of ritual which connect the dreamer to a higher power.
Compensatory processes, such as we have seen in Abraham’s dream, also appear in the dreams of other men. In contrast to their conscious position, expressed in interviews, of denial or making light of the experience of fear and anxiety, these components appear their dreams to fill in the partial picture.
David, thirty years old, married, recorded nine dreams, representing the complex hero's journey of the men who live in the region.
He has lived most of his life in range of the missiles. Nevertheless in his interview he said that the threat did not affect him: “It doesn’t affect me very much. I was a combat soldier in the army. I served in Gaza and in other places. I was a combat medic then, and I took care of people, and people died in my hands. The landing of rockets here won’t turn my life upside down.”
When he was asked whether he dreamed about the situation, he reported that he didn’t have many dreams like that, because the situation didn’t disturb him especially. In contradiction to this, contents of battle and threat recur in his dreams: “I dreamed I was on a military maneuver… There were all kind of events during the maneuver, all sorts of battle exercises. In the end I dreamed that we were running after somebody, and then it was reversed, and somebody was running after us.”
The theme of pursuit appears in this dream and is repeated, just as it appears in the dreams of other men. David is not consciously concerned by the threat, but it appears in some of his dreams: “I dreamed about a ghost that was standing and looking at me. It was the ghost of a thirteen year old boy, a little plump, with a sad face, and he told me that I had to give up fear. I woke up a little bit panicked and went to the bathroom, where I thought that somebody was looking at me.”

The repressed fear is expressed here by means of the inner child. The child is frightening in himself, since he is a ghost. He is sad and provides an unequivocal reminder of the fear, which shocks the dream in a significant way. The inner child is supposed to help cope with fear. The dreaming ego invokes the assistance of the child
and puts an unequivocal instruction in his mouth: “You have to give up fear.” The boy is thirteen – Bar-Mitzvah – the age of the rite de passage from child to adult. The goal of this rite de passage is to give up fear, but in the continued situation of threat it is difficult to give up fear. This instruction is compensatory and is an attitude complementary to that of the consciousness, which represses fear. However, the figure of the child is itself frightening, and the dreamer wakes up overcome and in a panic. In this dream one can see the conflict between the command not to fear and repressed fear in pronounced fashion.
In the interview David said that there was nowhere to run away to, and the situation was part of life, and you have to accept it. His dreams reinforce that position. In a third of the dreams he travels to distant places, perhaps in an effort nevertheless to flee the situation. “I dreamed about trips, and on the trips I got to the sea with a friend, to a remote country, very far away, that is on a lonely island.”
At the same time, the trip was ineffective, because even in the distant places that he reaches in his dreams, there is unrest and sometimes even danger:
"We are traveling, and we discover that we’re in the middle of a war, and suddenly there are also bad people with us… It turns out that we are in Colombia, and there is a school there with strange people, and we find out what’s going on there. It turns out that they are Nazis who kidnap people and torture them and make them into slaves.

We report them and in the end we fight them with some other friends and the help of our army."
Events of this kind in the dreams reinforce the conscious attitude, that there is nowhere to run away to, and that there is danger in other places, too, and if you can’t run away from the enemy, you have to fight him. In all of the dreams where he fights, helpers appear: “I dreamed that I was in army maneuvers… There were guys with me from school and friends from home and also guys from the army…” About a third of David’s dreams include appeals for help.
A dominant component in David’s dreams of the hero's journey is the Anima which appear in about a third of his dreams. Below we present one of David’s Anima dreams and discuss its meaning.
The world of the David’s unconscious compensates for his conscious attitude, and his dreams provide an opening for fear, and thus they make possible the equilibrium of the psyche.
The Animus in Women’s Dreams
How do women experience the men in their lives and their functioning in this situation of continuous trauma? What is the content of their fantasies and conceptions regarding the men and the way they are supposed to function? To obtain a more general picture of the men’s situation, it is important to provide an answer to these questions and see the conscious and unconscious expectations with which the men must really cope. In order to determine this, we examined all the dreams about men or, to be precise, about the figure of the Animus of one kind or another, of all the women of the study.
40% of the women’s Animus dreams dealwith the security situation. Seeing that most of the dreams connected with the situation include elements of fear or some
kind of distress, the Animus might be “invited” into these dreams because of a need for it. Earlier we mentioned the stage of the rescue of the Anima in the journey of the hero. There is a considerable gap between men and women in the appearance of the motif of the rescue of the Anima. Just 1.5% of the men’s dreams deal with the rescue of the Anima. In contrast, in 26% (!) of the women’s dreams the Animus is presented as a savior, protector, or guide. Perhaps the high rates of dreams about rescue, defense, and guidance among the women testify to a process of compensation among the women in the face of their experience. Of course this gap, whether conscious or unconscious, is liable to create disappointment among the women and a feeling that the men have failed to meet their expectations.
It appears that an additional and similar compensatory process in this context is hidden beneath the following fact: figures of an admired Animus appear in the
women’s dreams – a famous actor or another well-known male figure, usually strong, talented, and masculine. The need for the figure of the Ideal Man can perhaps be understood seeing the lack of such figures in the women’s life experience.
In contrast, 22% of the women’s Animus dreams present the image of an aggressive, pursuing, threatening Animus

The impression from the Animus dreams is that on the unconscious level the women give less space to the men’s difficult situation. Whereas 14% of the men’s dreams contain the motif of the pursued ego, only 8% of the women’s Animus dreams include that motif. Similarly, whereas the women attribute helplessness to the Animus in 8% of the dreams, the men present the helplessness of the ego in 19% of
their dreams. It appears that here, too, the men feel helpless, and the women find it difficult to give space to that feeling. Feelings of confusion also testify to this: the Animus seems confused or behaves in a confused way in 7% of the women’s dreams, whereas the dreamer in men's dreams appear or feel confused in 11% of the dreams. Lack of empathy or difficulty in making allowances for the weakness of the men also appears as a motif in the search for help in the dreams. While the men turn for some kind of help in 24% of their dreams, the Animus in the women’s dreams turn for help in only 6% of the dreams. It appears that the men need help far more than the women are willing to accept or able to understand.
An example of this can be found in the dreams of a young couple among the subjects, Tali and her husband David, whose dreams were presented above. These spouses are very closely attached to one another. Their dreams show that he is her Animus, and he is her Anima, and they are deeply attached to one other on the unconscious level.
This unconscious tie between them permits us to observe the dynamic of the expectations of their surroundings, which was presented above. and to examine it.
"I dreamed that Tali was angry at me and I didn’t exactly know why, but she
was really angry at me, and she wouldn’t talk to me. It was really hard for me in that dream, and I ran after her and asked her what the matter was and why
she was angry, and she wasn’t willing to tell me."
Perhaps the anger of the inner Anima, represented by David’s wife, derives from disappointment in his experience with his functioning as a man. The basic components of the definition of masculinity include providing protection and security,
and in his life situation, David, like the other men who live in the region, cannot provide that.
At that time, in two separate dreams (one before and one after David’s dream), Tali expressed deep admiration for David and the way he helped her and was considerate of her:
"I dreamed I was traveling to some important meeting in the north or something like that (somewhere far away) for work. I was driving in a car that belonged to my place of work, and suddenly it broke down in the middle of the road, and I didn’t know what to do. Then suddenly David got there (I don’t know how), and he took me where I had to go."
"I dreamed that David and I were moving to China. He was going to in service training there. We were wandering around in a city, and I had no idea what we were doing there. I said to David, I’ve never lived in a city, and I want to go back and live in our village. He told me that he that he still wanted to live in China for a while, but if I didn’t like it there, then we would go back and live in the village."
It seems that the unconscious dynamic between the two spouses in the present case shows that the men’s fears that they are disappointing the women sometimes come from their personal places and not necessarily from the women’s expectations.
David appears here as an ideal Animus in Tali’s eyes, though he is still tormented and feels that she is angry at him, for no apparent reason. It can be assumed that this dynamic can flow from the deep internalization of social stereotypes in a manner that makes pressures from the outside internal as well.
The overall picture that emerges from the comparison between the men’s dreams and the women’s Animus dreams shows clear gaps, though they may not be conscious, between the conception of the men’s roles and the essence of masculinity among the two groups. Whereas in many cases the men feel week and incompetent in the situation, the women continue to expect that they should be strong, rescue them, and fulfill their masculine vocation as fathers and spouses. It appears that helplessness, confusion, and the need for help are inconsistent with the unconscious model that the woman have for men, and therefore they receive less consideration from the women. These gaps give a clear sense of the system of expectations with which the men must cope, which exert great internal and external pressure upon them.
In the face of this complexity, it appears that a process of compensation is active, contributing to the balancing of their psychic state in the light of the one-sided position of the consciousness.


Beck, A.T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, Experimental, and Theoretical Aspects. New York: Harper & Row.
Tamar Kron July 2010

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List of words : Dreams   Research       Continuous stres

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