Monday, September 14, 2009

The Huge Fat Man

Here’s a dream that I had a couple of days ago, after a friend and I had been talking about abusive marriages:


I am living with an abusive husband—it’s not clear if it’s my husband, or another woman’s husband, or if it’s some kind of multiple marriage. There are other, younger women living in this household. We are all terrorized by the man.

The real horror of our situation is that his cruel acts are sudden, unexpected, and seemingly random, and we end up being terrified every moment, not knowing when we’ll be struck or locked in a room or whatever. We all try very hard to please him, knowing all the time it’s impossible, but we’re afraid to leave and feel we have nowhere to go.

Finally, I realize that if I don’t act—if I don’t run away and get help—he will kill me and the others. I manage to escape into the street outside, though he soon realizes I’ve left and comes almost immediately to chase me. I run into the street, screaming for help, praying that he doesn’t see me and catch me before help comes. Fortunately, two police show up right away. They are going to arrest the man and save all the other women. Then I wake up.

I suspect this dream is as much vocational as personal. Dreams often give us messages that speak to things greater than our personal lives. And this dream does something else that can be very useful in figuring out what the “message” is: It references another dream from several years back. With the help of a dream journal, we can take a look at both dreams and see what the relationship is. Here’s how I’m working with this:

The images in the current dream are archetypal: the abusive husband, the terrified wife/wives and/or daughters. I was never abused in this particular way, though like so many women, I have suffered my share of abusive marriages and other relationships. The dream ego initially puts up with this terrifying, painful, and ultimately life-threatening situation because she is afraid to leave. Finally she realizes that if she fails to act, she and the other women will be killed. When she finally summons the nerve to escape, she discovers help is right there.

The abusive husband in this dream is huge, fat, unshaven, and slovenly. This reminded me, when I woke up, of another dream I had four or five years ago, where a huge, fat man would sit in his upstairs kitchen window and watch the activities of a houseful of women and girls next door. The women were terrified of him. The police, in this dream, refused to help.

After that initial dream, in active imagination/reverie, I engaged the threatening figure, the Huge Fat Man, in conversation. He eventually told me that a long time ago he had wandered into that kitchen and had been unable to get out. Over time, he had become obscenely fat, miserable, depraved, and dangerous. He felt like a part of my psyche—this is not always the case with images—and my understanding was that some part of my active nature, the part that might be described as “yang” or “masculine,” had gotten stuck “in the kitchen,” that is, in more traditionally feminine activities, and had been unable to get out.

I have worked with this image to free up the outgoing, active parts of myself, but lately I have once more been feeling “stuck” in my life, afraid to step out on my own. The recent dream, by referencing the dream of the Huge Fat Man, recalls these issues to my consciousness and speaks to me on a personal level.

There seems to be a greater message in this current dream, though. My dissertation explored the psychological effect of the patriarchy’s suppression of our women. My professional work revolves around issues of women’s autonomy and agency in what is still a patriarchal culture. The fact that the victims in this dream are not just the dream ego but “a number of other, younger women,” and the archetypal feeling of the dream images, suggests a vocational element for me.

This vocational element is something I will explore, again using active imagination, by trying to persuade the various figures in the dream to talk to me. Are they suggesting a direction I might take in my work? Or are they simply underscoring the urgency of their situation and encouraging me to break out of my stuck place?

3 comments:

k said...

These are really interesting observations, especially about what direction your dream may be pointing you. The thing that has amazed me is HOW MANY WOMEN I have met, through a variety of venues, confess to having lived in an abusive marriage. And these are by and large smart, savvy women. Why does this happen? What in the psychological make-up of so many women leaves them so prone to this?

Which is a long way of saying: If you choose to follow this path, you won't want for clients! I'm intrigued by the converse, though--not working with people who have been in, but preventing young women from falling into such relationships. I've witnessed one over the last two years that is heartbreaking, despite her coming from a "good family" with a non-abusive marital relationship as a model. What might have helped her keep from getting drawn in as she was?

k said...

This post certainly raises a number of fascinating questions about where you're headed.

What I find very interesting, though, is HOW MANY WOMEN with whom I've come in contact recently confess to living or having lived in abusive marriages. It makes me think that it is more the norm than the exception. Many of them have suffered through mental/emotional abuse, which is an insidious form since it attacks a woman's psyche and sense of self so that she starts to feel like a cipher until she reaches that point of self-preservation, as in your dream. Which is a long way of saying, if indeed you follow this direction professionally, I don't think you'll lack for clients!

I'm intrigued, however, by the converse: What can be done to help the "young women" keep out of these situations? How can they learn to trust themselves and not allow themselves to be hurt by a man they love? I've seen over the last two years a heart-breaking case of a young girl who has finally (we hope) gotten away from him; she came from a "good family" with a good, non-abusive marital model--how did she end up in such a mess and so quickly? What could have helped her from an early age? I'm concerned about patterns repeating and intensifying into the next generation.

Kay said...

Good point, K. What can we do to help those younger women stay OUT of abusive relationships?

As I noted in the post and as you mention, this situation is amazingly common. I wonder what archetype is active here? What larger principle is at work?

This cries out for some serious thought and soul-searching. The recent issue of Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture is on "The Psychology of Violence." I'll take a look and see if there's anything there that offers clues. Meanwhile, do you have any thoughts about it?