Compare Yourself to Yourself

Understanding yourself better using your dream journal (Part 7/7)

When you compare your dream journal to someone else’s, you’re seeing the inner mind of someone very different from you, no matter who they are. They have a different personality, different experiences, and different roles and reasons for being.

Those differences are just a start.

It may do you well to remember they’re no better nor worse than you. They’re just someone else.

They could have very different interests. Be of a different race or sex. Have a different political bent. Be from a different time. Have a completely different reason for their existence. Whatever.

This is true even if they’re your biological twin or closely related to you.

You can choose all kinds of subjective and objective points of comparison. You’re always going to fall short of the truth. You’re never going to start out with complete information. To some extent, your information is garbage because of this. As early computer scientists would say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

That is less true when we compare ourselves to ourselves. Memories fade but with a dream journal they’re more preserved.

Further down life’s road

When you compare your dream journal from one period of your life to another, you’re looking to see how you’ve changed. Have you made any progress in life? Are you further down a good road, the right road taking the trip you want to take?

You never want to feel like you’re wasting time.

If you do, if that’s your takeaway from looking at a previous period, then rereading your old dream journal can give you the perspective to change. It’s also not necessarily pleasant in the traditional sense of pleasure.

Rather, it’s good for you.

Analyzing and understanding your dreams is important. Merely recording the trip, what happened in the dream isn’t as useful as understanding why.

My overall goal for myself is to react well to the interior and exterior challenges I face. To do this to the best of my ability, I need to understand the truth or come as close to it as I can. I also need to acknowledge my fears and not let them influence my decisions in any way. I especially need to separate real fears from spurious ones.

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Psychosocial Theory of Development

Many people are introduced to Erik Erikson’s theory in psychology class. According to this framework, your personality develops throughout your life. Each stage of life comes with its own basic task.

Like so many theories, it’s a general guide, not as useful when you take it down to an individual level. There’s no reason why someone in their thirties couldn’t still be asking themselves who they are or even struggling with intimacy versus isolation. That could be you. That could be me. One task is sequential to another. The general idea is that if you don’t master this task, you will not feel a sense of competence.

Between the ages of 12 and 18, adolescents struggle with identity versus role confusion. They build a sense of who they are. They ask “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” and address all of the other smaller, adjacent questions and concerns that go along with those bigger questions.
From your 20s to your early 40s, Erikson calls the primary task intimacy versus isolation. If you’ve developed a sense of who you are during your adolescence, you’re ready to enter into a relationship with another person. If you have a sense of who you are, you’re able to know your basic likes and dislikes and where you want to go in life. You can form a relationship with another person. Without this basic self-concept, you’re going to feel lonely and isolated.
If you do have this concept of self and all of the people around you aren’t suitable to enter into a relationship with, you’re likely to say, “Well, I’ve got to keep looking.” You’d be focused on a solution.

Your forties are a boundary between these stages. Sometime during your forties to your mid-60s, you’re going to be in middle adulthood. The task is generativity versus stagnation. Will you help the next generation and make a positive impact, or will you have little connection with others and go into a shell?

From the mid-60s to the end of life, the period is known as late adulthood. People of this age look back on their lives, and either are or aren’t pleased about how they spent their life. Those who aren’t may feel their life was wasted. They focus on what could have been.

Comparing your dream journal within the same period

You’re likely to be covering the same ground. You will be influenced by what’s going on around you. For example, concerns about the coronavirus have been going on all year. Looking back over a year, you might encounter dreams about this.

New technologies, new processes at work, new people coming into your life, all of those things might change.

You might have been looking forward to a new job, moving, or some other big change.

You may find that you’ve been the same person all along, adapting to circumstances as he or she finds them.

Do you have goals? Have you had the same goals for years? Your dream journal is like a record of the interior struggle, the “ground game” you fight as you struggle to achieve your objective, whatever it is.

Comparing your dream journal between periods

The child is the father of the man.

When you go back 20 or 30 years, you’re going to see the genesis of where you are now, the roots.

You’ll probably be looking at a journal from your adolescence. You may not have written in it every day. It may not be a journal reserved just for your dreams. But there it is.

Is it full of longing? Do the concerns seem trivial now? Or, rather, should you have paid greater attention?

Be kind to yourself, whatever you do. Try to understand and not judge yourself too harshly. You were figuring out life.

You likely were trying to address the main concerns of that period, figuring out who you are and where you were going.

Either way, it’s a rehearsal for when you get into Erikson’s last stage. You have no control over what has already happened. All you can control is what hasn’t happened yet, and even then, not fully.

Further reading in the series:

Part 1: What you know and don’t know.

Part 2: Keep an actual dream journal.

Part 3: Encode your dreams if you must.

Part 4: Stick with dream journaling.

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