Dreams about your father symbolize something about your current mindstate, something affecting your life, but something which you are not aware of. Always, always something you do not know or haven’t accepted about yourself. If you can get your head around this one concept about your dreams, then you are on the right path. In this post, we’ll look at both father symbolism in general and father dreams.
This post will be a sort of stream of consciousness, based on the many questions I have received about father dreams or father symbolism … please forgive any lack of continuity. Each section makes sense on its own.
Father Symbolism: What does a father mean in dreams?
Symbolically speaking, a Father image typically shows you something about your current mindset. That means that the dream is talking about the particular way in which you live your life. It isn’t only about what you do, but also how you think and what you believe, i.e., your paradigm:
- What you think, feel, and believe
- How you think, feel, and believe (as in your typology)
- The way you react to life’s events, such as stress
- How you make decisions
In the lexicon of Jungian analysis, all of this is called your ruling principle of life, and, it is symbolized by the Father.
I use the word mindset in order to convey a specific point about the typical human mind: it tends to become bound by its own limited perspective.
You may have heard or read a quote by William Blake:
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
You’d think that it would be easy to know where we are bound by limited perception, but that’s not true. Sometimes we are aware of our psychological rigidity, but many times we aren’t aware of the ways in which we are trapped in our own caverns. This is particularly true when it comes to the unconscious influence of our fathers.
At the highest level of Father symbolism is the image of the King. A King would symbolize the vital spirit of the Collective, meaning the vital spirit of the culture in which you live. These days, that’s hard to grasp because not many cultures have the kind of vitality and spirit they once had.
If you have ever read fairy tales, then you know that many of them start out with a sick or injured king whose land has fallen into despair. That means something very specific, namely, that the life force which lends a culture its reason for being is gone.
T.S. Eliot’s poem the Wasteland depicts what this loss of vitality looks like. The story of the Grail Castle is another example of the Wasteland.
Father Symbolism: When the Father Appears in Dreams
Father dreams can be a signal for us to stop and examine everything concerning how we participate in the world. This means questioning even our most fundamental attitudes, honestly asking ourselves why we believe what we believe and why we do the things we what do.
Sometimes we don’t even know there is question because our conscious attitudes are unconsciously rooted – so deep that we simply never even think to question.
An extreme example would be an inherited religious or political attitude. In those cases, we are what our parents are.
Father Dreams and Attitudes
As I said in the introduction to dream interpretation, many dreams aim to correct or expand our attitudes. So, let’s define what attitude means, psychologically speaking. Whenever I use the word attitude, I mean it in the way C.G. Jung meant it.
Jung defined attitude not only as a readiness to act or react in a very particular way to our own life events, but also as a typical (or perhaps, a stereotypical ) way of seeing and reacting to life in general.
Our attitude encompasses everything such as our values, spiritual outlooks, political opinions, and how we are in our relationships.
Our attitude comprises all of the aspects which orient us in the world. And as I have said, our attitude influences us at both the conscious and unconscious levels.
The Father in Dreams: Father Symbolism
Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz often spoke about the Father archetype as symbolizing the masculine dimension of the psyche – the spirit of life.
Spirit in this sense represents an animating factor in each of us, that elan vital which drives us out of bed in the morning or fills our life’s passion with energy and purpose.
Don’t get hung up on gender here. What we are talking about here is the typical way in which this aspect of the life force has manifested itself through the history of human kind.
Our own fathers will certainly influence that animating spirit and how it manifests in our own psyche, so that’s the first place we look whenever we dream about fathers – even if the father in our dream is not our own.
If your father was strong and supportive, then your inner masculine might be aligned with that energy. If he was weak or otherwise dysfunctional, then you might have unconsciously inherited some of that psychological dysfunction.
It may not play out in the same dysfunctional way, for example, if he was an alcoholic, you might not have that problem, but you could certainly have an issue finding your own path in the world. Maybe you have problems taking initiative or something like that … anything that puts you out in the world, doing something with your life – that’s father energy.
Exploring your father dreams:
What was your father like?
- What kind of life did your father lead?
- Did he go his own way or did he follow a traditional path?
Now reflect on your relationship to your father:
- How has he influenced you psychologically?
- Are you in touch with your potential to make something happen in your life?
- How did his approach to life affect yours?
- Are you following his way or forging your own path?
- Do you have your own ideas about life, based on your life experience?
- Did anything about the relationship make it difficult for you to make your own way?
Father Symbolism and Our Conscious Life
Dreams about your father show you how that dynamic plays out in your conscious life. Remember that dream images symbolize a living part of your psyche, not just a static memory. So, symbolically speaking, the Father in dreams symbolizes a structure and dynamic underlying our conscious life.
In this sense, the masculine spirit moves outward; it is the active energy through which we concretize and realize our desires in the world. We can oppose masculine energy to feminine energy, which is receptive and containing.
As I said, fathers in dreams can appear as our actual fathers, as the father figures in our lives, unknown fathers, or even as father gods (see an example dream and dream interpretation here). Each one of these manifestations of dreams about fathers have a different meaning for us.
But there is one thing common to all father dreams: they can lead us in the direction of expanded consciousness, if we can integrate their meaning.
Father Symbolism: How Our Fathers Influence Our Lives
Our fathers have a profound impact on our lives, even those who were never present. That relationship, or lack thereof, sets us up to see and respond to the external world in a particular way. Again, we are talking about underlying psychological dynamics, and not necessarily what you think you already know about your father’s influence on your life.
Psychodynamically speaking, the father energy is the means through which we make a place for ourselves in the external, collective world. Our ability to make our place in the world depends on how we transition from childhood to adulthood.
Consider primitive initiation rites, something which our modern world lacks. We see perversions of those old rites in something like fraternity hazing or gang initiations, but it is not the same. Not even close. Those early primitive rites were about the necessary psychological transition from childhood into adulthood. They were brutal and traumatic for a reason: to break the person – absolutely – from his psychological bonds to childhood.
Primitive rites emerged out of psyche. They were not something a bunch of old guys sat around and thought up. Psyche wants us to evolve. Now that we no longer have such rites, psyche produces them in our dreams.
Father Symbolism and Rites of Passage in Dreams
Here’s an example of what I mean. You may have heard of circumcision rites in primitive cultures. In this rite, the boys’ foreskin was literally chopped off (sorry guys, I know that’s painful to hear) as part of his transition into adulthood.
In Symbols of Transformation, Jung tells a story about a man who was trapped in his mother-complex, dreaming of snake who charged out of a cave and bit him in the genital region!
Can you see the connection here? The dream produced a symbolic image of that circumcision rite because he needed to break away from the mother complex.
We really step into adulthood only when we begin to take our unique place in the world. An absent, weak, overbearing, or even, a seemingly all-perfect father can profoundly disrupt this process, leaving us impotent, both literally and psychologically.
Dreams About Fathers and Conscious Attitude
To repeat myself, the father is a symbol for our general conscious attitude. He is the subtle inner voice of authority that says what we can and cannot do, or, what we should and should not do. The father can also be behind thoughts and judgments that randomly rise up in our minds.
In order to become authentically who and what we are, we have to separate from that unconscious inner authority and make our own decisions about what we want from life.
When the father is not present our life, then then we may have difficulty finding a place in the world. It causes anxiety and fear about stepping into life. We can suffer from self-doubt about our ability to do something in the world or to stand on her own.
Sometimes they are showing us something about our relationships with our fathers, but probably not in the way most people think. Symbolically speaking, the Father symbolizes something about the way we approach life – and often, it is something off about the way we approach life.
Father Symbolism: Our Lens of Perception
In fairy tales, the father represents an attitude or a principle of consciousness, and all of his characteristics tell us something about that.
In psychological terms the father in general “is the embodiment of the traditional spirit as expressed in religion or general philosophy of life. He is a representation of a principle of consciousness and often stands in the way of new life possibilities.”
As a psychic process the father acts like an unconscious lens through which one perceives the world. He represents a dominating attitude in consciousness, one which can become unrelentingly fixed, an attitude which chains a person in fetters of his own making.
The father effectively superimposes a perspective on all aspects of life, and because of this, he can sometimes appear as an oppressive authority in dreams. However he appears, his power is insistence, whether conscious or not, on a particular way of being in the world and a refusal or inability to see or accept the possibility of change or difference.
Father Dreams in Women
I remember a particularly impactful father dream of a woman in analysis. It was clear that she had an unhealthy relationship with her father. Funny thing is, she didn’t even like the man. She worked for him and made a lot of money, but she hated it. The woman repeatedly got in the way of her father’s intimate relationships with women. He controlled her, and in a strange way, she him.
She knew it was a bad relationship. We talked about the idea of “psychological incest” and the idea of the family marriage, but nothing hit home.
One night, after another confrontation with her father, she had a dream that she was in a romantic relationship with him. They lived together as man and wife, but were still father and daughter in the dream. Even in the dream, she was appalled. She woke up with a SHOCK!
Well, that hit home. The dream showed clearly everything we’d been talking about.
We see the phrase Electra complex associated with that kind of father-daughter dynamic , though not so much in Jungian psychology. It has many iterations, even with so-called really good relationships between fathers and daughters. In the latter case, no man can compete with the father’s image. Now, you might think that women in this case would not settle for anything less than the father, but that’s not true. Many times, they settle for men who don’t even come close.
The Too-Good Son
Here’s a good example of what kind of dreams one can have when the father is held in too high esteem. This story comes from C.G. Jung. A young man dreamed:
My father is driving away from the house in his new car. He drives very clumsily, and I get very annoyed over his apparent stupidity. He goes this way and that, forwards and backwards, and manoeuvres the car into a dangerous position. Finally he runs into a wall and damages the car badly. I shout at him in a perfect fury that he ought to behave himself. My father only laughs, and then I see that he is dead drunk.
This dream showed the father in a most-unlikely image. His father was not a drunk or a loser. In this young man’s eyes, the father could do no wrong, and thus, the young man could never live up to the father image. The effect of the dream takes the father down in order to tell the young man, “you hold him too high up against yourself”. As Jung said,
His father is still too much the guarantor of his existence, and the dreamer is still living what I would call a provisional life. His particular danger is that he cannot see his own reality on account of his father; therefore the unconscious resorts to a kind of artificial blasphemy so as to lower the father and elevate the son.
That’s a great example of dream compensation for an inferior attitude or self-concept.
Considerations of Fathers in Dreams
When I say the way we approach life, I mean that in two ways: the way we consciously approach life and the way we unconsciously approach life.
Some of the factors you have to thoughtfully consider about your approach to life:
- Your current attitude about life
- Everything you think about life’s meaning
- Conceptions or inherited preconceptions of right and wrong and your personal values
- Spiritual or religious perspective
- Approach to problems
- Perceived purpose in life
- Career path
Final words about father dreams and how to work with them
Questioning Our Worldview
When you dream about fathers, always ask yourself some questions:
- What aspects of the father’s worldview dominate my own worldview?
- Examine your inherited ideas or values. For example, your religious or political views, or in extreme cases, racist opinions.
- Do you hear his voice of disapproval playing out in your head?
- It could also be subtler than a voice, such a feeling that nothing will ever work out for you. It could also be a feeling that you can’t do anything.
- Remember that the father effectively superimposes a perspective on all aspects of life. This is why he can appear as an oppressive authority in dreams. However he appears, his power is insistence, whether conscious or not, on a particular way of being in the world and a refusal or inability to see or accept the possibility of change or difference.
Want to learn more about working with dreams or Jungian Psychology?
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