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  • Layne Dalfen

From Trauma to Tranquility

Your dream's setting might help you find peace.

From Trauma to Tranquility

  • Look at all the aspects of a dream, as the solution to the problem often sits in plain sight.

  • The location where a dream occurs may point you to the solution to your current issue.

  • How you feel in a dream can be the quickest way to connect to the subject of a therapeutic discussion.

Hanna dreamed she was searching frantically for her friend in a retreat center. While her panic and anxiety evoked a waking-life situation in which she felt overwhelmed and resentful, the dream’s location offered her the first step in making her situation more livable.

The Dream

In my dream, my friend Mary and I were at a retreat center. I couldn’t find her and began to look for her, going through hallways, into rooms, and into a dining area. I became frantic because I had no idea where she was. Later, I was sitting and talking with (actor) Liam Neeson. I saw my mother at another table, and I was relieved to see Mary sitting in a wooden chair by the door to the outdoors.

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The Discussion

I began by asking Hannah, “How did you feel in the dream? Was your panic immediate?

Hannah answered, “No, I didn’t feel frantic at first. I was frantic and upset while searching for her, and this was the feeling I woke with, even though I found her before I woke up.”

Needing more detail, I inquired, "Can you describe a retreat center for me?"

Hannah offered, "A retreat center is a place where people go to get away from their daily lives and stresses, to experience fun or learn something. Often, the retreat center is located in a country setting with a calming sense of nature all around.”

Wondering about Hannah's associations with Neeson, I asked, "What comes to your mind about him? Do you like him?"

She responded, "Liam Neeson may be a symbol of a traumatizing time in my life because I know he lost his wife in a tragic accident."

I then asked, "What kind of person is Mary?"

Hannah replied, "My friend Mary has been a victim of bad luck in life and overprotective parenting that stunted her growth and potential. Despite this, she is very compassionate, intelligent, and kind. She lived as she chose to rather than living up to her actual potential or parental expectations. Mary has suffered silently but always remained in good cheer and has been a very supportive friend."

Hoping to help Hannah connect the dots, I asked, "Can you connect Liam to a traumatizing time in your life or a recent trauma? Since your dream story is about Mary and you describe her as a victim, do you also feel victimized recently?”

Hannah made some connections.

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"You are spot on, Layne. When I described Mary as a victim, I felt like I had just given you a description of myself.

"My mom passed on four years ago from Alzheimer's disease. I see myself as a victim because I was her sole caretaker. My father was in complete denial of my mother's illness, and my sister, with legal power of attorney, couldn't face the changes and stayed away. Neither of them offered me any help whatsoever.

"Your questions resonate deeply with me, not only because I feel like a victim, but also how I associate Liam Neeson with trauma. Being the sole caregiver for my mom was a trauma, and I am now inside another trauma every day.

"I’m again the sole caregiver, this time of my father. My unresolved anger with my sister has me feeling resentful and hopeless. The toll of caregiving has been enormous, but very little compassion comes back to me.

"In these last few days, I have been anticipating how I will have to deal with their house after my father passes away, including repairs he refuses to address.

"Finally, I can't leave out how, at 63 years old, I am victimized by myself as I struggle to get out of the loop of negative, hopeless thinking and find purpose besides taking care of people. I am very kind to others but not to myself."

I shared some of my impressions.

"Thank you, Hannah, for your honesty. I am impressed with your great feelings and great responsibilities, all sitting under an umbrella of disappointment, frustration, and anger. Mostly, I’m struck by how overwhelming it all is.

"This is where I see a strength inside your dream. Without discounting the difficulty, let's look at some achievable solutions. To get yourself out of the loop of negative, hopeless thinking, think of a relatively small, practical action you can do for yourself.

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"Think of Mary at the end of the dream, sitting by the door that leads to the outdoors. A small ‘retreat’ to nature might help in alleviating your daily suffering.

“Perhaps the 'retreat center' offers a concrete suggestion. How would you feel about taking a break at an actual retreat center? Follow your own dream's advice."

Smiling, Hannah responded,

"I am already in motion on this idea. There’s a retreat and yoga center very close to my home. I am definitely going to begin the process of having my sister, who has power of attorney anyway, step in here or arrange for a caregiver for a 10-day break for myself."

What We Can Learn

All parts of a dream lead back to the dreamer. In Hannah’s dream, her friend Mary brings her right back to her own sense of victimization. Her emotions also evoke her waking-life feeling of anxiety, which she anticipates will only worsen after her father’s death.

However, other parts of this dream show movement in a positive direction. The final image of her friend seated by the door to the outside offers a vision of greater freedom. The dream’s setting at a retreat center provides a concrete path toward taking greater care of her own mental and physical health.

Hannah’s experience shows how all parts of a dream can help us analyze its meaning and then allow us to access more of our own thoughts and feelings as we resolve difficult issues in our lives.

Layne Dalfen, - Website -


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