Although dreams often seem nonsensical, the close examination can yield self-knowledge and practical guidance for everyday living. Interpreting dreams is usually a challenge. They so often deal with thorny issues that we avoid thinking about when we’re awake. And most dream-analysis systems impose rigid symbolism and meanings that don’t fit everyone.
The dream-analysis method I use involves freely exploring a dream with others but accepting only the insights that strike a personal chord. My dreamwork programs normally contain eight to 10 people, but the system also works with just two or three
Present The Dream
To allow for wide-ranging speculation, the dreamer first tells the “straight story.’’ He/she should write out and distribute clear details of the setting, sequence of events and images, including only those observations, thoughts or feelings in the dream. The dreamer should not try to interpret or add commentary.
Many people can recall entire sequences, but even small fragments yield information.
Example: One group participant could remember only “a pastel color.” From this snippet came a revelation that his commitment to his work was pale and half-hearted. This led to a major career change.
- Heart disease. A National Institute of Mental Health study found that individuals who suffer from depression—a common response to loneliness—are four times more likely to develop heart disease than those who are not depressed.
- Cancer. A study conducted at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that students who eventually developed cancer were more likely to have suffered from loneliness.
- Weakened immunity. An Ohio State University study found that a network of close friends helps prevent stress-related declines in the immune system.
To avoid loneliness, most of us need at least five close friends. These are the people we keep in touch with regularly, have fun with, ask for help when we need it, and who rely on us for help, too.
To change such patterns, follow these simple steps:
Overcome your fear of being alone.
People who hate spending time alone often come across as desperate. That makes them less attractive as potential friends.
Helpful: Create a list of things you love to do—by yourself. Include activities you enjoyed as a child but haven’t done for years—sketching… shooting hoops, building models, playing the piano, fishing, window-shopping.
- Resume these activities. You’ll start to think of time alone as a gift and become more interesting to others.
- Consider your strengths. The better you feel about yourself, the easier it will be to build friendships.
- Think about the assets you bring to a friendship—good listener, supportive, like to laugh, etc. Write them down to help you remember them.
- Then write down the qualities you would like to develop to make yourself a better friend. Consider steps you could take to develop these qualities.
Strengthen relationships with the people you already know.
- You may have friends you haven’t been in touch with for a long time. Call them.
- Don’t wait for an excuse or worry about coming up with a fancy speech. Simply say, “I’d like to renew our friendship” or “I don’t want to go another year without being in touch.”
- If you don’t know how to get in touch with an old friend, check www.bigyellow.com and select “People Pages” to locate an address and phone number.
- If the person you’re looking for is an old classmate, contact your alma mater’s alumni relations office or search the database at www.classmates.com.
Meet new people.
Community events, where you see the same faces again and again, are the best places to make friends.
Examples: Adult-education classes, hiking clubs, community theater groups, gyms and amateur sports teams, religious organizations, interest groups (book clubs, bird-watchers, etc.).
To learn about such groups, look at bulletin boards, newspaper listings and college-extension catalogs. Check www.realcities.com for a list of local activities.
Another option: Support groups. You don’t need to be recovering from illness or emotional issues. There are men’s groups, women’s groups—even loneliness groups.
To find them, check newspaper listings or call community health agencies and hospital social work departments.
Helpful: Make a list of events and groups you would enjoy. Attend at least one per week. Ask other attendees about the organization, how long they’ve been coming, their opinions about that evening’s discussion, etc. Go four times before deciding whether the group or activity is a good fit.
Volunteering is another option. Working with other people on a shared cause builds bonds.
To find volunteer opportunities in your community, visit www.volunteennatch.otg.
Turn acquaintances into friends.
Some friendships develop casually and naturally. But often, you must take the initiative.
If you have something in common with someone, suggest that you get together for coffee…talk during a break or intermission… or offer him/her a ride home from an activity.
Improve your communication skills.
We don’t often recognize how we make it difficult for people to get to know us well. Watch out for…
- Interrupting—jumping in before the other person has finished talking.
- Self-centered listening—planning your reply while the other person is still talking.
- Giving unsolicited advice—telling the other person what to do.
- Being vague—dropping hints and expecting others to decipher them.
Ask yourself, “What do I want from this communication?”
Examples: “I need a ride to the doctor”…“I get upset when you’re late”…“I need to get eight hours of sleep tonight.”
Continue making new friends.
Circumstances change, and even close friends may not always be able to support you. To avoid becoming too dependent on one or two friends, keep seeking out new acquaintances.
Tony Schwartz, New York-based journalist and author of What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America. Bantam. He and his wife, Deborah Pines, a psychotherapist, have run dream-analysis groups for 10 years.