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[b]The Dream of the Family Gathering[/b]

Upon retiring on the evening of March 8, 2019 I had the following dream:

[i]I am at the house where I grew up. There is a large family gathering at which my parents are present. Dr. P— is there. I am happy to see him, but I don’t want to look too excited. My family treats him like a beloved son. My family ignores me; they appear to shun me. All their attention is focused on Dr. P—. Dr. P— ignores me also; he won’t make eye contact. He seems happy and profoundly content.

I have strong feelings of sadness and distress about Dr. P— ignoring me and my family ignoring me. I feel that Dr. P— has usurped me. I feel like an outsider in my own family. The family leads him into the kitchen, while I gaze on.[/i]


Dr. P— is a “welcome outsider” to my parents while to me he is an intruder, which parallels the biographical incident from age three, discussed earlier, when I came down with scarlet fever. My pediatrician (Dr. Bloom) was a “welcome outsider” to my parents and to me, perhaps, an intruder.

The dream suggests that I see Dr. P— as the successful son my parents never had. I suppose I am deeply envious of him; I feel he has the accomplishments and traits that rightly belong to me, but that in fact belong to him.

The figure of Dr. P— in this dream reminds me of the so-called “happy mortal” described by Goethe in his novel, [i]The Sorrows of Young Werther[/i]: “We often feel that we lack something, and seem to see that very quality in someone else, promptly attributing all our own qualities to him too, and a kind of ideal contentment as well. And so the happy mortal is a model of complete perfection—which we have ourselves created.”

I see superego issues. Dr. P— is my ego ideal. The distress I feel in the dream is the disparity between my ego and my own ego ideal.

I think about a biographical incident from Sunday May 18, 1969. I was 15 years old. My sister and brother-in-law got married the previous Sunday, on May 11. On the night of their wedding, they flew to Miami Beach, Florida for their honeymoon. A week later, on the 18th, when they returned, my parents and I picked them up at the airport. They returned to my parents’ house. My uncle Louie and his wife Reggie were there. My mother happened to have a bottle of champagne. We drank a glass of champagne. My sister and brother-in-law had purchased a gift for me, a men’s jewelry box. In retrospect, the jewelry box reminds me of the theme of the three caskets from Shakespeare’s play, [i]The Merchant of Venice.[/i] In that play the fair and wise Portia is bound at her father’s bidding to take as her husband only that one of her suitors who chooses the right casket from among the three before him. The three caskets are of gold, silver and lead: the right casket is the one that contains her portrait. Two suitors have already departed unsuccessful: they have chosen gold and silver. Bassanio, the third decides in favor of lead; thereby he wins the bride, whose affection was already his before the trial of fortune. The suitor’s choice in [i]The Merchant of Venice[/i] parallels my dream in that my parents appear to have chosen Dr. P— over me. It’s as if my parents were thinking, “Now that we have Dr. P—, we don’t need Gary anymore.” In some sense I was the loser in a competition, which suggests an Oedipal theme.

As I see it, The Dream of the Family Gathering relates to introjective concerns, not anaclitic concerns. People say about me, “He’s very lonely and he wants a friend. That’s why he is obsessed with his former primary care doctor.” No. Those are interpersonal, anaclitic concerns.

In this dream I am failing to live up to my parents’ (and my own) expectations: Patients with introjective disorders are plagued by feelings of guilt, self-criticism, inferiority, and worthlessness. They tend to be more perfectionistic, duty-bound, and competitive individuals, who often feel like they have to compensate for failing to live up to their own and the perceived expectations of others. The basic wish is to be acknowledged, respected, and admired. That’s exactly what my parents are doing in the dream; they are giving Dr. P— acknowledgement, respect and admiration — all the things being denied me in the dream.

Individuals with a self-critical personality style may be more vulnerable to depressive states in response to disruptions in self-definition and personal achievement. These individuals may experience “introjective” depressive states around feelings of failure and guilt centered on self-worth.

A biographical incident comes to mind. When I was 32 years old I worked as a paralegal at large law firm. A new employee named Craig Dye began employment. I had formed a strong dislike of him before I met him, though we later became friends. Another employee had said to me weeks before, “They’re hiring a new guy. He’s really good. They might just decide they don’t need you anymore.” When I met Craig I thought, “So you’re the guy who’s going to take my job.’” During the following months my working relationship with Craig was one of rivalry. Craig and I had many similar characteristics. When there was competition for a particular assignment, or if I had to submit work in competition with that of peers, I confidently assumed I would win. Craig and I were both intelligent and gifted, and that helped us to live up even to overweening pretensions. Although generally good-natured and even “humble” in manner, we both had many arrogant traits. Compounding the hostility between Craig and me was the fact that our supervisor was an attractive young woman. That is, the relationship between Craig and me vis-a-vis a female authority carried an implicit plea, not unlike the plea of the three suitors to Portia in [i]The Merchant of Venice[/i]: “Choose one of us. Is it to be they or I?”
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Mar 16, 2019
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