Inappropriately Dressed

I’m on a roll this week, using blog posts as an opportunity to dig into phenomena that turn up regularly in dreams:

June 23 dream: A teacher has asked me to come and speak to her students. It seems to be night time when I arrive. I’ve come in my nightgown (worn out, pale pink long t-shirt with cut-off sleeves that I wear in hot weather). I enter feeling self-conscious, and try to see how many kids there are (I never really see them but know they’re there). The room is shadowy, murky. The teacher sits at the front, at a round table, facing the students who are in a sort of narrow alcove of the room. I say “I wore my nightgown,” sheepishly. She’s calm, unruffled. Then she greets a line of men and women who file in carrying portfolios and satchels, all wearing suits, women in dark skirts and jackets. I say with surprise, “Oh, others are presenting,” feeling even more chagrined that I’m in my faded old nightie.

The nerd in me is excited to go back to a book I’ve read and work through what I underlined (lightly penciled, of course) to deepen my understanding, with a good sample dream to apply the ideas to. The book is Persona, by Robert Hopcke, a Berkeley psychoanalyst. “The persona is the place in the personality where public and private meet, where who we are collides with who we are told we should be.” This dream definitely seems like a collision of public and private! Hopcke writes that the metaphor of the mask undergirds the concept of persona: “… persona provides a focal point for issues around truth and illusion.”

Jung called the persona a “false self” based on acquired, perverted beliefs, in contrast with soul, which Jung called “one’s true inner self.” Schopenhauer wrote, “The persona is how one appears to oneself and the world, not what one is.” We identify with this false self that we “parade before the community” (Jung).

It’s often said that clothes in a dream relate to our persona, as a cover for one’s ego (manager of the conscious mind). If the covering is removed (i.e. lack of clothing in a dream), the mask is stripped away and we discover the compromise of being part of the social collective, while feigning individuality.

My thoughts on the night of this dream were troubled by my current teaching post – a four-week summer post, with a challenging group of students sprung on me at the last minute, kids who’d not been in school for a year, whom I’d never met, ranging from grade three to grade eight. I was worrying that I hadn’t given one of the aides enough support with a particularly difficult student and that some of the behaviors might have been due to my not providing adequate engagement. I suspect my dingy nightgown, inappropriate for the context, was my sense of inadequacy in the face of “my community” – in the dream, the suited professionals who paraded in, spotlessly clothed, my inner judges.

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