Psychoanalysis > Papers

About Dreams with Earthquakes

By Jean Chiriac

Many of the searches made on our web sites start with the key words, "interpreting earthquake dreams". This is a sign that many persons dream earthquakes. This is not extraordinary, if we acknowledge to what extent the earthquake is a present reality not only through the perception  of its direct manifestation, but especially through its presence in the mass-media, through its effects and, generally speaking, its disasters. We might say an earthquake is feared today, maybe more than it was 100 years ago, precisely because we are always reminded of it. But even if we were not reminded, other disasters, such as flooding, fires, infectious maladies etc. can also send to earthquake because they belong to the same category.

So, earthquake dreams seem to be normal taking into account we are aware of earthquake disasters and effects.

However, the psychoanalytical interpretation cannot settle with this easy explanation. Furthermore, we say that if we dream earthquakes this is not just because we are talked about them, we know from the dream theory - dream-work - that what we call manifest content borrows from the recent impressions. Thus, if the earthquake shows up in the dream, this is because we were recently talked about it. But this explanation alone is not sufficient.

The earthquake must resonate with something within us if we want the allusion to it to show up in our dream. Somebody dreamed an earthquake starts and ran to stay in the door frame because he knew this was what he had to do (Notable memory during the sleep!). Somebody else observes the devastating effects, while being incapable of doing anything. Another one dreams that while the earthquake - which, as a weird fact, lasts for too long - started talks to it as to a living creature, asking it to stop! Another one lives the earthquake together with his wife and holds her in his arms to protect her.

The earthquake appears in many forms in our dreams - we could say that all the dreams with this topic are all variations on the same theme. Still, dream analysis does not simply proceed to generalize the context and the significance. We know precisely that every dream has a dominant subjective note.

So, in order to interpret earthquake dreams, we should have, as for every dream, the dreamer's associations. We must talk to him, to convince him to tell us everything that crosses his mind about the elements of his dreams. We must convince him to tell us even what bothers him or makes him feel inferior. So, we will have as many decoding as many dreams we have. Every dream with its own meaning and signification. (1)

I know this conclusion will disappoint those - and many - who want a general solution for the dreams of this type. Everybody would want a collective explanation which should be valid for all earthquake dreams. Unfortunately we cannot offer something like this...

Still, in certain situations, which can also be typical - meaning common to all people - we could hope to a common, almost satisfactory interpretation.

 If we come back to the Freud's dream theory we know his definition (of the dream) is the disguised accomplishment of an unconscious, repressed wish. By submitting to analysis an earthquake dream, can we still pretend it is the accomplishment of a desire? At first sight no, if we see in desire something pleasant and benign, such as consuming an appealing lunch. But the desire is not always benign. There are also aggressive desires such as it comes out from the old Romanian saying:  "the goat of the neighbor should die as well". An aggressive, destructive desire can as well be repressed - and it really is - and it can be fulfilled, during the sleep, by adding to the dream the image of the earthquake. If this is the way things are, if we can prove to our dreamers the presence of some unsatisfied destructive needs, we can finally decide to interpret their disaster dreams using this destructive key.

We have seen from the given examples that the earthquake dream presumes as well a threat for the dreamer himself. Could it be that his aggressively is not satisfied by discharging it outside? Obviously not. If it borrows the efficacy of a natural force such as an earthquake there is no certainty that the dreamer himself, in fact the dream's creator, is protected against it. The earthquake does not choose. Anyone can be its victim. This is why, in the dream, the dreamer tries to protect himself too against the disaster using his own strength. (2)

Collective earthquake dreams can indicate neurotic problems at a collective scale in the aria of the fulfillment of aggressive instincts. This is a signal for psychologists, psychoanalysts and it should be as well for politicians, sociologists etc.

But even if we had statistically an idea about the degree of spreading of this neurosis through the population we still could not generalize and reduce ALL earthquake dreams to the repression of aggressive urge and its association in the dream with the earthquake.

Physiological phenomena can themselves determine the appearance of these dreams, therefore we talk about the catharsis dreams, which drain the accumulation of neurotic excitation. They are no longer dreams in the sense defined by Freud and are taken as such, as mechanisms of autonomous compensation.

Of course, the excitation accumulation can still be of psychoanalysis interest, because somewhere there is obviously a censorship which blocks the natural course of psychical energy. (3)

1. You may learn more about the psychoanalytic approach of dream interpretation by reading our papers on this topic or taking our email courses related to it. A few links:

  • The dream interpretation section of this site.
  • Psychoanalytic Techniques for the Exploration of the Unconscious (includes teachings about dream interpretation) - a 15-lesson email course. More...
  • Dream interpretation method aaccording to Sigmund Freud - a 10-lesson email course. More...
  • Several papers treating of psychoanalytic dream interpretation may be purchased from our Paperstore.

2. There is another explanation related to the dreamer superego, the one who promptly sanctions the aggressive behavior. There are as well other explanations to which I will not stop now.

3. Only the analysis, that can take up to a few months, can reveal the psychical conflict and explain the compensation process.


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