Introduction to Use of Comparison and Contrast in Dreams
Comparison is at the heart of most symbolism. What is a metaphor? It’s a comparison, often one that is exaggerated. What is a symbol? At heart, it’s a comparison of one thing to another. When dreams compare things, they say that one thing is like another, and the dreaming mind is masterful at making comparisons. For example:
- A man drowning in work dreams about a horse drowning in a pond. He stands by and watches it die instead of helping, symbolizing how he, the work horse, can’t ask for help when overwhelmed with work.
- Heat is comparable to intensity or scrutiny. When you “turn up the heat,” it means you increase the intensity or scrutiny.
- Marriage is comparable to a commitment or bond, most likely a big commitment or important bond. Dreams carefully choose how they tell stories and use comparisons that are exaggerated and metaphorical but also spot on.
- Kidnapping is comparable to being forced to do something against your will. It’s exaggerated, but it fits. In one young woman’s dream, her father kidnaps her and holds her captive, and professes undying love for her. She tries to get away and hide but can’t. Kidnapping in this dream is compared with the dreamer’s feeling that her father places too many restrictions on her. He’s “madly in love,” an exaggerated way of saying he loves his daughter very much and that’s why he’s overprotective. And no matter what the young woman does to avoid his scrutiny, she can’t get away.
- Pregnancy is comparable (in dreams) to being pregnant with an idea or feeling.
No stretching of a comparison goes too far. It’s fair game if it creates symbolism and is effective for telling the story.
Contrast in Dreams
Dreams use contrast, too. Contrast can be a satirical way of seeing into your personal blind spots. Such as when a dream character appears to be completely opposite of you, and it represents something about yourself you have trouble seeing or don’t want to know. The entry for Eat details a dream in which the dreamer contrasts sharply with an imaginary dream character, showing him something about himself that’s in a personal blind spot.
Contrast is often created through comparison with dream characters—imaginary ones or ones based on people you know—that are opposite of how you behave and perceive yourself. The entry for Co-Worker details a dream that centers on a contrast between the dreamer and a co-worker.
Sharply contrasting characters that come in pairs of opposite such as young and old could be archetypal.
Opposites and dissimilar things appear together in dream scenes to create comparisons and contrasts. Your job is to figure out why.
Dreams can compare and contrast a time in the past with the present to show how the past connects with the present; between fantasy, reality, and expectation to show you what’s possible and what’s not; between how you think you are perceived socially and how you’re actually perceived; between your traits and qualities and someone else’s. See the entries for Ex and Friend for more examples.
Comparison and contrast can create obvious discrepancies with reality, and those discrepancies are indications to look for symbolism. For example, you dream about a mouse holding up an elephant, something only possible in the dream world. It’s obviously symbolism, and it could mean that a person with a huge reputation, symbolized by the elephant, is supported by the comparatively little people around her or him.
An old rule of thumb in dream psychology is people react most strongly to what they see or don’t see about themselves in other people. It can spark an overreaction if they compare themselves, subconsciously or not, to someone or something else and don’t like what they see. For example, a parent harshly punishes a child for a minor infraction, not realizing what they react to so strongly is what they see and don’t like about themselves in the child. They then dream about a child killer on the loose, an exaggerated comparison with their behavior and guilt.