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 workhorse, 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.
Some comparisons in dreams stand out for their outrageousness, humor, appropriateness, metaphorical symbolism, and so on. I usually find the reason for it in the storytelling of the dream. Powerful comparison draws attention to itself and reveals an underlying dynamic such as strong feelings, personal affinity, special talent or ability, importance in the psyche, importance in life, or potential for healing and growth. The clues are subtle but you can spot them once you are closely familiar with how dreams tell stories.
Pregnancy and childbirth in dreams are loaded with possibilities for symbolism through comparison:
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.
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.
Comparison and contrast in dreams are ideal for showing how close or far apart something is in the figurative or personal sense. Think of when someone says “we’re far apart on this issue.” It means a big difference in opinion, viewpoint, feelings, or perception. A dream could show “far apart” figuratively as physical distance, but contrast is another way to do. Dream characters that strongly contrast with you or each other can symbolize, visually and otherwise, personal distance between people. Contrast can be used to show a wide gap between beliefs, values, principles, desires.
For example, a young doctor dreams about battling a cloned copy of himself that’s exact in every way except for the strong contrast in how it appears compared to the dreamer’s appearance in the dream. The clone is clean and angelic, while the dreamer is covered in dirt and grime. The dream shows a strong contrast between the image the dreamer thinks is expected to maintain as a doctor, and the reality that he likes to get dirty in the figurative sense. His job is messy. His personality is far from “angelic,” though not to say “devilish.”
On the other hand, think of when someone says “we see eye to eye on this issue.” How could a dream use comparison to tell that story? Obviously, through the symbolism and use of eyes in a story, and through showing close physical proximity. It could show it through similarity in dress, appearance, and behavior.
To understand how dreams derive the symbolism, think of when a person might say “we have sharply contrasting opinions.” If you were the dreaming mind, how would you show the idea of contrasting viewpoints? You could create contrast in appearance, behavior, demeanor, tone, conditions.