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Calvin Hall was an American psychologist who died in 1985. He attended school at the University of Washington and at Berkeley, and taught at, among several other schools, Western Reserve University. His cognitive theory of dreams is important and influential for all modern students of dreams and interpreters of dreams.
Hall’s Dream Theories
According to Calvin Hall’s dream theories, dreams are a reflection of the self. The underlying meaning of the dream always reflects the individual’s feelings and fears. Calvin Hall would reject any idea that a dream might be precognitive or give information about anything outside the individual. Instead, for Hall, dreams come from inside the individual and reflect the individual’s consciousness.
This does not mean, of course, that dreams cannot be surprising or give insights that the dreamer would not otherwise have ever had. Calvin Hall explained that we all have completely distorted self-images, and we simply cannot see ourselves for who we are in the waking world. We have a trumped-up self image that is often infinitely more flattering and infinitely less accurate than the truth about ourselves. As such, when we see disturbing things about ourselves in our dreams, this actually often reflects something in ourselves that we wish to deny or pretend does not exist. It is unpleasant, naturally, to see our faults as they are.
Dreams are a way for our unconscious to reveal to us aspects of ourselves that we would often far prefer to completely ignore. They also reveal things about us that are indeed flattering, and which we do not see because of our insecurities. Hopes and aspirations are clarified in our dreams, as well as fears that we have and threats we perceive.
Context is Important in Dreaming
For instance, in the context of Calvin Hall’s dream theories, if you dream that you are attacked by a group of your friends, this indicates that you may have a fear of friendship. It does not necessarily mean that your friends are actually going to attack you, or have anything but your best interests at heart. It may mean, however, that your unconscious mind has noticed details about your friends which should tell you that they are untrustworthy, even if you have not consciously noticed it. Similarly, if you dream of winning money or having an aspiration come true, this is indicative of your hopes, but not necessarily (unfortunately) of actual future outcomes.
It is worth noting that Calvin Hall distinguished between the underlying meaning of dreams and the literal narrative meaning of the dreams. For instance, dreaming about going somewhere in a car, for Calvin Hall, has meaning insofar as it reflects the underlying meaning of taking actions to accomplish goals. It does not necessarily mean that you need to take a road trip in order to accomplish your goals.
For Calvin Hall, dreams are the ways our thoughts are embodied. They provide insight into how we see the world. If we dream of monsters or enemies chasing us, this indicates that we feel threatened, and that the way we see the world is uncertain and fearful. This may reflect stress at work or unreasonable expectations placed on us; whatever the cause, the effect is the same: we feel that the world is “out to get” us, as it were, and we do not feel safe. Similarly, if we dream that someone close to us is harming us, this indicates that we see that person as threatening at some level, even if in our waking mind we believe that they are harmless or even trustworthy. This dream does not actually indicate whether the person is or is not trustworthy, but it indicates the way in which we see this person. In addition, the actions we take in our dreams indicate the way we believe the world works, especially the way we dream about conflict.
Do your dreams involve resolving issues and coming to peace with others? This is an indication that you see the world in this way: problems are essentially resolvable, people are good, and agreements can be made. Do your dreams involve hurting or punishing people who threaten or hurt you? This indicates that you see the world in this way: bad people are irredeemable, punishment is justice for doing bad things, and justice, rather than resolution, is the solution to problems.
5 Key Concepts Revealed in Dreams
Calvin Hall identifies five concepts revealed in dreams, which provide insight into the inner workings and motivations of the person. Concepts of self are those ideas we have about ourselves, how we feel, what our hopes and dreams are, and what role we play in our relationships and work. Concepts of others are the ideas that we have about the people in our lives, how they feel toward us, whether we are cherished or despised by them, whether we can trust them, whether they depend upon us or we on them, and how we interact with them. Concepts of the world, on the other hand, are our feelings about our immediate surroundings and the larger world outside. Some issues that may be brought up in concepts of the world include whether the world in general is friendly or hostile, whether it is harsh or hospitable, and whether we fit in our place in the world.
- Concept of Self
- Concept of Others
- Concept of the World
- Concept of Impulses and Desires
- Concept of Problems and Conflicts
The people surrounding us make up this world, as well as our physical surroundings, and even the culture at large. Workplace issues, for instance, are often a reflection of our concept of the world, but may also be a reflection of our concept of others. Concepts of impulses and desires, prohibitions, and punishments are our basic morality – how we relate to the desires that we have and the impulses for acting that we feel.
Prohibitions and punishments often relate to the spiritual or religious upbringing that we had – whether we feel responsible to take care of others because we are empathetic and know that others need help, or whether we feel obligated to because a deity told us to and will punish us if we do not, for instance. Concepts of problems and conflicts often span the previous four concepts, and are the conflicts that are at the forefront in our current situation.