Social dreaming in a time of covid-19

Dreams, mostly discarded, maddening in their surreal content, often forgotten immediately when we wake, used in common language as a synonym for desire, yet frustratingly elusive are an important part of our lives. We cannot escape being ourselves and all that this contains.


Why dreams are important

In some of the schools of psychoanalysis, they are seen as the royal road to the most important thing we have. Our unconscious mind.

Some philosophies and schools of psychoanalysis look at our own sense of 'being', as being a journey from our interior self, reacting with the exterior world, an unfurling of our selves, like a seed developing into a tree.

What is social dreaming?

Now is a time of crisis, the invisible threat of a virus occupies us all daily. Here is a primitive fear, we react to it in the same way as our forgotten ancestors, the code for survival, our anxieties, fears, both individual and collective are the same now as they were before, as many works of literature attest.

Of course, we try not to live like this, life goes on, we eat, drink, seek entertainment and pleasure in the midst of all this, our approach is to be careful, but not doom-laden. Yet, we are wary, maybe afraid.

This ancestral fear, the recognition that it is not the same anymore, is where the notion of Dreamtime arrives into our world.

Social dreaming is the idea that at moments like this, our personal dreamscape is attached to the collective unconscious, our ancestral knowledge, lodged deep in our psyche, ready to find its place in our psyche’s survival kit.

You are not alone, the global community and all our ancestral histories are alongside us in the midst of this pandemic crisis.

Dream diaries

As we sleep, when the interfering world of 'doing' can no longer distract us from ourself, we process our deepest fears and anxieties that we have been attempting to hide from.

If you can remember dream snippets and write them down, the parts that we remember are the important dramas.

This takes practice, I know, in our western culture we dismiss this phenomenon  as a trivial by-product of sleep, so we throw out this rich world.

We record our dream, to share, to express, in a more metaphorical style, our deepest selves, and our connectedness to our collective groups.

Why is this useful?

This collective unconscious connection to our family, friends and social group, allows us to momentarily expose, in a symbolic form, our deepest anxieties and fears in the midst of this radical, enforced social change. We can realise that we are not alone. Outside my window, the everyday looks mostly familiar, people still walk dogs, play with their children, go shopping. Yet this surface appearance, and the missing parts of the world, older people etc and of course the missing background noise, stir within me the sense of the uncanny.

If I am able to share, in a way that does not betray my own sense of uselessness and my deep, rather melancholic mood, I can survive in the middle of a crisis with the connectedness to the collective. If we can share our dreams, we can begin to see and share our vulnerabilities.

A return to the primitive

I understand, in our culture that we discount this experience. In the west, there has been a suspicion of the non-rational for generations. Other cultures though, fascinate us with their dream catchers, or shamanic practices.

This can’t be us though, our rational self takes over. If we pretend all is well, then all is well.

Yet, as we stand on the collective shoulders of our ancestral past, the collected wisdom of survival burrows its way back into our consciousness. We are returned to the primitive in a non- disruptive manner.

We are literally (if not socially) all in this pandemic together, and our self will remind us of this, so we do not fear aloneness or being weak.

Dreams can do a lot of the heavy lifting here. They remind us of what we fear and yet can be processed in a playful way.

Wilfred Bion suggested that dreams are thinking in pictures, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud felt that here were the keys to the kingdom of our neglected unconscious.


We are always dreaming.

A boring trip on a coach can turn into an epic daydream. When we switch our attention away from things on the outside world, the rich chthonic whirlpool of our lively unconscious bubbles up to the surface. When we sleep, the serious issues of our life journey start to reach the edges of our conscious, remembered lives.

Dreaming as a shared social experience can once again, in events such as these, show us that we are not alone in our own minds and share a commonality with our fellows.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Hove BN3
Written by Marius Jankowski, BSc, MSc, MSc. MBacp (registered)
Hove BN3

I have a background in behavioural psychology, studying as a zoologist in the 80's and working with comparative techniques . This later lead me to change to the psychoanalytic approaches as pure psychology, with it's emphasis on cognition and behaviour, never seemed to me to encapsulate the complexity and beauty of being a human being.

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals