A 39-year-old woman had the following dream:
“My friend Sam took up painting and was showing me his work. He held up a painting and I was struck by its beauty. I felt so proud of him, and had not known he had this talent. However, rather than bask in the glow of his accomplishments, or accept my many compliments, all he could do was point out what he perceived as one tiny little flaw in the painting. He kept focusing on it, and talking about it in a way that left no room for anything else. He wouldn’t even look up at me, it’s like he had tunnel vision for this perceived flaw in the art work. The funny thing was that this was an abstract painting, making any perception of a flaw 100% subjective! It’s not like he painted a picture of his dog and didn’t get the ears to scale. Nobody could ever look at a painting like that and call something a flaw when its very nature was abstract. It made me sad to see how self-critical he was and I wished that he could be proud of himself, his work, and his talent.”
Our conscious mind tends to perceive things as literal, which is why dreams don’t make sense to the waking mind. A dreamer will typically say things like “that’s weird, why did I dream of my friend Sam, and why was he painting,” and then shrug it off. One major key in working with dreams is to get out of the logical mind and into the creative mind to look at the metaphors and symbolism.
This dreamer described her friend Sam as very creative, though not a professional artist as he held a day job that was very “left brain.” She had never known him to take up painting, but she had observed his perfectionistic tendencies; both of these qualities resonated as descriptions of her own personality as well.
At the time of this dream, the dreamer was in charge of a work project that was her brainchild. Part of the campaign involved hiring a graphic designer to implement the concept visually. While excited about the project, she was having a hard time as the graphic designer was not abiding by all instructions for changes to the image. It was incredibly frustrating for the dreamer to go through multiple rounds of revisions and still not have a final image that met her standards.
While the graphic designer was not necessarily living up to their end of the agreement, this dream revealed to the dreamer that she, too, played a role in this dance via her own perfectionism. Seeing this from an objective viewpoint where she could witness someone else’s struggle with perfectionism – her friend Sam – and seeing how much it hurt him in the dream was a big eye opener as to how she could hurt herself by taking this trait too far.
We discussed the significance of discernment between having high standards and not taking perfectionism to the extreme where she could get “tunnel vision for (a) perceived flaw” like in the dream. Also in the dream, she praised her friend for his beautiful work and it pained her to see him so focused on a flaw that he could not take in any praise or compliment. This turned out to be a reflection of how she treated herself and served as an excellent reminder to give herself some acknowledgement and credit for all the good things she had created. Shifting her focus from what was not perfect in her perception, to what is good, turned out to be a life-changing lesson.
A few months after this dream, the dreamer saw her friend Sam at a social event. She did not tell him about the dream, but as they engaged in conversation and catching up when he started telling her about his latest hobby… can you guess what it was? Of course. He took up painting.
This is an excellent example of how we can have both intrapsychic and psychic layers to a single dream. The dreamer’s mind picked up on her friend’s new hobby, and weaved it into a story that actually pertained to herself. It may have pertained to him as well since they both struggled with a similar issue. Ultimately this dream gave the dreamer a glimpse into the effect perfectionism had on her life. By learning to decipher when exceptionally high standards were merited and could serve her well, versus when perfectionism could become an obstacle, she was able to improve not only her work but the quality of her relationships as well.