Exploring my soul's
Mother's little prince
A dream: moving an aquarium
The struggle with my father
Bad luck for my mind
Further exploring the cellar
The Oedipal triangle
Roles and relations changed
To the bottom of the shaft
During my quest,
dreams have had a crucial function. Dreams have their own language, the
analogue. Dreams tell about phenomena hidden in the cellar of one's soul, put
away by the logics of daytime. They keep living there. They want to escape that
cellar. As soon as they see a chance - a crisis or a therapy - they come
back to the surface.
The first vision I saw
in a dream was a great strong angry elephant, caged in a cellar. Difficult
to interpret, but clearly a strong inner force that wanted to
There was more in the cellar of my soul: I dreamed of a little prince happily sleeping in a princely bed in a beautiful small room. My therapist said this referred to the womb and the wish to return to that safe place. As usual in a therapy, he asked for my associations. So, we came to speak about my mother. This was easier than speaking about my father, against which I had strong resistance. In contrast, I could speak easily about my mother as a nice, cordial and careful woman, an angel on earth.
Clearly, my inner view of my parents was drawn in black and-white: my mother was an angel, my father was a creep. This tells us nothing about what they were in reality, it only tells us about my feelings about them, about the inner views I had created and stored in my soul.
Quite quickly, recollections concerning my mother came up associatively:
I bought a fresh herring for my mother while going to school and put it in my trouser pocket. At the end of the school day, the herring as well as my trousers were a mess. This recollection refers to an unconscious falling in love with the mother figure.
in another dream about buying fish, the other side of the coin came up: a
great fear of the still living chunks of fish and of the fish merchant , a
woman - thus a fear of femininity and sexuality.
My mother went with me to buy new trousers - a specialty in my family, because I mostly wore the hand-me-down clothes of my older brothers. I chose the shortest shorts and showed them erotically to my mother. This refers to erotic longings to the mother figure.
Each of the children in our large family had duties. My task has always been to help my mother with shopping and cooking. So, I frequently was in close proximity to her.
Still a very young child, I kindled the stove in the morning and put a large pan with porridge on it. In reality, I only had to wake up early, hold a match to the stove and then stir the porridge. My mother had prepared everything the evening before. The oedipal feeling was to do it for her. Moreover, by waking up so early and by doing this I was able to avoid my father. When I was somewhat older, I did the same by going to church early. When I was younger, I avoided my father by creeping into a nook of the attic.
Doing and feeling so, I ended up in an Oedipal rumble: adoring my mother and avoiding my father. But the story is not as simple as has been told up to now. It appeared that not only an erotic longing for the mother figure was present in my soul, but also a deep fear of female sexuality. This is a difficult combination for such a young child, because both feelings are conflicting. For the time being, it appeared that I had resolved this by adoring my mother as an angel - but she had also to keep being an angel: an exalted spiritual being without a body and sexuality, not a female flesh-and-blood creature but one without female sexuality.
I avoided my father as much as possible. Associatively, but only vaguely and with difficulty, I could catch sight of an old desire: the longing for a friendly, present and involved father as I had known him once upon a time. However, still as a very young child, I had banished this desire to my soul's cellar. On the conscious level there was no such desire.
Such types of repressed desires are typically creepy, and repression makes theme even creepier. Thus, they stayed in the cellar.
Here are some quotes from my diary during this therapy
Suddenly, I remembered that, when I was about 15 years of age, I was playing the piano. I played my own composition, named "Fish".
(Afterwards, I suppose that it may have referred unconsciously to the harmony and peace of the womb.)
My dad came home. Normally, I had fled upstairs to my room long before my dad came home, but this time he was quite early and I still needed to play only the last page of my composition. So I played on. My dad heard this; he stood behind me, stroked my shoulders and said it was beautiful.
A scene of domestic happiness? No. I tensed up. I felt awful. Panic-stricken, I fled upstairs and cried heartedly. Never ever, so I said to myself, will I again make this blunder of being in the living room when my father comes home. I still feel tense in my neck and shoulders when I think about this..
One may suppose that even a friendly father is not able to break through the symbiosis with the mother (the fish in the water). On the contrary, he activates a frantic fear.
Later, on April 30, 1959, I wrote an indictment of my father, a letter full of reproaches, no open questions, and no pardon.
I steadfastly avoided my father and refused to identify with him, to become that type of man.
Subsequently, I discovered that by doing so I had also banished my masculinity to that cellar instead of developing it.
The therapist said: "Troublesome figures, those inner fathers and mothers... Every human has them; they are archetypes. Ultimately, fathers and mothers represent one divine ancient being, and we are the ancient child - in your case, with an ancient stew..." That stew contains the nasty feelings from my earliest childhood. I continued in my diary:
With [the therapist] I have again spoken about my father.
Regularly, as a child, I brought his lunch to the factory in which he worked as the financial manager. This was not a positive recollection, because he ignored me nearly completely. He said "Oh, thank you" and went on working, bookkeeping, without any glance at me - he even did not see me. So, I ignored him and avoided him.
My dad was dominant even in his absence. He was feared because of his threatening grumble, for example about the quality of the food my mother and I had cooked, or our bicycles in the corridor. I felt sorry for my mother.
In the dream I went with my wife to look at another house, [...] quite an old house. The shape of the water tap was remarkably like a snake that bites. In fact, I did not want to live here, but it seemed to be already decided. On the way back the tram did not come, so we had to walk a long way. Was there no way back for me?
Later, we moved the aquarium by tram to that house. However, as soon as we had arrived, my wife drained all the water and the fish out from the aquarium. There were still fish in the aquarium, but without water. On the floor, fish were struggling everywhere dying. I wanted to quickly draw some water, but this couldn't because of that strange tap. A real biting snake appeared from it, instead of water.
Then I saw rabbits: a little rabbit on the floor was wet and dead. Two other rabbits were in a box, neglected and wounded on their backs and heads. One of them had a hole in its head which was covered with a ball of old newspapers. Then, there appeared a vagabond. In this creepy state, I awoke.
interpretation was the birth. My wife who drains the water is the mother who
bears. The newborn child has to get breath of air. There is no way back to
the water (the womb). The water tap and the snake refer to sexuality,
connected as it is with creating new life and childbearing. The rabbits refer to
the newborn's feeling of vulnerability.
"Clearly," the therapist said, "your 'automatic recovery program' is working. It apparently starts the repairs on this very fundamental level." Indeed, shortly before I spoke about the little prince and about my composition about fish. Well, here was the little prince out of the womb, and now the fish had to get his own breath. A kind of re-experiencing birth.
The therapist viewed trauma in the earliest period of my childhood: severe illness, the incubator, the hospital, being critically ill, and a very early depression. These trauma must have hindered my development, my individuation and my growing from boy to man. He saw that a process of recovery and repair was working and he saw that it had healed, not disintegrated me.
For me, it was difficult to form an overview of this process because I was in the midst of it. For the time being, I saw confirmed only a negative Oedipus complex - not a pretty discovery if it concerns oneself. I had no notion how to overcome this, even no idea if overcoming it were possible. After all, the Oedipal phase manifests itself at the age of 4 or 5, and I was quite older.
The first therapist retired. He arranged another therapist for me. This took several months, at least before the real therapy started. However, the process in myself went on nearly automatically. I could not stop it. Clearly, a self-recovery program had started and was working. So, I continued thinking about the inner figure of my father.
I realized that there must be a kind of ancient struggle in my soul, near the pitiful ancient stew. That stew concerned the figure of my mother, that ancient struggle concentrated on the figure of my father.
Indeed, I have had struggles with him all my life; I could not always avoid him, I had also to combat him.
Oedipus struggled with his father, albeit unconsciously. Well, I have also struggled, but consciously.
As a baby, I had to fight against death. Supposedly, I have not only passively been crying. No, my whole body and mind must have fought to survive.
Back home, I landed in a war situation. The Germans had conquered The Netherlands. "The Germans" or "The Huns" - words that were familiar in daily life, - they explained and ruled all. Avoiding the German soldiers was a daily routine. The motto was: You must use your brain if you can't use your brawn. There was a lack of food; it was the "hunger winter". However, if there was a bit of food, I refused it according my memory and my mother. This is a sign of an early-childhood depression.
In September 1944 I went, three years of age, with my parents to a city, Nijmegen, to visit my brother. On the way there, there was a railway station. On the way back, it was bombed. Thus, I saw: so mighty was the enemy and he was everywhere - even in the street in which we lived in and in the village to which we fled. I did not cry, no, I walked silently and with a stiff upper-lip the long way along the rail until we reached a train. The tears did come, but many years later, when those bombs were mentioned in a newspaper article.
When the war was
over, it was even more apparent how mighty the enemy had been. I saw large
parts of my city completely bombed. In my attitude to life, there was a big
supreme enemy who made us powerless and anxious, so we had to use our brain. Combating
is not only fighting, but also flying, avoiding, using your brain, and quiet diplomacy.
One has to wage a life-and-death
This was the attitude and the model I took along with me to the next problem.
Every child needs to be allowed to be passively dependent on his or her parents in an intimate, loving, accepting and confirming atmosphere. My mother gave me this perfectly, but my father did not - better to say: suddenly not any more.
I remember sitting, as a very young child, on his lap, and walking behind him with a 'pipe' (a quite Oedipal symbol) in my mouth, and walking to a small park to feed the ducks.
However, this suddenly ended. Suddenly, my dad had 'gone away', and when he was present, he was anxious, scary, dangerous, creepy and capricious. He did awful things like scolding my mother, grumbling, hitting my sister, threatening, thumping - and especially being silent. My dad became inaccessible - maybe only accessible in his anger, but in those moods of his I, in turn, was not accessible.
Thus, I had my next problem: my need for passive dependence in an intimate and loving atmosphere, my need for confirmation, was suddenly not fulfilled - at least not by my father. This must have been a frustration on a deep level.
Apparently, I had made a decision, which I remember vaguely: 'OK, dad, spare me your love, intimacy and confirmation, I don't need them. Now, you're my enemy; I'm going to combat you.' At the age of four or five, just in the Oedipal phase, I chose fighting as a solution. After all, fighting was known to me, I'm born and grown that way, I knew how to fight.
I realized that loving the mother and combating the father is "an Oedipal situation optima forma", as the diagnosis said. My way of combating was that I did away with my father, just like Oedipus did. Come on, down with that man!
About the age of ten, there was a second split. Some children were playing soccer in our street and the ball hit the window. My father called the police. At that moment, something broke within myself and I kept him at a distance. Only for a short while, I felt hate, but quickly I became chilly again.
In our family, it was unusual to play on the street "with those anti-socials, protestants and pagans", as my father used to say. Nevertheless, I did the forbidden soccer playing and I revived because of the contact with vital children. By rejecting the children playing on the street, my father rejected me as a vital boy. He accepted me only as a quiet weak grey mouse. As my brothers and sisters confirmed later, we were supposed to be only quiet and tidy. Noise, emotional expression and other signs of vitality were not allowed in the large family in the relatively small house. My brother added: "We didn't care a bit of dad, but apparently you did." As we see here, every child makes his or her own inner decisions.
Years later on, the combat
became extra heavy. I worked freelance in a clubhouse for street
urchins. My father told me to stop this in favor of my school marks. But
my decision to refuse this strongly was already made earlier because of
his attitude to the club children I brought into our home: "How do
you dare to bring that street scum in my
in my home: my room, 1958 >
There was an
Oedipal snake in the grass: by caring for those vital street urchins, I imitated
my mother as a careful woman. Against my father's wishes, I chose childcare
as my profession.
This was a clever decision of my young mind, because I could unconsciously maintain the Oedipal situation. Moreover, it worked as a painkiller. Growing older as a boy, one grows more distant from the mother, and she especially had always been my great painkiller.
By caring for
children, I could mirror that situation: now I was the painkiller
for the children - and so for my inner child.
Vitality around me, 1961 >
To pick up the Oedipal thread, I kept refusing to accept my dad as a father. So I refused any financial support, apart from the family allowance he got from the state. I earned my own living and scholarship as a working student: the young childcare worker - with vitality around me.
My mind had
thought it was clever by choosing, at the age of five, for a fight as a 'solution'
the problem of deep frustration concerning my father. My mind may have
hoped that, while fighting, I could cope with repressed feelings stemming from
my first and second ancient fights.
Bad luck, this did not happen at all.
In the beginning of that ancient fight, I felt, for a while, feelings of hate and revenge, or powerlessness, anger or frustration. But I could exile those feelings quite quickly to the cellar and become chilly, cool, sturdy and resolute. The more my feelings were hushed up, the more creepy they became, the better the lid could be kept on the kettle. This is a vicious circle.
The fight was not one with harsh words, expressions of anger or aggression. The fight was quiet and cunning, with opportunities for escape and silent diplomacy.
In the meantime, the second therapist restarted the therapy. With the first therapist, the interviews were mostly about the mother-son relationship. Now the father-son relationship came up and also the phase of my puberty.
Well before puberty, I had already made a choice to 'abandon' my father. Mostly, a boy imitates his father to win his mother's love. I identified with my mother and imitated her. As explained earlier, this is termed "the negative solution of the Oedipus complex".
This raises no great problems during childhood, but does so in puberty. The boy becomes distant from the mother as he grows to be a man. For this, he needs masculinity, a male identity.
From one or another cause, I had obviously not reached that stage of development. At least, I chose not to go out for any sport, but rather for more 'soft' interests such as science, culture and art. During some years, I worked on a musical composition about the Greek hero Perseus. He killed a dangerous woman, whose look had been able to petrify people. Perseus used a mirror, so he could come close to her without meeting her look. This myth expresses the process of staying distant from the mother figure. As usual in myths, the hero freed his bride by doing so, and then started living as a man.
As a young adult, I wrote some novels about the street urchins I had met at the clubhouse when I gave them guitar lessons. Now, I re-read these novels. Not until now, forty years later, I suddenly realized I have described my own soul. I may suppose I have described those children's feelings correctly, but now I saw those feelings were also mine. The boys described had troubles with their parents, especially their fathers. The boys in the novels sneaked through their home like silent grey mice - just as I did.
[The novels, De Teddy Bear and Ik zal buiten op je wachten, are on this web site, in Dutch.]
In doing so, I explored the cellar of my soul, the shadow side of the mind where the suppressed feelings are stored. Remarkably, I found there more identification with my father than I consciously knew: the ability to work hard and systematically.
In this phase of therapy, my soul changed. The change expressed itself in my dreams. For example, many neglected pets got better cages and more food. Surprisingly, I also had pure homosexual dreams, including scenes with a former boss, clearly representing my father figure.
I was not glad with those dreams. One starts a therapy in order to have less, not more, problems. What to do with those homosexual dreams - even with a father-like figure? Strange rumble there in my soul's cellar. Why must all this come to light? Whatever the reason was, I clearly could not stop it. The fat was in the fire. The Dutch proverb says: 'the bear is loose' - I my case, it was the elephant.
The Oedipal triangle
Such a triangle maintains itself: the mother and the boy against my father. This is the Oedipal triangle. The boy has to escape from it by imitating his father. [*] I did not, at least not consciously.
The Oedipal triangle
In another dream, I seemed to escape from the T-figure. I accepted that my former boss (representing the father figure) shared the bed of my wife (representing the mother figure). I gave, to say so, the mother figure back to the father figure. By doing so, I am again a child, instead of my mother's partner. There followed in the dream a scene including intimacy with the father figure: the hidden repressed desire.
Something had happened
here. Such a dream has a source. A dream is an emotional act on a
fundamental level in analogue language. One must not deny such a
Supposedly, this unconscious but crucial step has made room for the next steps. I still was not at the end of my quest. One crucial dream was not enough; far more dreams followed.
What happened, happened in dreams, but there was a clear line. To begin with, I kept a distance from my mother - more and more distance. Now I felt her as standoffish, even inaccessible. In fact, this was the real situation in the large family, but as a child, I dared not emotionally accept this reality. In one of the dreams, my mother died and I carried her out as a package. In another crucial dream, I went away from her and I went to the father figure.
The father figure changed gradually. First, he was murdered twice. I felt him as standoffish and inaccessible.
But this changed. He acted as a guide and I felt him as wise and relaxed. Then he - or better a figure referring to him - appeared as a lover. I was astonished.
Both parents disappeared: they died in turn several times. Now I was alone - and I apparently wanted to be so.
Then, the parental figures returned, but the roles and relations differed. I viewed my mother with a more critical look. I saw her standoffishness and inaccessibility. In contrast, my father appeared in a far more positive role. Now, he was a capable man who achieved a lot, an example for me that gave me a feeling of perspective. Repeatedly in my repeated dreams, he gave me tools.
What followed was a repeat
of the themes mentioned above. Until now, the themes, the dreams and their
interpretation were more or less clear and reasonably coped with. This changed.
Some of the visions that appeared in my dreams:
After washing the dishes, I manually cleaned the sink trap. Oh.. what a big mess: greasy, soggy, muddy, black and full of threads. Then, many fish followed, dead and alive. I tried to arrange the mess and the fishes, but I was sick and vomiting. I had to pull long filthy black threads out of my throat. This was really horrible.
I went to pick a bone with my father. Later, I shouted to him: "Stop! That's enough!" when he quarreled again with my mother.
All the neglected animals returned, nearly dying. Also, dead animals appeared, and even a series of dead children.
My parents died again in turn. Then, a man in white clothes appeared to carry me out.
Again there appeared elephants. Now, however, they were tame, like elephants in a circus.
would your elephant think if he sees his image in a mirror?"
"My God... I really must lose weight!"
said: "That sink trap is not only negative, it's good to empty it. It
houses early childhood depressions, fears and aggression, which are able
to escape now."
On another occasion he said: "You cannot stop them, those elephants, the forces that have influenced you during childhood. Those forces, banished to the cellar, come free - and they might have been worse."
Well, they appeared to be strong forces there in that cellar. As long as you are at the bottom of your trap or in your inner cellar, nothing seems to happen or to change. However, later on changes become visible.
I dreamed about my mother in a quite negative way. First, as an unpleasant, severe and hard woman. Then she appeared as a snappy bitch who was accompanied by a ghost. Last but not least, she murdered my father and she told only me what she had done - an optima forma Oedipal story.
I went deeper and deeper into the shaft of my unconscious. The therapist
said: "The keys must be there. Gradually, they become visible."
That ghost - was that my father? Or a hidden side of my mother - or of myself?
All those rabbits in my dreams: peaceful vegetarian animals, but also symbols of fertility, thus of procreativity and sexuality...
The third time was the charm. After the third round, my inner configuration changed. In a third set of dreams, I seemed to stay distant from the mother figure, which again created room for the father figure - for masculinity. After that, my mother appeared as a more normal and real figure. Then, my father appeared in a dream, in this case as a nice demented old man, just as he was at the end of his lifetime - not anymore as a bully. I felt that I could view my parents in a more nuanced manner, less drawn in black-and-while. Most of all, I viewed them with a milder look. In contrast to in 1959 I could forgive them.
I had to go this route through the dark depths, just like Odysseus had to
go via Hades to come home. The blind
Oedipus had to take a laborious route..
The therapist remarked that, in spite of the large family, I was lonesome, left to my own devices concerning my feelings. For a child, this provokes deep feelings of fear and unsafety. Then, defense is necessary. Now that those deeper feeling, that ancient stew, had been coped with, defence was no longer necessary and could crumble away.
In the meantime, the therapist thought I was changed enough, and on a fundamental level, so I should be able to find my way. He was looking forward his pension and wanted to cut back his working hours. I went on my own resources.
When reading books that gave self-workshops for the soul, I had always been blocked at the chapter about the father. Some of these books ask you to write a letter to your father. I never had been able to do this. Now I cut the knot and I wrote that letter. The letter started with critical questions and reproaches, just as I wrote in my diary in 1959, but now the letter ends with forgiveness.
The dreams went on, fewer in amount but not in intensity - I sometimes had horrible visions concerning life and death. Being in therapy, these dreams had always been interpreted on the level of the psyche. Now I had the freedom to interpret them on the more spiritual level, the level of lifes and deaths (plural, because of reincarnations).
In some cases I came to new interpretations of probing experiences or dreams. I also understand that the thread through the dreams was more to survive than to live.
To understand this, I had not to look at the vital children around me, but at the vital child within myself, and give room to that child. I had to re-integrate the archetypes of the child and the wise old man to reach a new whole on a higher level - a level on which I did not need projection anymore.
A lot of animals have
passed in my dreams since the first one, the angry caged elephant,
especially a lot of rabbits. Mostly, those rabbits were neglected nearly
to death. Nevertheless, they survived. At the end, vitality appeared to be
strong enough to survive.