In the case of the patient 0. the wall is not quite so easy of interpretation, and must be approached simultaneously from several points. The common expression that a man is running his head against a brick wall when he persists in some foolishness is, like most slang, a piece of intuitive symbolism. It is relevant in some degree here. The kind of situation which the phrase usually describes, is one in which a man persists in going along a path that leads nowhere; it refers to a certain mixture of dogged obstinacy and narrow vision. The possession of these qualities make it very difficult for a man to reverse a decision, or deviate from a path. It therefore favours the condition of staleness.
Staleness cannot be directly controlled. A man who does the same thing everlastingly becomes stale; however keenly he strives to avoid it. The only way to avoid it is to do something else. It is possible to distinguish two kinds of staleness. There is the staleness that is accompanied by full realization, and a cessation of all interest in that direction : an example of this is the staleness that afflicts a man when he has overtrained ; or when he has worked too hard at one subject; or when he has, as an actor, appeared too often in one part. It is a kind of one-part staleness that is easily recognized, and there is no impulse to continue.
But there is another variety, and this is a non-realized staleness. The candid friend may realize it; the victim does not. In a sense the patient R. was a victim of staleness. But it was a more subtle kind of staleness connected with the non-realization of unexpressed interest.
To avoid this vaster and more subtle staleness, which is a sort of starvation or arrest of growth, there is a certain standard arrangement that is found in most spheres of work. It consists simply in the fact that as a man works on he rises higher, and by rising higher becomes capable of a wider, or at least different, range of interests. This is normal development. But when it is hindered, and a man works on and remains stationary, the second kind of staleness is a possibility. It is a possibility that depends, as far as one can judge by observation, on the type of individual; and if it develops it can be regarded as a sign that the man is superior to his destiny. By this I mean that a limited and mechanical mind may develop no great staleness, although the character of the work remains unchanged to the end. But a more impressionable and reflective mind may become a -victim of it at an early stage.
When a man works on and rises in his work he gains some kind of authority. Authority is difficult to define, but its effect is definite. One aspect of its effect is a certain inner gratification ; it responds to and satisfies some inner demand. There is a school of psychological medicine (Adler) * that takes this as the central pivot of life, and traces all disturbances in the psyche to this source alone. It is a sense that is developed far more,in some than in others, and I do not think it false to say that authority of all kinds is not a necessity to some individuals. The growth of self and authority are two different things. One may be an inner experience, and have no visible relation to the world; the other belongs to the world only. But the magnification or amplification of self does constitute an essential experience, even though it means nothing but a small rise in salary, or an extra servant, or a motor-bicycle. It is the outward and visible sign of growth.
Now when a man has worked hard and sincerely, with some ambition behind him as regards material prospects, and finds nothing happens save in the sense of promises, he is up against a force in himself just as much as he is up against an adverse combination of affairs in the world. It is not the adverse combination of affairs that produces the neurosis in such a case. It is the demand in himself. It is the starvation, or thwarting, of something in the man himself that causes the physical disharmony that begins the neurosis. We have seen in the case of the patient 0. that when he was in a position of authority, his neurosis was in abeyance ; he could write with greater ease. But when he was not in a position of authority, which was his right according to his inner sense of right, his neurosis prevented him. He was inferior to himself in such a position, and, in the deepest sense, a wronged man.
* Uber den nervdeen Charakter. (Wiesbaden 1912).
Authority, with its wider responsibilities, often cures a man of petty defects. That is a fact of experience. Some people say that war has cured Europe of neuroticism. That is untrue. It has produced probably as many neurotics as it has cured. But the idea behind this statement is perfectly sound. responsibility, when it puts a man in a position where he can be equal to himself, may effect a cure by widening the conscious horizon and letting interest flow in hitherto unopened or unused channels. But responsibility may act in a reverse direction when it puts a man in a position that makes him too superior to himself. Adjustment may become no longer possible, and a neurosis may theoretically result. If the neurotic is a neurotic because of some failure in conscious development, then there must theoretically exist an ideal combination of circumstances in which his cure would be most likely, and the neurotic usually feels this as a vague impulse of restlessness. It is like finding a key to fit an obscure and hidden lock. But it does not follow, supposing the key, in the sense of the external combination, be found, that it will turn the lock. That turning depends on something which is not always mechanical, nor can it be forced by another hand. The finding of the key is the aim of psychological medicine. When found it may turn automatically ; sometimes it will not.
Since the neurosis of the patient 0. appeared to vanish when he was in a position of authority, it suggests that the key lay in this new combination of circumstances. In his Case the key turned automatically. It might be a temptation to speak of bis case as a kind of mechanical neurosis. It implicated the physical most distinctly, while the neurosis of the patient R. implicated the psychical. But that would imply a simple mechanism in the neurosis involving the physical, such as the neuralgias and paralyses, and this is not found in actual experience by any means.
But the fact of importance is the vanishing of the muscular cramp when the patient dwelt momentarily in a new altitude. How, then, does the dream comment on this state of affairs ? It affords no obvious clue to the path along which the patient should travel, as the dreams of the patient R. suggested. It seems to present only a static future, an emphatic estimate of the actual condition. Its criticism seems to indicate that the patient was in a barren and unproductive situation, that an impassable wall was before him, and the only thing he could do was to go back or die where he was. So runs the allegory. It is necessary to consider the element of fear that was so strongly represented. The sense of helpless terror—the dreamer cowered in terror at the foot of the wall—is the emotion common to nightmares. Nightmares have a certain peculiarity in their symbolism. I believe I am right in saying that the symbolism of night-mares is always a very condensed symbolism. All symbols are, as we have seen, condensed meaning, that is, they are capable of being loosened and unpicked into a much wider meaning in consciousness, but the symbols of nightmares tend to be very condensed. As a rule nightmares are very short, and they produce their characteristic effect very swiftly, leaving a vivid recollection behind that is not common in ordinary dreams. They also tend to assume typical forms, shared by children and adults alike, but especially by children. They are, in other words, special kinds of dreams. The study of dreams reveals the presence of many other special kinds of dreams, but the nightmares contain, I believe, the most compressed symbolism of any. This is not the place to discuss the significance of the helpless terror that pervades nightmares in general, but I will venture so far as to suggest that its explanation is very similar in all cases. It is a terror that links up with the deepest issues of life. We may gain some idea of its significance by examining the elements in the dream now under consideration.
Initially we might see in it nothing but a reflection of the dread that was discernible in the patient at the prospect of having to give up his work. It was suggested that this was marginal; it was half-looked-at, and half-avoided. Superficially, it is just a fear of change, or a fear of inability to continue owing to ill-health, a fear that, in a narrow sense, centres about the prospect of a small income. But when this fear is considered in conjunction with the factors that caused the neurosis to vanish, it begins to take a deeper significance. It is a fear connected with growth and expression and fulfilment. Fruit of some sort must be borne by every living thing. It is a biological necessity, as some call it; or one of the imperative tendencies in life. It is as much a biological—or spiritual—necessity that some kind of fruition should crown labour in human affairs. The results of a man's work are as much creation or fruition as his children. This patient had no children ; the only branch that could bear fruit in his life was his work. interest did not flow in any other direction. His danger, and the danger of all people whose sap vitalizes only one branch, becomes apparent. If no check occurs, the sap flows on and some kind of fruition comes ; if a check does occur, the prospect is that of a complete cessation of development. In his case, checks had occurred, first in the material aspects of his situation, so that fruition was impossible, and then in himself in the form of a neurosis. The neurosis struck at a vulnerable point; its full development meant that he must give up his work and either retire or do something else. The dream described what may be called, in a stilted phrase, the psychological situation, and since it concerned the deepest issues of his life, its symbolism was terrible. The dreamer's terror was the terror that should belong to the realization of arrested development, and the thwarting of those potential forces in a human being that crave for expression in a full life. I have said enough to outline the significance of the nightmare, and the reason why it haunts childhood, that period when so many demands are made of vital importance to the future man or woman, and when interest is beginning to send out those small but vitally important shoots that will grow into great branches in maturity.