Dead But Dreaming
Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D.
“The most merciful thing in the world…” H.P. Lovecraft writes in his horror story
The Call of Cthulhu
, “is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
be sure, if all our memories and perceptions registered in the mind equally, we should be
like the unfortunate Funes of the Borges tale—completely overwhelmed by the sum of
our experiences, unable to act.
Yet, as Freud realized, we pay a price for this
The conflicts, urges, and passions that we sacrifice in the interest
of present concern do not merely vanish.
Like Cthulhu, they lie beneath the depths; in
the apt phrase of The Fields of the Nephilim, “dead but dreaming”.
They call to us when
our emotional stars are aligned, waiting for the time of their release.
Those stars are aligned when we experience “triggers”: situations sufficiently
similar to initial traumas and travails that they reactivate memories—and earlier modes of
This is a most important concept within depth psychology.
problem represents a mode of coping from the past that has long since lost its usefulness.
Perhaps as a child I felt humiliated by my siblings and their emotional abuse.
I tried to prove myself to them, they beat me down with taunts and physical threats.
only coping, as a younger, smaller child, was to withdraw in silence so that I would not
incite them to a physical expression of their hostility.
Now I am an adult, trading the financial markets, and I am eager to prove myself
in this most challenging arena.
Trade after trade I experience losses and, before long, I
retreat to my psychological shell, passively watching as the market ultimately moves in
the anticipated direction.
“Why didn’t I take those trades?” I wonder after the close,
bemoaning my inability to “pull the trigger”.
Later, I find myself even more frustrated,
as the prescribed self-affirmations and visualizations of trading coaches fail to dent my
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this scenario is that I can