04/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

On Dreams and Dominance

Q: Last week someone asked you about a recurring dream that was troubling them. I wasn't sure that it was an appropriate question. I thought you would only answer questions about problems that we needed help with. But one person did it and I loved reading the interpretation. So, here I go with my dream, no matter how embarrassing it is. I have been having this recurring dream for the past year. The situations sometimes vary slightly, but the theme is always the same.

I am walking through dense woods. I think I am wearing a nightgown because it is soft and flowery. But actually it can't be a nightgown, because I am also wearing some kind of hat. Maybe it is a medieval costume of some sort. Maybe I am a princess. I feel like I must be some kind of royalty or rich person, because I am not dirty, hungry, or anything. But I am scared. I am not sure if something is chasing me or if I am running away from a dangerous situation. I am just running and I am scared and I don't know where I am going. Then someone on horseback swoops me up.

Believe me, I know that you will say this is the standard childlike fairy tale of being taken care. I know the fairy tales and I know the expression "a knight in shining armor." But the dream doesn't end there. This savior swoops me up and takes me to some kind of dungeon where I am chained and mistreated. He uses me at his will, but he is not cruel. In fact, soon I am moved up to his bedroom where he keeps me. I am treated well, although tied up, and we enjoy each other immensely.

I really don't understand this. Instead of feeling good when I wake up like I do in the dream, I feel revolted with myself. Do I like to be tortured or chained up? It's not something that ever occurred to me. I am a thirty-five year old woman who has been happily married for twelve years. We have two wonderful children, aged six and ten, both boys. My husband had been a good provider and seemed to be moving up the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, he is one of the casualties of this economy, but his situation is not as bad as some. We have saved money, so our home is safe. And he eventually found another job, although not as lucrative as his old one and not with as much up-side potential, either. But the job is secure, stable (I hope), and I am rather frugal about our household expenses. I do a lot of my own sewing, gardening, etc. I am proud to be a good homemaker and to top it all off, I keep good books for our family.

It all seems so perfect and so conventional. So why would I be having such shocking dreams?

A: One of the great things about dreams is that much of the time they are not as subtle as one would assume. We just need to remember that in dreams the various characters can actually be various parts of ourselves and the actions and feelings are a way of working through in safe territory a lot of our feelings that we cannot release in daylight.

Sometimes we are not as unique as we think. You probably don't realize that many women and men have similar fantasies or dreams of subservience, bondage, and dominance. The venue may change, the part being played may change, and the objects used to force subservience may change, but the underlying theme is still domination. There are wide varieties of outlets for these fantasies. These include the Internet, clubs, dominatrixes, etc. that can be employed by people who don't have a cultural or psychological fear of their masochistic desires. This is not a path you can take. For whatever reason, this particular sexual desire scares you and you cannot accept it. The only way -the only place -you can give expression to it is in a dream.

From what you say, you may be going through a transition that has helped to alter or to expand your sexual desire and tastes. Up until recently, you've been the hard working mother, wife, and homemaker. When a financial crisis occurred, you were right there. You were your husband's help-mate. You were the essential one. With your organized and thrifty ways, you kept the family afloat. Your children, I assume, are both in school, and you have some time on your hands.

This is the time when many women long to return to their exciting days of sexual exploration. Some women find themselves attracted to new men or some women find themselves in the gym a lot more -on the treadmill, chasing the body they probably never had in the first place. Sometimes, women use this new-found freedom and the pride that comes with doing something wonderful and essential - like keeping the family solvent - as a catalyst to radically shift their lives. They may go out to find work or they may go back to school. In your case, you have found a new identity in your dreams: a princess who finds a new lover. The question now is one that you did not ask: Will this new identity remain a dream?

The reason I ask is because there could be something else going on. Sexual preferences, unless they are potentially dangerous and cruel, are paths to explore with your partner. Various roles can be played, and probably should be played, as each member is moving toward growth or change. Sex can be experimented with. It can sometimes be more than an expression of love; it can also be purely a physical delight. Masochism does not have to have a negative connotation unless it begins to carry over into becoming an integral part of our persona. If it destroys a quality of life, if it is destructive to a person's character or individuality, then masochism could be harmful. So far, though, none of this seems to apply to you.

So what else can your fantasy imply rather than a need to be dominated? For that, we have to move on to the next layer of interpretation. When you are dominated, you are taken care of. In your dream, you were in fact very well taken care of. You had no responsibilities or pressures. You had no decisions to make. You had to sacrifice nothing. In your real life, you have been through an especially rough and I imagine fatiguing period. You probably want a rest. In your dream you are running away from something that is scary or threatening. No matter how stable your financial life is now, it was just yesterday that he lost the job he once had. This is scary and it is made even scarier by a downright terrifying economy. Things could get worse. You husband could lose his new job.

Who could blame you if your fantasy is to be totally taken care of? You just want to exhale. So, in your case, dominance is the only way to achieve that actual fantasy.

In your question, you first stated that you were not sure about the appropriateness of asking me about dreams. It was only when someone else had done it, that you were able to ask about something that was bothering you and that had been on your mind. If you are timid in character, then dominance is a great way to escape the reality and the responsibility of the real world. So, go back to what you were sure was the original interpretation of your dream. Dominance or no dominance, your dream is still about being taken care of.

If I were you, I would enjoy the end of the dream by getting your husband to play along. He may like it as much or more than you do. You need to feel dominated. He might need to dominate, -- to feel more powerful in a world where he must be feeling a bit discouraged and impotent.