To have a sense of personal existence distinct from others may be unique to human beings, and in large measure due to the learning of language. Jung and Neumann’s studies of the historical development of identity suggest, in an evolutionary sense, that having an T is still a very newly acquired function. This makes it vulnerable.
It is also noticeably something which develops during childhood and reaches different levels of maturity during adulthood. Although it is our central experience, it remains an enigma—a will o’ the wisp, which loses itself in dreams and sleep, yet is so dominant and sure in waking.
In dreams, our sense of self—our ego, personality or identity—is depicted by our own body, or sometimes simply by the sense of our own existence as an observer. In most dreams our T goes through a series of experiences, just as we do in waking life, seeing things through our physical eyes, touching with our hands, and so on. But occasionally we watch our own body and other people as if from a detached point of bodiless awareness.
If we accept that dreams portray in images our conception of self, then dreams suggest that our identity largely depends upon having a body, its gender, health, quality, the social position we are bom into, and our relationship with others. In fact we know that if a person loses their legs, becomes paralysed, loses childbearing ability or is made redundant, they face an identity crisis. But the bodiless experience of self shows the human possibility of sensing self as having separate existence from the biological processes, one’s state of health and social standing. In its most naked form, the T may be simply a sense of its own existence, without body awareness.
Dreams also show our sense of self, either in the body or naked of it, as surrounded by a community of beings and objects separate from the dreamer, and frequently with a will of their own.
If we place the dreamer in the centre of a circle and put all their dream characters, animals and objects around them; and if we transformed these objects and beings into the things they depicted, such as sexuality, thinking, will emotions, intuition, social pressure, etc., we would see what a diverse mass of influences the ego stands in the middle of. It also becomes obvious that our T sees these things as outside itself in nearly all dreams. Even its own internal urges to love or make love may be shown as external creatures with which it has a multitude of ways to relate.
If we take the word psyche to mean our sense of self, then in our dreams we often see our psyche at war with the sources of its own existence, and trying to find its way through a most extraordinary adventure—the adventure of consciousness. One of the functions of dreams can therefore be thought to be that of aiding the survival of the psyche in facing the multitude of influences in life—and even in death.
See Individuation; dreamer. ... A Guide to Dreams and Sleep Experiences