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The Burnout Dreams

“Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long”

Michael Gungor

What is burnout?

Burnout is an occupational phenomenon and a condition that the WHO recognizes. If not treated properly, it can lead to many other psychological and physical ailments.

Burnout is defined as a syndrome of chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.

Burnout is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy

You’ve probably experienced burnout. That’s fine if you know how to recognize it and get out of it. Burnout becomes dangerous for your health if it becomes your everyday work experience instead of the exception.

What will you learn in this post?

You’ll learn how your unconscious psyche sends you symbolic messages through dreams, showing that you’re experiencing burnout.

When the unconscious is triggered, you’re in some delicate life situation where you need help from the “wiser part of your psyche” that comes in the form of dreams.

If taken literally, dreams are just meaningless stories.

Just like a foreign language makes sense only when you translate it, dreams gain meaning only when you translate them into an understandable language.

This post will analyze two dreams of two different individuals. In their symbolic ways, each of these dreams indicates that the dreamers are in a state of burnout.

“The Zombie” Dream

how-dream can-become-burnout

This is a dream of a woman in her late 30s. She’s a manager in a multinational company, is married, and has two children.

She’s a hardworking person; one would say a workaholic. She puts work at the forefront of her life and doesn’t feel comfortable resting and generally enjoying life. Sometimes she even feels guilty when she’s resting instead of working.

She had this dream when she went on a short vacation with her family. And even while on vacation, she was working.

Due to her careless attitude toward her health and private life, her unconscious psyche has sent her this dream that symbolically highlighted her tendency to overwork herself.

Let’s first see what the dream looks like, and then we’ll deal with the “translation” of the dream.

“My childhood friend is a zombie. I have the power to summon zombies. As if I can raise them from the dead. Even though I know she’s a zombie, I’m not afraid of her. That’s normal for me.

But then I start to feel uncomfortable, and I begin to understand actual severity of the situation: she’s dead, and I have brought her back to the world of the living!

Why did I do it? She no longer belongs to this world.

That’s when I started to be afraid and to feel uncomfortable. I want her to go back to the world of the dead where she belongs now.”

What does the analysis of the Zombie dream look like?

First, we need to see the dreamer’s life circumstances when the dream appeared.
She said that she’d been quite tired in the past few months because she had a lot of work.

She started thinking that it no longer made sense for her to work so hard, that she became lethargic, slept poorly, and lost motivation.

She also noticed that she didn’t dedicate enough of herself to her family due to work. That’s why she took a few days off for a short vacation to rest and spend time with her husband and children.

Now let’s see her associations related to the dream.

Her childhood friend, a zombie in the dream, died of liver cirrhosis in real life because she was an alcoholic. She said that this friend was a wonderful person. She was married and had a child. Drinking was her “passion”, although, of course, she knew that it was not good for her health.

When I asked what the dreamer’s passion is in life, she immediately said that it was her job.

As for the zombies, they’re dead people who got up from their graves. They aren’t alive, but they behave as if they are.

She feels indifferent to the fact that her late friend is a zombie, and only after some time does she become aware of the consequences of returning the zombie friend to the world of the living.

It symbolically points to her general attitude towards problematic situations. She tends to ignore them as if they’re normal. After some time, she realizes the real impact of the problems and then becomes worried.

Finally, we need to check her feelings while having the dream. The primary feelings were indifference, followed by anxiety and even slight panic when she realized what she had done.

When I asked her in which life situations she has the habit of showing these feelings, she said that she mostly behaves like that at work. She pretends that everything is fine and that she can handle every challenge.

That’s the reason why she rarely refuses requests from her clients. Only when she becomes involved in a large amount of work and realizes that she has taken on more than she can handle does she start to worry, panic, and regret taking on so many responsibilities.

What exactly did the Zombie dream want to tell her?

Her late friend, the alcoholic, is an aspect of her. The friend is a symbol of her masochism and work addiction. Just as her friend was addicted to alcohol, even though she knew it wasn’t good for her health, the dreamer is addicted to work, even though she knows it’s having negative consequences on her health and private life
She was even working on her vacation instead of resting and spending time with her family.

The fact that she has the power to summon zombies indicates that the problem lies in herself. She’s the one who is torturing herself. Nevertheless, the solution to that problem also depends on her, since she’s the one who must organize her work.

She’ll be more satisfied if she learns to say NO and refrains from masochistic habits such as:

  • checking emails before bed
  • micromanaging every detail
  • having the need to control every aspect of work
  • slavery to perfectionism

She needs to “send her zombies back to the graveyard”. Thus, the problem isn’t in the work itself, but in her attitude.

The most important symbol in her dream is the zombie. Therefore, we need to see who the zombie is.

A zombie is a fictional character – a person who was alive and is now dead. Despite being dead, zombies are moving. It’s lifeless and has no feelings. In jargon, we say that someone is a zombie when the person doesn’t feel like herself or himself.

After describing the zombie character, she said that’s how she feels when she works too much. She doesn’t feel alive anymore, and she moves and performs her duties mechanically.

She looks like a zombie – “a dead person walking”.

Bearing in mind that she’s no longer in her twenties when her body could withstand a tremendous amount of work, the dream indicates that she should start taking care of her health and change her attitude towards work.

She puts herself in the last place, and work comes first. Even her family isn’t as important as work is.

If she changes this unhealthy modus operandi, she might even start to perform better because she’ll be better organized and more motivated to work. She might also become a better manager of her team since she’ll demonstrate how to work responsibly, putting healthier boundaries between her and work.

She’ll micromanage less and will become less of a perfectionist. And finally, she’ll be giving more productive feedback to her team members, who will feel more empowered to work independently with a better sense of self-confidence and optimism.

Finally, she could show her team members how work should be appropriately handled.

After analyzing the dream, she was slightly worried since she realized what she was doing and how unproductive she was. But, after a few minutes, she said happily that her problem isn’t so difficult to solve as it solely depends on her.

People have many issues that are independent of them, thus making those issues more difficult to handle.

Her problem depends solely on her. She was repeating this statement for some time, and the knowledge of having control over the issue had a healing effect.

Then we started talking about reorganizing her time, introducing more productive work habits, and setting healthier boundaries.

“The High Voltage” dream

burnout-dream

Let’s move on to a dream of another person with whom the corrective work, after analyzing the dream, was a little more complex than in the previous example. This was because he didn’t readily accept the message his unconscious psyche had sent to him in the form of this dream.

Here as well, we have a dreamer who’s had symptoms of a burnout for months due to the massive amount of work he handled. However, he didn’t want to admit that the symptoms existed, and he was continuing to have a solid work pace that was affecting his health.

The dreamer is a successful lawyer in his mid-40s. He’s pretty ambitious, competitive, and a perfectionist who’s divorced with no children.

Although he has a senior position leading a team of less experienced lawyers, he doesn’t like to delegate much work to younger colleagues because he thinks that he knows best. That’s why he’s often very busy with multitasking and micromanaging.

Here’s the dream, which as he said, had disturbed him quite a bit:

“I’m in my former apartment with my ex-wife.

On the wooden wall, there are electrical switches and some power cables that supply electric energy for the appliances in the kitchen. The wires are visibly overheated because they spark and smoke. I watch it calmly and don’t react until the fire starts to burn.

Then I start to panic. I yell to my ex-wife to turn off all the appliances in the kitchen. I know she caused the cables to overheat because she turned on too many devices simultaneously. I jump quickly to the main electric switch that provides the power to the kitchen and turn it off.

Then the fire decreases. I start feeling better. But both the TV and the water heater are connected to the main electric switch that I’ve just turned off, so now they don’t work either.

I’m sad because I can’t watch my favorite series on TV and because I can’t take the shower that I need since I feel so tired. I know that I need to look for an electrician to come and fix this mess.”

What is the symbolic message of this dream?

As with the previous example, we need to put the dream’s action in the context of the dreamer’s life situation, associations, and feelings.

He said that his ex-wife is quite a perfectionist and that she likes to do things the way she wants, even if it’s not good for her.

He never liked the apartment where they lived since it was dark as if it was night in the middle of a day.

At first, he felt calm in the dream, as if nothing was happening, although he saw that the cables were overheated. He started to be scared only when he thought the apartment could burn down.

After the fire was handled, he felt sad and disappointed when he realized that he couldn’t take a shower and watch TV. He usually likes to bathe and watch TV in his free time, which relaxes him.

Unfortunately, due to the amount of work and his need to handle everything, there’s no space to do anything else in his life.

He hasn’t even taken a shower for the last two days because he’s so tired in the evening that he lies down and immediately falls asleep. When I asked him about watching TV, he said he hadn’t watched it for months as he didn’t have time for it.

He divorced his ex-wife because he wasn’t happy, and there was no enjoyment in their marriage. It all came down to family responsibilities. He felt as if he was programmed, and there was little spontaneity and happiness.

When I asked which areas of life he now feels the same about, he said that’s how he’s been feeling at work for months. He operates as if he was a robot. There’s no enjoyment, creativity, and passion in employment or life in general.

Keeping the above in mind, it’s pretty clear that the apartment symbolizes his life, which is overheated. More precisely, his brain was overheated due to the amount of work he’d been doing for months, being deprived of sleep and relaxation activities.

Electricity is a symbol of the electrical impulses in the brain that are very much engaged in the intellectual work that he was doing for months. His cognitive capacities were at the very end.

Since the dream takes place in his “past life”, when he wasn’t happy, it means that he has regressed to the earlier modus operandi, which consisted of too many obligations and very little enjoyment.

The ex-wife would be a symbol of his perfectionism. If he were a little more tolerant of mistakes, he would be delegating a certain amount of work to younger colleagues and wouldn’t put himself in a state of burnout.

The fact that he was doing nothing about overheated cables until the fire broke out indicates that he was aware of being in a state of burnout. Still, he didn’t want to admit it to himself until the situation escalated so much that it became life-threatening.

That’s precisely what happened to him a few days after analyzing the dream because he continued to overwork despite the dream’s message. He didn’t want to admit the need to slow down.

He became ill because his immunity dropped due to a lack of sleep and poor eating. As a result, he had to delegate a vast amount of work to others. He spent the next two weeks doing medical checks and recovering from the illness.

Due to only focusing on work, he didn’t have any time for life pleasures symbolized by having a bath and watching TV.

He could blame work for being in this situation, but that wouldn’t be the truth since he would just be projecting his flaws.

The job itself isn’t to blame for his chaotic life. His attitude towards his work is to be blamed.

As he’s in a senior position, he’s the one who can organize the work as he wants. He was doing this badly, which is why he brought himself into a state of burnout.

Finally, it’s interesting to see the symbolism of the electrician he was looking for to come and fix the mess. The electrician is the metaphor for the medical doctor he was looking for in real life due to his physical illness resulting from burnout.

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