Between the Lines


During my Sweden period as a psychiatrist in the working rehabilitation unit, I visited local employment offices evaluating the working capacity of jobseekers, who had been sent to me because of their difficulties to find and keep any jobs. 


One day there came a young man to my office, and I began interviewing him. During first few minutes I did not notice anything strange in this man, but then I began to feel some distortion, a widening rift in our communication. He began to ask more and more often to clarify what I said, referring to what I have said a couple of minutes earlier, claiming that what I am explaining just now, is in conflict with what I had said earlier. I tried to explain to him that there were no discrepancies in my explanations, but that he had misunderstood what I have said, explaining to him once more what I meant. He became more and more irritated, finding new inconsistencies in my explanations, and after a while he had dragged me into a hopeless quagmire of explanations about explanations about explanations about... ad infinitum.


He was not a paranoid or retarded person. In fact, he did not fit into any usual categories of mental deviations which I knew well as a psychiatrist, that's why it still took some time before I suddenly popped out of this vortex sucking me ever deeper into it, realizing that this man could not understand hardly anything between the lines, how he was doomed to wander in this world constantly experiencing not being understood by others. He had no visible deficiencies in his language, but almost incapable to understand the big picture; all the innumerate nonverbal nuances we human beings communicate with each other without even noticing it. His logic could not help him, but, on the contrary, confused him still more. This man helped also me to see how dependent we are on this immeasurable sea of nonverbal communication, without even noticing it at the conscious level.




Dreams have no logic. Their most essential contents is completely between the lines. This patient reminded me of individuals who Montague Ullman's colleague Jon Tolaas called as metaphor-blind. They find it extraordinarily difficult to see anything between the lines. For them a horse is just a horse in a dream despite its many metaphorical possibilities.


We can approach dreams using words as useful crutches, but they itself, as such, are completely incapable to open dreams without the cooperation of the nonverbal streams between us, conveying everything that cannot be put in words at all. Dreams are feelings and visions, not opinions and explanations, but our language can be used as a kind of crude verification for the nonverbal communication. When both parties; the dreamer and her helper both feel something resonating in the atmosphere, we may be capable to invent and convey with metaphors and allegories something which may function as evidence to the dreamer that we are talking approximately about the same phenomena, which in and of itself are beyond any words. Words are needed as catalysts to illuminate the information between the lines.