With the associations you’ve made in Step 1, you now start to identify which part of your inner self they relate to. Johnson says this step is the single most important principle in dream work, “the one that determines whether you will find the wisdom in your dreams” (69).
This step can trip people up since it’s easy to assume that when a spouse, parent, or friend appears in a dream, that the dream is referring to that person. But “in practice, it usually isn’t so.” They are a symbol for a quality in the dreamer (69). In Jungian dream interpretation, the dream is viewed as an inward journey, not an outward one, and everything in the dream refers to a part of the inner self:
the unconscious has the habit of borrowing images from the external situation and using those images to symbolize something that is going on inside the dreamer
ibid., p. 68
This inner dynamic that is represented by a person could be several things. It could be a certain trait that you have in common with the dream figure. The angry woman in your dream could be you as an angry person, but you don’t admit it to yourself. Dreams tend to speak in extremes, so chances are it will be a very exaggerated trait. The dream figure also could represent a common behavioral pattern that you share with that figure. Ask yourself how the qualities of the dream figure are active in your own life, and what those characteristics represent. A place in a dream could be a place inside you, or a certain stance, or a goal your inner growth is moving toward.
Some of the most common associations are derived from Jung’s work, such as archetypes, the anima, animus, shadow, and self. Archetypes can be recognized because of their intensity or otherworldly quality. The shadow—the aspect of ourselves that is still hidden in our unconscious—is usually represented by a figure of the same sex. A man’s anima is represented as a woman, and a woman’s animus as a male. Johnson says not to jump to conclusions about a figure fitting neatly into one of these categories though, as not every person in a dream will be the shadow or anima/ animus: “Usually some very small detail in the dream will tell us which way to take the symbol” (80).