An approach to understanding the meaning of images in dreams and fantasies by reference to persons or situations in the outside world. (See also reductive; compare constructive and subjective level.)
Freud’s interpretation of dreams is almost entirely on the objective level, since the dream wishes refer to real objects, or to sexual processes which fall within the physiological, extra-psychological sphere. [“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 779.]
Although Jung pioneered the teaching of dream interpretation on the subjective level, where symbolic meaning is paramount, he also recognized the value of the objective approach.
Enlightening as interpretation on the subjective level may be … it may be entirely worthless when a vitally important relationship is the content and cause of the conflict [behind the dream]. Here the dream-figure must be related to the real object. The criterion can always be discovered from the conscious material. [“General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” CW 8, par. 515.]
The approach to dreams and other images where the persons or situations pictured are seen as symbolic representations of factors belonging entirely to the subject’s own psyche. (Compare objective level.)
Interpretation of an unconscious product on the subjective level reveals the presence of subjective judgments and tendencies of which the object is made the vehicle. When, therefore, an object-imago appears in an unconscious product, it is not on that account the image of a real object; it is far more likely that we are dealing with a subjective functional complex. Interpretation on the subjective level allows us to take a broader psychological view not only of dreams but also of literary works, in which the individual figures then appear as representatives of relatively autonomous functional complexes in the psyche of the author. [“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 813.]
In the analytic process, the main task after the reductive interpretation of images thrown up by the unconscious is to understand what they say about oneself.
To establish a really mature attitude, he has to see the subjective value of all these images which seem to create trouble for him. He has to assimilate them into his own psychology; he has to find out in what way they are part of himself; how he attributes for instance a positive value to an object, when as a matter of fact it is he who could and should develop this value. And in the same way, when he projects negative qualities and therefore hates and loathes the object, he has to discover that he is projecting his own inferior side, his shadow, as it were, because he prefers to have an optimistic and one-sided image of himself. [“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 813.]
© from Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon, reproduced with kind permission of the author.