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Finding the meaning in your Dreams

Dreams are stories we tell ourselves to help us in our journey through life

As you work with your dreams to find their meaning, it is a good idea to keep the above quote in mind. It is important to keep dreams in perspective.

Depth psychotherapists often talk about a "dialogue" between the dreamer and their dreams. While dreams can be interesting and even fascinating for some people, you should never get "lost" in analysing your dreams.

Nor should you act on what you believe to be the meaning in your dream alone. You must always check it out against the reality of your life.

Progress, insight, growth and change can all follow from working with your dreams. However, this process should never be forced and should happen in a manner which is integrated with the rest of your life. Dreams are there to help, and they can best help if you ensure they have an appropriate place in your life.

Analysing the Meaning of Your Dreams

Once you have decided how you will record your dreams, your next step is to consider the subject matter of the dreams and what they might mean.

There are many dream dictionaries and symbol dictionaries on the market. These can be useful, especially if they are oriented towards general meanings or the origin of symbols in mythology. However, be cautious about using so-called "dream dictionaries" which substitute a concrete meaning for each image.

It is important to remember that your dream is your own creation. Be careful about imposing a meaning on your dream, especially if it is based on a symbol from a culture with which you have no connection or comes from an unverified "dream dictionary".

The purpose of this page is to give you some suggestions so that you can consider what your dreams might mean. This page is not intended to give you a concrete, definite meaning for your dreams. We are all different. Even if it were possible for two people to have the same dream, it would mean different things for each person. For this reason too, you should respect others' difference from you and never impose a meaning on a dream another person tells you.

If a meaning doesn't feel right to you, you don't have to accept it. The best course is to leave it for a while to see if the meaning becomes clearer. This may happen as you go about your life. Remember, if you don't get it right the first time, you are likely to have another dream which corrects any mistake and points you in the right direction.

Suggestion: If dreams are a story you are telling yourself about some aspect of your life, try beginning the re-telling of your dream with the words:

"It's as if...."

This will help focus you on the essential purpose or message of your dream.

Subjective and Objective Dreams

The vast majority of dreams are subjective. Dreams almost always relate to you. Dreams can provide you with valuable insight about yourself, your feelings, values, attitudes and how you are approaching your life.

Occasionally a dream will relate to an objective situation in your life. Identifying these dreams can be difficult. Generally, so-called "objective" dreams will occur because you have unconsciously understood something about your objective situation but have not yet recognised it consciously.

Of course, many dreams combine both objective and subjective elements.

It is very rare for you to dream about an objective situation which affects someone else. If you have such a dream, be cautious about communicating it to the other person. Bear in mind that the dream is much more likely to be identifying that their situation is reflected in your own life.

Dream Themes

Everyone from all cultures dreams. It is of course not possible to provide a comprehensive guide to dreams. However, there are some common dream themes which can help you to start looking at the possible meaning of your dreams.

Some common themes found in dreams are listed below. You can access a very general explanation by clicking on the themes listed below.

Landscape and setting

The place of the dream often sets the "feeling" of the dream.

If the place is familiar, such as your workplace or study place, the dream is likely to refer directly to something that is happening there.

If it is a place from the past, ask yourself what happened there, or how did you feel when you were there, and is something happening in your life now which reminds you of that place, or of events or feeling associated with that place.

If it is a place that you have never been to, try to summarise your impressions of the place in one phrase or sentence. Your dreams may be telling you that your situation is like that now.

Remote, exotic or unusual places suggest that something is happening in your inner or outer life that is new or unfamiliar to you. Is this exciting, a challenge, or a bit scary?

Cities and towns, particularly if they are laid out along a pattern, can represent your paying more attention to, or moving towards your "inner self" (in Jungian terms), or becoming more "you" and less determined by what other people want you to be. Similarly, going on journeys to the centre of a country, (a desert, mountains, lake) may represent getting away from your socialised self and allowing your real self to be known or expressed.

By contrast, a busy, crowded city street, or any setting where there are a lot of people (parties or other gatherings) are likely to refer more to your social activities, the external pressures and demands on you. How are you approaching them?

Jung tended to consider dreams about the ocean and the sea to refer to the unconscious and the unknown. This can be the case. However, the ocean or sea can also refer to emotions. If you have a dream about a rough sea, or large waves, for example, this might suggest to you that you are taking on too much, or are feeling overwhelmed. Ask yourself what action you can take to reduce your commitments.

People

Apart from the most important character in the dream - you - who else is in the dream?

People you know now and interact with regularly; family, friends, colleagues. Dreams about these people are capable of two main interpretations:

  • they concern your relationship, perhaps telling you something about it that you have understood unconsciously but not as yet consciously realised; or
  • they concern you, and how you are acting and "it is as if" this person close to you acted in this way.

Acquaintances and people you don't know very well. These people often appear in dreams to reflect something about yourself or your situation. In order to work out what it is, try to identify in one word or one phrase at the most, what characterises that person for you.

People from the past: may refer to positive feelings you had for these people, or alternatively, old issues related to the time you knew them or the relationship you had with them which have yet to be resolved. Often you may find something similar is happening in your life now.

Parents: mean not only your actual parents and your relationship to them, but also the life attitudes and lessons they taught you. Being only too human, your parents may have made mistakes, or taught you attitudes and lessons which you now need to become more aware of and to change. These figures represent what Jung would call your parental "complexes". Psychologists and others in the helping professions have written volumes on parental influences and it is very much beyond the scope of this brief page to deal with these internal figures properly.

Famous (and infamous) people. These people are often defined for us by their public image and also by how we react to them. Famous people may also have an added charisma about them. Try to identify one word or phrase which describes their public image and one which describes your reaction to them. What is going on, in your "inner" or "outer" life which is like this person's image?

Mythological, spiritual or religious figures. Also teachers, doctors, therapists or healers. These are positive figures which your unconscious has used to indicate support, encouragement, or direction for your life.

Animals

Animals in dreams may represent less socialised, more "instinctive" reactions and feelings - before they have been filtered through our intellectual, moral and social reasoning. In considering what they might mean, it is best to start with the image of the animal and how you react to it.

This is easiest with animals which might be pets; dog owners know how loyal their dog is, cat owners know how comforting a cat can be. Is your dream dog or cat like that - or are they different and if so, in what way?

Wild animals or exotic animals not only have an image we project onto them, but we must also consider our personal reaction to them. Do they seem to be dangerous? intelligent? exciting? brave? Is our dream reaction a sensible one? Are you taking an unnecessary risk in your dream - for example, not recognising the danger? If so, in your dream, do you succeed? For example, in your dream, do you pet the tiger and find that it likes you, or pick up the snake and remove the danger? This may indicate that you can meet a challenge facing you.

Many animals have attracted symbolic meaning from stories or myths. If you are aware of these meanings, see if they fit into your dream. Also see symbols section..

Extinct animals can sometimes refer to reactions and feelings from the past, which are no longer relevant to your life. Is the extinct animal alive or a fossil? Is there something in your life now from the past which is coming back into your life? Alternatively, is it something which is now not relevant and you must discard?

Dreams of endangered species or rare animals may be pointing to some aspect of yourself, possibly your values, which you are in danger of losing, or which may be destroyed. It suggests you must value that aspect of yourself if you want to preserve it.

House and Home

Dreams about your house and home tend to reflect your "psychological space".

This applies if you are dreaming about your actual home and also to the many dreams people have which begin " I am living in....". In these dreams, your unconscious has constructed a dwelling which reflects your life at this time.

In analysing dreams about your house or home you might consider the following:

  • What sort of furniture and fittings does it have - pleasant, comfortable, old, antique and valuable?
  • Is it clear or cluttered with mess? Does this reflect your state of mind at the moment?
  • Who are the neighbours? Are they intruding? Are you currently experiencing a lot of demands from others?
  • How close are the neighbours? In your dream, are you living in an apartment or terrace with shared walls or is your house a "stand alone" house. Are the neighbouring houses affecting you in your dream?
  • How solid is it? Are you living in a permanent dwelling or something temporary, like a caravan or even a tent?

Money

Money is a medium of exchange. Its value comes, not from itself, but from what it can bring into your life. In dreams, money often represents energy; your life energy or emotional energy, what you are doing with it and whether your expenditure of energy is bringing you results which are valuable for you.

Dreams that you have no money left or are running out of money may indicate that you are low on energy, either physically or emotionally. You may need to look at how you can take some time out or whether you are spending your emotional energy wisely.

Related to dreams about money are dreams about shopping - or exchanging money for goods.

If you dream you are shopping, or looking around a shop to buy something, pay attention to what you are prepared to spend your money on in the dream. Is it valuable, enjoyable, exotic or junk? In your life, are you putting energy into something that is good for you or a waste? If you are buying food, are you going to cook for someone and share it - ie does it have something to do with energy for a relationship or for personal nourishment?

A dream that you are window-shopping, especially looking around a shopping mall or department store may be about choices you have to make. In department stores or shopping malls, you can "try on" different aspects of life, or even different lifestyles, before deciding to buy. Will you buy the computer, the scuba gear or the expensive suit? Are you pulled in one direction? Or perhaps you can't make up your mind. Or perhaps you decide to be reckless (or sensible) and maybe feel triumphant or disappointed. Can you see this in your life?

Travel and Transport

Dreams of travelling or taking a trip tend to reflect how you are moving or progressing in your life. These dreams may refer to a long period of transition in your life, or a relatively short period. This is reflected in the type of trip you are dreaming about, and in the mode of transport.

  • Dreams of commuting, of going on a short trip, of doing errands tend to refer to a short, discrete period in your life. This is also indicated, if in your dream you are travelling by public bus, tram or streetcar, or commuter train.
  • Longer journeys, either in distance or time, tend to reflect more significant transitions.
  • Public or shared transport tends to indicate that the "trip" you are on may be some change or transition which many people go through.

A frequently reported dream is that of being on public transport without a ticket. These dreams often refers to feelings that you may not be adequate or justified in some aspect of your life and concern that you may be "found out". Often people who have this type of dream are in fact very successful and more than adequately contributing to life. They may, however, be expecting too much of themselves, or they may not recognise their own worth and value.

  • Dreams of driving in a car represents how you are approaching and living your life at a more personal level. What is the car in your dream like? Do you like it? What colour is it? Is it easy to drive? Most importantly, who is in the car with you? And who is driving? If it is your car and someone else is driving, then you should consider whether you are allowing that person to have too much say in how you live your life.
  • Flying in a small plane, helicopter or even a hot air balloon might indicate that you are trying to get a bigger picture, or a fuller perspective on your life.
  • Walking, cycling or travelling by horse tend to reflect a more natural, relaxed or independent way of approaching your life.
  • Jung and his followers made much of the symbolism of the "night sea journey" into the unconscious, from which they experienced the deeper levels of the self. Such a personal "voyage" of discovery may be reflected in dreams by a long sea voyage.