I am an avid proponent of dream analysis, especially using it as a tool for self-assessment and personal and spiritual growth. I've been analyzing my dreams for years and this practice has helped me to develop a deeper understanding of myself on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel bothered by something that I can't quite put my finger on, then I have a dream that, once understood (meaning after I have taken the time to interpret or decode the dream), helps me to move beyond a personal limitation.
I've written the following information about dreams to help you understand how to develop an active dream interpretation practice. It's not as hard as you might think; in fact, the process can be a lot of fun, especially if you do it with someone you're close to. Check out the links to the left and feel free to contact me if you have questions or need additional information than what's provided here.
The Language of Dreams
Dreams come from your unconscious—the part of the mind that is beyond ordinary awareness, yet has a significant impact on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Every dream, regardless of the quantity or quality of content, has information that can help you to better understand your life and purpose. When properly analyzed and understood, dreams can guide you toward greater happiness and well-being.
To understand the language of dreams, it's important to understand symbols, archetypes, and wordplays. A car in your dream, for example, is not simply a machine made of metal and plastic that you drive from one place to another. It is those things, but also contained within the symbol is every personal experience you've ever had with cars. For someone who never learned to drive, a car might represent unfulfilled potential, or an unmet desire. For another person, cars might be frightening, especially if they lost a loved one in a car accident. If you've never had anything momentous happen to you in or around cars, the image might simply represent the way in which you move about the world. It can symbolize your body, your physical "container," or your mindset—the "container" that holds your ideas. If the car in your dream is red, it might symbolize passion, or anger that you may be holding inside. Dreams can hold multiple, even contradictory, meanings.
Symbols that are deeply ingrained in the psyche of humankind and share a transcendent quality that cuts across all cultures and time periods are called archetypes (Jung, 1969). Common archetypes include the mother, father, king, queen, trickster, judge, victim, prostitute, and child. There are many archetypes, and what makes them so powerful is their presence in our collective memory. A mother, for instance, bears life and provides sustenance to her child until birth. A mother retains these characteristics in every place and time. A king leads or rules a group of people. A victim has been treated poorly or unfairly. A prostitute has given up part of his or herself in exchange for something else. Archetypes contain universal truths and shared human experiences.
Archetypes have both light and shadow aspects. The mother archetype in its light aspect is a nurturer, one who gives life; but in her shadow, she is overbearing and controlling—a "taker" of life. A king can be benevolent and righteous, but he can also be a cruel dictator, willing to destroy anything or anyone who stands in his way. When an archetype appears in your dream, look at both light and dark aspects and notice what draws your attention.
Wordplays and Puns
Dreams can also communicate using wordplays and puns. I once dreamed that someone wanted to give me an armoire, but I looked around my house and didn't have room for it. The thought of having to bring it into my home stressed me out. I first worked with the symbol of an armoire, and since I used to own a large, and beautiful one that I got rid of before moving to a smaller place, I had something to work with. I tend to move often and do not like to accumulate things, especially large objects. I felt like the armoire was too big and bulky and was starting to show signs of wear from having endured multiples moves. It was weighing me down, so to speak, so I sold it. Based on this experience, I could deduce that my dream represented the feeling of being weighed down. It was telling me to offload something that most likely represented a mindset or attitude that I was carrying. There was also the possibility that it could represent a person or situation in my life that I felt burdened by, but since this was not the case for me, I knew it had to do with my internal state.
In working with the symbol, I also recognized that the word "armoire" sounds like "arm war." This play on words gave me something additional to consider. I frequently refer to a book by Louise Hay (2003) called Heal Your Body, in which Hay gives the mental causes for physical conditions and ailments. I know from reading her book that arms represent "the capacity and ability to hold the experiences of life" (p. 14). I was able to fill in more parts of the dream to see that not only was something holding me down, but part of me was conflicted, or "at war," with another part of myself. It's easy to blame other people or situations that are beyond our control as the reason for our condition. The dream was reminding me that I was the one creating this conflict. Becoming conscious of this, I could now make the choice to respond differently.
Dreams with Frightening or Taboo Subjects
Sometimes people feel embarrassed and are reluctant to share the content of their dreams, especially when their dreams contain frightening or taboo subject matter, like murder, torture, or sex. These subjects create fear in us for several reasons. First, we are afraid to admit that we might be capable of committing atrocious acts. Second, we feel ashamed by our desires, especially ones that we keep hidden. And, third, we worry that others might reject us if they were to learn the truth about who we really are. But, fortunately, dreams communicate using symbolic language, and subjects that are scary to us can be transformed by working through the deeper meaning of each symbol or symbolic act.
Let's take a look at two common dream subjects: sex and murder, as examples.
If you dream about having sex with someone, the first thing to explore is what that person symbolizes for you. Let's say the person you dreamed of having sex with is your boss, whom you find charming, intelligent, and whom you respect. The dream could be inviting you to honor your own charm and intelligence. But, what if the opposite were true? Perhaps the idea of having sex with your boss makes you feel repulsed. When you notice a strong emotional response in your dream, it usually means that you need to pay attention. You are being shown something that is very important. If you are repulsed by a person or situation in your dream, the dream could be showing you a part of yourself that you are repulsed by and have been ignoring. As human beings, we have both light and dark aspects of our nature, and in order to become whole, we must learn to accept all of who we are.
Let's say that a part of you is fiercely jealous, but you've gone through life pretending that you're not. When your partner gets attention from others, you adopt a posture that says you appreciate the attention he or she gets from others. As long as your jealous tendency remains hidden, it will continue to exert energy in your psyche, and circumstances in life will continue to instigate your jealousy. Rather than ignore this part of yourself, it is better to acknowledge that you feel insecure when the person you love gets attention from others. Perhaps you worry that you are not good enough, or that you might get abandoned. Regardless of the why, don't ignore it. And, remember that there is also a positive aspect to consider. The positive aspect of jealousy, for example, is loyalty. Those who struggle with jealousy tend to also be loyal partners and friends that people can count on. Accept the good and the bad, the light and the dark, and you will be one step closer to loving yourself more fully.
We tend to think of ourselves as whole beings, but the reality is that we are fragmented and have lots of different parts or “selves.” When people appear in our dreams, these people represent different parts of us. If you dream that someone is trying to murder you, explore what the murderer symbolizes for you. It could be that a part of you feels threatened by a new skill or competency that you are trying to develop. The “murderer” may be trying to keep you from growing, but once you are aware of this conflict, you can use your conscious mind and free will to overcome all resistance. (Use the same process if you are the murderer: explore what part of yourself is the murderer, and what part you are trying to kill off?)
Precognitive or “Warning” Dreams
A precognitive dream is one in which the dreamer becomes aware of something before it happens. Precognitive dreams usually have a stronger emotional intensity than ordinary dreams and dreamers describe the dream as seeming more real. The dreamer will need to use discernment about what to do with this information and whether or not to share it with others. Precognitive dreams can be a one-time occurrence or happen on a regular basis. For those who experience regular precognition dreams, it could indicate a psychic or spiritual emergence, in which case, you may feel comfort in speaking with others who have gone through similar experiences and who have incorporated these gifts into their lives in a manner that brings about greater love and wholeness to themselves and others.
Recurring dreams often reflect a major life theme for the dreamer. Until the meaning of a recurring dream is brought to consciousness, the dreamer will often continue to have the dream. The dream might also be recurring because the dreamer has yet to understand the meaning of the dream, and once that meaning is understood, that particular dream will no longer recur.
Pay attention to everything that you remember from your dreams, even if it is just an image, a word or a phrase. You may even wake up with a certain tune or lyric in your mind. You can interpret everything, no matter how small. Sometimes it is just a small reminder for the day, yet one that can be tremendously useful.
Resonance AND Tension
Dreams can have multiple interpretations but the easiest way to tell that you are onto something relevant is to pay attention to what resonates. By resonance, you may feel a sense of calmness or relief as you experience greater insight into some aspect of yourself. But don’t be alarmed if you also experience fear or anxiety, especially if something new is coming to awareness that might feel frightening to your conscious mind. This can feel like psychic tension. Fear tends to dissipate with greater understanding and self-acceptance. Remember to be gentle and loving toward yourself and others as you work through the potential meaning of your dream.
Revisit your dreams over time to see if anything new comes to mind. Sometimes looking over a series of dreams that come on subsequent days can also elucidate a bigger story or life theme. Whatever you do, remember to have fun with the process!