Updated: Aug 9
I Had this Dream . . .
Myths About Dream Interpretation
People seem to perk up when they talk about their dreams, perhaps because there is an intuitive sense that there is meaning in those crazy images. The problem is most people do not gain the powerful insights they could from their dreams because they don’t know how to decode them.
According to C.G. Jung, the source of dreams is our unconscious and its language is mysterious and seemingly irrational. We attempt to understand these messages by using the language that dominates our conscious lives, that of the intellect.
Understanding the true meaning of dreams requires letting go of the need to interpret things in a rational sense and embracing the uncertainty of where our imagination might take us.
Debunking the Myths of Dream Interpretation
Dreams offer opportunities to harness wisdom and guidance from another source, and there are some things you can keep in mind that will help you connect with that wisdom.
Dreams often compensate for waking life – Dreams often are trying to tell you that you are repressing something. For example, if your dreams contain a lot of violence, it may mean you are repressing and denying anger, which often is a cover for painful wounds that are very old. Try this: Instead of feeling disturbed by the image of violently stabbing someone in your dream, look for times in your life that you hold back your feelings and find ways to express your anger and frustration in a way that doesn’t harm others. I’m very good at hiding my feelings from myself. When violence shows up in my dream, the next day I magically discover I’m especially irritable or frustrated. Knowing that and simply walking around yelling at the top of my lungs “I’m really irritable today” is often enough to process it. I may also journal about the trigger if I can identify it and figure out something new about myself.
Dreams are not usually literal – This is the hardest concept. Our psyches latch onto images that are meant to elicit a certain emotion in order to quickly get the point across. For example, you may have a dream that contains sexual imagery that is so embarrassing you can’t even admit to yourself that you had that dream. These are super important dreams. Try this: Next time you have a dream that contains an embarrassing sexual scenario for example, pull it apart and reflect on what the separate images mean for you. If you were having sex with your ex, journal about what your ex represents for you or what part of you is like the part you don't like in him. This part of you may want to be recognized.
People who show up in your dreams are pieces of you – This is another hard concept. When your child shows up in your dream you think it’s about him or her. When your ex shows up in your dream, you think it’s about him or her. This often is not the case. Try this: If you sister shows up in your dream, ask yourself what comes to mind when you think about her. If for example you think she’s a very needy person, this is likely to be a mirror of a part of you that you don’t want to admit that is also very needy. Then try this: Instead of feeling shame about your inner neediness, embrace it and explore how to exist in the world as a needy person.
Emotions are key – Perhaps you had a dream where you were falling to your death or were in a plane crash, and you woke up terrified. Sometimes, but rarely, dreams are prophetic, but often in a symbolic way rather than literal way. Try this: Next time you have a dream where you feel your life was in danger, notice how the dream ended. Likely you survived, which may mean you have what it takes to deal with whatever situation you’re facing. Potential death in a dream may mean death of your soul or death of an old dysfunctional way of behaving, rather than literal death. Are you selling your soul to the devil so to speak by staying in that high paying corporate job you hate.
Framework For Working With Your Dreams
I like Robert Johnson’s approach (Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, 2009) to working with dreams, because I’m a recovering linear person and he has specific steps to exploring a dream’s meaning. And by the way there is no right interpretation; it’s more about finding meaning that is helpful to gaining knowledge about challenges and how to overcome them. Try this:
Record your dream as best you remember it.
Identify all the images, including sounds, feelings, and colors.
For each image, journal about what comes to mind when you think about it.
Now ask yourself where this may be showing up in your life.
Try some active imagination by drawing your dream, writing a poem, doing a dance, creating a play, or other creative act.
Be alert to emotions, how your body responds, and new insights that may appear.
Conversations Like This at My Dream Workshop at Elle Studio
There’s so much more to share, and I hope you will consider joining others and me at my upcoming dream workshop – Wednesday, October 24th, 6:30-8pm. Click here to register.