This is the second post in a two-part series about dreams. Part 1 revealed the meaning of a few common dreams. This post offers ways to decode your other dreams.
If you’re wondering what your dreams mean, you’re not alone. People seem to have an innate sense that some of their dreams contain significant messages, and have a desire to decode their dream symbols and stories.
Dreams can serve many purposes. Among other things, they can:
- Reflect what you’re experiencing (or avoiding) in your waking life
- Be a outlet for emotions that you haven’t processed fully while you’re awake (such as grieving in your sleep)
- Provide access to feelings or reactions that may not be in your awareness during waking hours (including insight and information about your relationships with others)
- Hold messages about what’s working well or what needs adjusting in your life
How Do I Know What My Dream Means?
Just as abstract art doesn’t have one meaning or “translation” for everyone, there is not a “one size fits all” guide for defining dream symbols. Dream images will have different meanings for different people based on a person’s culture, beliefs, past experiences, state-of-mind, personality, and a number of other factors.
The techniques below offer ways to decode your dreams by exploring the personal significance of your dream symbols and stories, and by noticing your emotional reactions to different parts of the dream.
With each of these techniques, let your instincts and emotional and bodily reactions guide you – you’ll know when a particular interpretation feels like it hits the mark.
1. Replay your dream from the perspective of every character
Replay your dream in your mind’s eye. It may be useful to tell someone else your dream, or to write it down.
Who else appeared in your dream? Pick a specific character in your dream, and tell (or write) the dream again from their perspective. Using “I” language, describe everything that you saw, heard, felt, and thought from that perspective. Notice what emotions and bodily sensations arise as you do this.
Repeat this process for every character in the dream, as well as for animals and even objects that seem relevant or symbolic to the story line.
When a particularly important story line, theme, or image emerges, you’re likely to have stronger emotional reactions.
This process is often very effective at opening new perspectives and getting to the “heart” of the dream, allowing dreams to develop new insights about the underlying messages.
2. Retell your dream in the present tense
Describe your dream to someone else, or in writing, in the present tense. Tell the story as if it is unfolding right now. It may help to imagine that you are describing a movie to someone who cannot see the screen (“Someone is opening the door, and now he is taking off is hat”, and so forth). You may find that the dream starts changing as you tell it. Continue telling it in the way that feels natural, even if it takes a different form than the original dream. If you cannot remember parts of the dream, continue telling the story in whatever way it comes to you now. Your retelling of the dream may take the storyline beyond the point where the dream first ended.
Using this technique can help highlight the most important themes and emotions of the dream, as well as unveiling personal fears or wishes.
3. Reflect on who you might tell about your dream
Is there anyone in your life with whom you regularly discuss your dreams? Or someone you’d be tempted to tell about this dream? Sometimes our dreams can actually be messages to other people in our lives, or reveal something about our relationships with them. Imagining what the message of the dream might be for those people (or about your relationships with those people) can help decode our dream symbols.
4. Keep a dream journal
Keeping a dream journal can help you better recall your dreams (even the ones you don’t write down!). Some important themes across several dreams might become more apparent if you have them all recorded in one place. The act of writing down a dream may also lead you to remember certain important details or emotional reactions that you didn’t first recall, and those details can be very revealing.
5. Talk to a counsellor/psychotherapist
A counsellor/psychotherapist can provide an outside perspective and guidance on the journey to discover the meaning of your dreams. Exploring your dreams with a counsellor or psychotherapist can help deepen your self-awareness and your understanding of the messages in your dreams.