Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How to Interpret Your Dreams - wikiHow

How to Interpret Your Dreams

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

A dream is an answer to a question we haven't learned to ask. ~ Fox Mulder in The X-Files
Since ancient times, the Greeks and Egyptians believed that some people had the power to draw meaning from dreams, and as long ago as the second century, works were being created on how to interpret our dreams.[1] In modern times, we understand better that the world of dreams is another reality with which we can interact, and yet, as we grow older, it can be all too easy to dismiss the value of dreaming, especially in an age given to sidelining anything that touches on mysticism and Freudian overtones.
Nonetheless, dreaming deserves to hold a special place in our lives because it is an important part of who we are, providing us with signposts and differing perspectives on our waking problems, all offered to us nightly, free-of-charge, if we only care to stop and take note of them. Interpreting dreams is for everyone, not just those already attuned to spending time exploring the psychic and subconscious self - decoding dreams can enable you to gain access to a wealth of intuitive wisdom.


  1. Consider why it is worth interpreting your dreams before proceeding. Even if you're already convinced of the value of interpreting dreams, it's a good idea to understand the importance of dreams in general, and why taking note of them and interpreting what they are telling you can help you in both practical and intuitive ways:
    • Dreams can help you in a very practical way. They are a means by which you can solve problems that have been dogging you throughout the day, week, or month, even where your worries are not conscious.[2] If you're receptive to your dreams, answers are there for the finding. History is filled with the inventions begun in dreams, from scientists to fashionistas.[3]
    • Dreams help you to learn as you process the day's experiences. They layer down the things you've learned during the day and smarten up your learning so that on awakening, you ought to be a little cleverer at whatever it was you learned the day before.[4] Many studies by sleep researchers have shown that we perform tasks better after sleeping on them.[5]
    • Dreams help to connect you with feelings that you're having now and feelings that you've had in the past, in similar circumstances.[6]
    • Dreams can provide you with inspiration and insight. They can show you the doorway to greater fulfillment, happiness, and health if you're prepared to listen to them.[7] Sigmund Freud said that dreams are "the royal road to the unconscious activities of the mind".[8]
    • Dreams can heal and be cathartic, acting as your "internal therapist". They can serve as a way of closing a door on a very difficult part of your life, allowing you to move on from loss, hardship, and sorrow by releasing you to move to the next phase of your life. People who are able to dream, and recall those dreams, have been shown to heal better from traumatic experiences than those who seem to have no dreams.[9]
    • Dreams can allow you to act out and dramatize. They allow us to be creative, insane, aggressive, strong, manipulative, etc., in ways that we might never dare be in waking life, and often we take the leading role.[10] It is of interest that our pre-frontal cortex shuts down during dreaming (the cautious, organized part of us), to allow our emotional side to take over.[11]
    • Dreams can diagnose something that is wrong with you. For example, depressed patients have a complete lack of activity in their dreams.[12] And it is possible for health problems to be brought to your attention through dreams, such as a pain you've been ignoring being related to something that might be wrong with you and need of a check-up.[13] Recurrent dreams are also a very good indicator that something underlying is wrong, often emotionally, with studies on recurrent dreamers revealing that they score lower on well-being scales.[14]
    • Dreams can warn you of threats. In caveman days, the threats were real and translated into a short lifespan. It's possible that dreams (which place you in a very vulnerable state) were not weeded out by evolution because they gave us insight into recognizing and dealing with threats.[15] One study has shown that dreams tend to be more often about threats and negativity on the whole than "sweet dreams".[16] Perhaps this implies that a deeply negative dream is either a prehistoric warning to "be ready", or just a way our minds clear out the worst of what's in there!
    • A few people believe dreams can be prophetic or precognitive.
  2. Learn how to remember your dreams. Obviously dream interpretation requires that you remember your dreams. Things that can impact your ability to remember a dream include not focusing on remembering it, poor sleep habits, being so tired that you sleep deeply, alcohol or drugs, and being a new parent. These problems aside (all of which have their own remedies), it is possible to train yourself to remember your dreams:
    • Read wikiHow's article on How to remember your dreams.
    • Keep a dream journal next to your bed and write down everything you remember of your dreams on waking. Make this a daily morning ritual before doing anything else.
    • Write down everything, even if it doesn't make sense. The things that don't make sense or seem out of place may end up being the most valuable insights.
  3. Begin interpreting with the right frame of mind. It is important to realize from the outset that your dreams are reflections of yourself and belong to you. Hence, while dream dictionaries and dream interpretation aids can be of some assistance in a very general way, the real nitty gritty of understanding what your dream means will always come down to you, your personal circumstances and the context of the dream and your waking life. Keep in mind too, that the sleep researchers can't agree with one another on the purpose, extent, or value of dreams,[17] so you're not expected to get this perfect or even to find that every dream has a meaning!
    • Don't dismiss the worth of dream interpretation aids - they can be helpful on a general level, still taking in your personalized situation and the other contextual elements of the dream. Use your common sense and your intuition when seeking to draw in generalized dream interpretations of colors, objects, animals, nature, etc.
    • Be prepared to ask yourself questions, all the while trusting your intuition and being patient.[18]
    • In each case, be sure to write down the answers in your dream journal. In doing so, always write down the first thing that comes to your mind. This will likely be the real situation in your life that is symbolized in the dream. If this is the same feeling represented in your dream, you're on the right track. When there is more than one part to your dream (more than one story line), that usually means your subconscious is trying to tell you two or more things and each of these strands needs attention.
    • If some of the details don't make sense, keep practicing until it becomes much easier to decode your dreams. Write down the meanings you discover for each detail. Then you can put them all together to see the big picture.
  4. Look for the obvious. Before delving any deeper, always analyze a dream at its most basic level first, and that is done by looking for the most obvious meanings. Some questions to ask of your dream include:
    • "What is this dream trying to me on a literal level?" - for example, you might have misplaced your car keys the night before and your dream shows you that you left them in a bowl on the umbrella stand instead of your usual hook on the wall. In this case, there is probably no need to wonder what keys, umbrellas, and bowls mean!
    • Reflect on what real life situation your dream reminds you of. Are there particular events going on in your daily life that have elements of concern, or that lack resolution for you? Even the most niggling of thoughts might be worth reconsidering in the light of your dream.
    • Have your had this experience or dream before?
    • When dreaming about something you have forgotten, it's a good idea to keep revisiting the dream because it is probably trying to tell you something that you need reminding of.[19]
    • Be alert for distortions of unreality in your dreams. Sometimes we dream about a TV show, or something we've read online or in a book, and our subconscious is bringing it to life in technicolor (basically, a free show!). The meaning behind this is probably simple entertainment as your mind sorts through the daily chaff.
  5. Look for representations of your feelings and emotions. Dreams often come to us by way of metaphor, like a puzzle awaiting us to piece it together. When looking for this level of a dream, the questions to ask yourself include:
    • "How did this dream leave me feeling?"
    • "What are the principal emotions arising out this dream?"
    • It is likely that your emotions in the dream are replaying emotions already impacting you during your waking hours, such as being angry with somebody, or feeling down about not meeting a deadline, or feeling happy that a good friend is coming to visit.[20] This means that it is important again to check on what is happening in your waking life.
  6. If you have analyzed your dream from both the obvious and emotional perspectives but you still don't think it's telling you much, consider looking for deeper, hidden meanings in a dream.[21] These can actually be very commonplace dreams shared among many of us, and that have fairly standard interpretations available but also still very much depend on your own self and context. For example, regardless of culture or gender, commonplace dream themes include teeth falling out, flying unaided, the first day of school, falling, being chased, and a cheating spouse.[22] Interpretations of these commonplace dreams many of us experience could range from a deep-seated fear of not being attractive enough, or simply that you have a dental appointment that day, to the fact that you watched a TV show the night before about a cheating spouse. You will need to consider your waking reality to work out what the most applicable interpretation is.
    • Look for key images that stand out in your dream. For example, if you dreamed about a red alligator swinging off your boss's lamp and leering at you, a dream dictionary might tell you that red is the color of anger ("seeing red"), that an alligator is about ferocity or stealth (those teeth!), and that your boss' lamp is a source of light or exposure (or just your boss' lamp!). You might conclude that you are angry that your boss has taken the limelight and is crowing about your work as his own. Or, you might see this as your boss being angry with you for not throwing light on something ugly that has reared its head at the workplace. Or, you might have a morbid fear of the red alligator figurine on your boss' desk because the only time you're ever in your boss' office is when you're in trouble, staring at that darned thing to avoid his gaze! While the "symbols" of the dream can be fairly broadly interpreted from the nature or type of those symbols, you still need to fill in the details.
  7. Practice honesty. Not only do you need to be willing to put in the effort to try and interpret your dreams, but you also need to be honest about your feelings and emotions. In reality, your dreams will hardly ever tell you something that you don't already know on some level – it's just more likely that you have been repressing or pushing something aside.[23]
  8. Consider some possible dream scenarios as ways of learning how you might go about interpreting your own dreams. While dream interpretation is fairly intuitive and self-directed in nature, it can be helpful to have some generalized examples to guide you in ways that people choose to interpret their dreams. Some examples to give you an idea are provided next:
    • Let's say you're stranded on a desert island in your dream. If you've recently broken up with your partner, this could easily make sense. Maybe you feel guilty about the break-up and think it's partly your fault. Or maybe you're still angry about it. Sometimes the feelings you have as you're drifting off to sleep spill over into your dreams.
    • You have a dream in which all of your hair falls out and you are walking into town naked. In real life, you've just left your boyfriend of 4 years, and nabbed yourself an amazing new job. The symbols in the dream in this context could very well mean that you are shedding the old ways and are ready to expose yourself fully to what's ahead of you, and you're not afraid of anybody holding you back now. It may be that you've had some unresolved feelings of guilt or uncertainty about the path ahead but your dream is telling you to go for it. Alternatively, it could mean that your hair has started falling out at the stress of both good and bad things all happening at once, that you need to book a hair appointment fast and get some rest before starting your new job or you'll be vulnerable to not keeping up with everyone else because you're already worn down.
    • You dream you're back at school again trying to pass exams that in real life, you passed ages ago. And no matter how hard you try to pass them, the pencil keeps snapping, or the exam paper flies out the window, or you're just stumped for answers. Swing back to everyday life and you're doing really well, successful at all you have undertaken. A dream like this can simply be telling you that you don't need to worry about something that's worrying you right now because you got over that hurdle in the past; alternatively, it could be warning you that you're skating on thin ice and can't rely on winging it this time, and that you need to stick your head in the books and learn something new - and fast!
  9. Know when your dream interpretation is correct. The key thing to remember is that there are no rules to dream interpretation and so there are no rights or wrongs to the interpretation process. It's all down to your self-honesty, self-knowledge and willingness to apply your dream knowledge to your waking life situations. A successful dream interpretation really comes down to the following elements:[24]
    • Your interpretation resonates with you and the path you're following in life.
    • Interpreting your dreams adds something positive to your personal growth and emotional or spiritual fulfillment.
    • You enjoy working dream interpretation into your daily activities. There isn't much point continuing with it if you're not but if you are, it is a sign that you're growing more and more aware of your inner self through dream interpretation.
    • Interpreting your dreams improves your day, your activities, your life in general. It's an activity that brings you personal satisfaction.
    • You are able to find your own interpretations rather than simply accepting someone else's interpretation of dream symbols at face value, and you only rely on generalized interpretations as a building block on which you do most of the work.
    • Acting upon your dreams is not only becoming second nature, but is giving you good, positive results.
    • If it's not working for you, are you allowing yourself to get over the initial hurdles of confusion or skepticism before finally tossing in the towel on using dream interpretation as a means of self awareness?
Keep in mind, dreams are a subjective thing; murky at best, but always entertaining.


A very broad coverage on ways that you might interpret several of the most commonly shared dreams.


  • Practice is key. Each time you do this, you will get better at it.
  • Trust your instincts! If something seems important, it probably is. Try not to let your logical side take over.
  • Read the experts and understand their many varied approaches to dream analysis and interpreting strategies. Jungian analysts, in particular, have published a lot on dreamwork. Especially recommended are the works of Marie-Louise von Franz (see 'The Way of the Dream', 1988). It is important not to get too caught up in one way over another, however, as the jury is still out on what dreaming is all about. Which really means, that you're free to develop your own methods, theories and preferences!
  • Try not to focus on what actually happened during the dream too much, focus more on what it symbolizes. As an example, if you dream about something like being raped, it doesn't always literally mean that you are worried about being raped. It most likely represents the feeling that you have lost control over something.
  • Sometimes dreams really don't have deep meanings, they could just be about something that happened recently. If you have dreams about going to school or college during the summer and nothing unusual happens, for example, then your brain may just be getting used to not going to school or college every day.
  • Professor William Domhoff has been keeping an online database of dreams, which you might like to browse through to peek into what other people are dreaming about.[25]


  • Do not use this technique if you'd rather remain uninformed about what's going on in your subconscious mind. Some people prefer it that way, and that's a choice as valid as any other.
  • Trying to live in a dreamworld is very different from trying to live out a dream. When you act upon your dreams after interpreting them, you do so consciously, and with determination, purpose, and a clear head. On the other hand, living in a dreamworld is pretty much giving yourself over to imaginings, and waiting for something to happen instead of instigating it yourself. That's a sure recipe for letting life pass you by and you definitely need to wake up!

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Sources and Citations

  1. Ann Catherine Pawelczyk, In Your Dreams, Subconsciously Speaking, Jan-Feb 2008 v23 i1 p17(1)
  2. Science Today, The Importance of Dreams, http://www.ucop.edu/sciencetoday/article/149
  3. Marianne, Szegedy-Maszak, What Dreams Are Made Of, U.S. News & World Report, Vol 40 Issue 18, (2006), p.54
  4. Randy Dotinga, Dreams could give learning a boost, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=115645
  5. Marianne, Szegedy-Maszak, What Dreams Are Made Of, U.S. News & World Report, Vol 40 Issue 18, (2006), p.54
  6. Science Today, The Importance of Dreams, http://www.ucop.edu/sciencetoday/article/149
  7. Andy Baggott, Dreams: Transform your life through the power of your dreams, p. 22, (2000), ISBN 0-8069-3625-8
  8. John F Marscalck III and Jane E Myers, Dream Interpretation: A Developmental Counseling and Therapy Approach, (2006) Vol 28 (1), Journal of Mental Health Counseling, pp. 18-27
  9. Marianne, Szegedy-Maszak, What Dreams Are Made Of, U.S. News & World Report, Vol 40 Issue 18, (2006), p.54
  10. Daniel Williams, While you were sleeping, Issue 14, Time International, (2007), p.p. 38-45
  11. Marianne, Szegedy-Maszak, What Dreams Are Made Of, U.S. News & World Report, Vol 40 Issue 18, (2006), p.54
  12. Marianne, Szegedy-Maszak, What Dreams Are Made Of, U.S. News & World Report, Vol 40 Issue 18, (2006), p.54
  13. Judith Orloff, Your Inner Doctor, (2010), Vol 15(3), Personal Excellence, p. 6
  14. Paul J. Fink, Fink! Still at large: a Canadian study of preteens suggests recurrent dreams might reflect underlying emotional difficulties in boys. How have you used patients' dreams to advance their psychotherapy?, Clinical Psychiatry News, August 2009, v37 i8 p6(1)
  15. Daniel Williams, While you were sleeping, Issue 14, Time International, (2007), p.p. 38-45
  16. Valli, Standholm, Sillanmäki, Revonsuo, Dreams are more negative than real life: Implications for the function of dreaming, 22(5), Cognition and Emotion, (2008), pp. 833-861
  17. Daniel Williams, While you were sleeping, Issue 14, Time International, (2007), p.p. 38-45
  18. Sandhya Nankani, Unlocking the dream code, 58 (11) Read (2009), p. 22
  19. Andy Baggott, Dreams: Transform your life through the power of your dreams, p. 38, (2000), ISBN 0-8069-3625-8
  20. Andy Baggott, Dreams: Transform your life through the power of your dreams, p. 38, (2000), ISBN 0-8069-3625-8
  21. Andy Baggott, Dreams: Transform your life through the power of your dreams, p. 39, (2000), ISBN 0-8069-3625-8
  22. Sandhya Nankani, Unlocking the dream code, 58 (11) Read (2009), p. 22
  23. Andy Baggott, Dreams: Transform your life through the power of your dreams, p. 37, (2000), ISBN 0-8069-3625-8
  24. The following elements are adapted from Andy Baggott, Dreams: Transform your life through the power of your dreams, p. 80, (2000), ISBN 0-8069-3625-8
  25. You can find the database at http://www.dreambank.net.

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