What Dreams Tell Us About Ourselves

By exploring different types of dream analysis, we can slowly unravel the mysterious meanings behind dreams.

Aug 7, 2019

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Dreams, Sleep

(Jakub Grygier / Shutterstock.com)

Everyone dreams. Each night, our minds replay events from our lives mixed with seemingly random and illogical occurrences.

But what if the images and experiences from our dreams aren’t random at all? What if we could discover deeper meaning hidden behind those dreams?

What did the Ancients say about our dreams?

For as long as humans could experience dreams, people have tried to analyze the meaning behind them. The ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome believed that dreaming carried divine messages and considered dream interpretation a sacred art and honored profession. 

When someone had a symbolic dream in ancient times, they would consult a dream interpreter, usually a wise person in the community such as a priest, priestess, or physician. The dreamer would list the images and have them interpreted by the wise one. Dream books listing dream images and interpretations also became popular in many cultures.

Whether you believe in dream interpretation or not, let’s have a little fun with it and try it on ourselves. Below you can find a few common dream images with possible interpretations. 

Water: Represents the emotional and unconscious. The condition of the water, whether calm, turbulent, cloudy, etc. represents our current emotional status.
Flying: Relates to the level of control we feel over our lives. High flying shows a sense of freedom while low flying or issues “taking off” could mean trouble reaching goals.
Falling: Falling uncontrollably could indicate fear or that life feels out of control
Teeth: The common dream of teeth falling out could mean issues with communication, embarrassment, or powerlessness.
Animals: Animals often appear in dreams and are said to symbolize one’s physical characteristics, primitive nature, and untamed aspects of the self.
Snakes: Snakes have both positive and negative connotations. Snakes, used in the caduceus symbol of medicine, could indicate healing. Their ability to shed skin indicates signs of transformation. Snakes can also refer to temptation or that someone cannot be trusted.

A more modern approach...

In modern times, psychologists continue the practice dream analysis. Dream interpretation became best known for its use in psychoanalysis. Modern health professionals also use different types of dream analysis as part of therapeutic techniques. So what do these methods have to say about your dreams?

Dreams in Psychoanalysis 

In the age of science, Sigmund Freud considered dreams as the “royal road to the unconscious” and developed a system of dream interpretation in psychoanalysis. According to Freud, dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts, and motivations. People suppress their aggressive and sexual instincts in conscious life, and dreams are “disguised fulfillments” of those repressed instincts.

Jungian Dream Analysis

Carl Jung took a different approach, saying that dreams reveal more than they conceal. Rather than hiding our repressed desires, as Freud asserts, Jungian analysis suggests that dreams help integrate the conscious and unconscious using archetypal images. These images represent unconscious attitudes. By understanding how the images relate to our lives, we can better develop greater awareness of our inner selves.

Let’s say you have a dream about a dog. In Jungian analysis, the therapist will explore the universal meaning of the “dog” (man’s best friend, dogs in mythology, dogs are loyal and caring). Therapy will then explore the collective understanding of the dog to help that individual find meaning in the dream.

It works a little bit like this: When dreaming, consider the different motifs and images that come to mind. Now, what do those signs and symbols mean in a general sense? (Perhaps in society, according to mythology or religion, things like that) How would you apply that to yourself? Does the meaning behind that archetype or image connect to something from your life? 

While we still don’t know exactly what dreams mean, they certainly possess powerful information to help better understand ourselves. Whether that information comes from a divine message, repressed desires, or reveal inner attitudes, the truth is dreams invariably have more than one interpretation. By exploring different types of dream analysis, we can slowly unravel the mysterious meanings behind dreams.

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ALLISON MICHELLE DIENSTMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Working from her laptop as a freelance writer, Allison lives as a digital nomad, exploring the world while sharing positivity and laughter. She is a lover of language, travel, music, and creativity with a degree in Chinese language and literature.