Whereas Freud understood dreams primarily in terms of wish fulfillment, later theorists like James Fossage (1997) built upon his theory with cognitive theory and dream research to suggest that dreams serve an important organizing mental function. Dreams help us process feelings, cope with traumatic events, solve problems and reflect our sense of self and relationship with others.
You As Expert Of Your Dreams Feelings
You don’t have to be a trained professional to understand your dreams. In many ways you are the expert or your dreams because you are the writer, director, actor, lighting expert and stagehand of your night theater.
Recognizing this and taking a look at the nature of dreams will help you understand and utilize your dreams to make meaning and inform your waking life.
The Dreamer’s Feelings
One of the first things I ask anyone who tells me their dream is “What feelings did you have as the dreamer?”
- Dreams can have many interpretations, but only the dreamer knows the feeling of the dream. Only he/she knows if they felt terrified, soothed, amused, confused, embarrassed, enraged or set apart as an observer in a dream.
- Once that feeling is captured, it becomes a point of self-reflection, self-reference and discovery. It often becomes a way to connect a past feeling or experience with your present life.
Why am I feeling so threatened that men with guns are chasing me?
What is making me so anxious that I can’t find my shoes or the road home?
When in my life have I ever had this wonderful feeling of flying?
The Language of Dreams
Dreams seem confusing, even “crazy” because the unconscious taps primary process thinking. Unlike the secondary process thinking we employ in our daily lives, dreams are indifferent to logic or rationality. Past and present overlap, images blend together, people from the past emerge with those of the present and the impossible happens. As Jeremy Taylor depicts in the title of his book on this topic, dreams are a place Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill.
- The meaning of dreams is often conveyed through symbols. Whereas there have always been universal symbols used in literature, art, and folklore that can be drawn upon, the personal meaning of a dream symbol belongs to the dreamer.
- For one dreamer, the ocean is a symbol of life, energy and renewal; for another, it is a frightening symbol of being overwhelmed, of drowning.
- In one case, the repeated image of a dreamer’s small dog running in the street came to be recognized as the symbol of her lost and frightened self. Her “dog dream” became a point of reference for asking, “What is making me feel so frightened?”
- If you start remembering and recording dreams, you may find that you have a “dream print,” a repeated set of symbols that have particular meaning for you.
- While you may associate shapeshifters with the Star Trek series or recent films, probably the first shapeshifters you met were in your own dreams.
- The dream in which the person starts out as your brother and transforms into your boss reflects condensation, the fusion or combination or two ideas or images in dreams to convey meaning. It invites thinking:
In the dream, it was my boss wearing my brother’s school jacket. What is it about my brother that I am experiencing with my boss?
- In a similar way, dreams may condense past and present or use people as mile markers of feelings captured in time.
Maybe the teacher you had in 8th grade shows up in your dream because she represents “being cared about by an authority figure” at a time when that is something needed.
- One of the reasons that we hesitate taking dreams literally is that they most often involve a displacement of feelings and actions from one person to another or to other things.
- For example, a college-age dreamer who is struggling to separate from her family dreams that she tells her roommate that she can’t stay with her anymore, that she has to go off and live on her own.
- The dreamer reports feeling relieved and a bit guilty – but clearly sees that telling her roommate that she is “breaking ties” is a safer step than telling her family. Unconsciously, she is working on it.
What if I Don’t Interpret My Dream Correctly?
There really is no right or wrong to dream interpretation only the aha recognition you get when some part of your dream makes sense to you.
Remember that dreams are over-determined. They have many layers of meaning and tell us not only what we consciously and unconsciously “know” about ourselves but what we are still finding out. The more we think about them, the more we even write them down, the more adept we become at interpreting them.
Take your time and don’t worry – anything you missed in last night’s dream will show up in a later installment!
Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you. ~Marsha Norman