There’s a myth when it comes to dream analysis that there’s one set of rules people should follow and one set of symbols to go off of. Despite this, I believe every person is unique, so there are no set formulas or prescriptions of what events or symbols can strictly mean. Dreams can only be understood in the larger context of the individuals’ own unfolding and self-discovery. However, there are several tools and ways you can practice to help see your dreams more thoughtfully and guide you into digging deeper into their meanings.
What Can I Do When I Have A Dream?
Start by Recording Them
You can start a dream journal, or use your Notes app on your phone. Whatever is easiest and most convenient for you to record your dream. Being able to take notes, even just a few sentences or things that stood out to you in the dreams, can literally help draw out the content of our unconscious into our concrete reality. Even if you wake up and don’t recall your dream, simply write “No dream to record.” This practice can help with not only the practicing of noticing and recording, but perhaps our memory as well. It can also help in looking back and seeing if there’s a pattern over time.
Give Your Dream a Title
What would you name your dream? Treat your dream as if it was a narrative or a movie you were directing or writing? I have found this to be helpful in identifying an overall theme that may tie it all together or demonstrate to you to what stands out to the most. Choosing a title requires narrowing in on a focus or the main point of the dream, and may shed light on what was most important to you.
Identify How You Were Feeling in the Dream vs. How You Felt Upon Waking
What kind of emotions and thoughts were prevalent in your dream? Whether you were feeling it personally in the dream or you were recognizing that’s how others were reacting and feeling. Was there fear, anger, remorse, joy, freedom? What did I feel in the morning? How comfortable am I feeling these emotions? Sometimes dreams can be referred to as “feeling-toned complex of ideas” where our unconscious self is called to feel into our ideas, thoughts, actions to gain a sense of who we are and what’s going on in our lives.
Identify if There Are Recurring Thoughts and Events in the Dream and in Your Daily Life
What is the recurring thought you get in your dream? Some common recurring thoughts can be: “they’re going to get me”, “I’m scared they will know”, “I don’t understand”. Ask yourself, have you had these thoughts throughout the day or previous days lately? If so, in what kind of situations have you had these thoughts?
Identify if This is a Recurring Dream in Itself with the Same Events and People in It
Sometimes a recurring dream can be quite disturbing. It may come with a sense of urgency or a negative feeling. Ask yourself what might be happening in your life right now? Have you experienced a traumatic event? Experiences with trauma can contribute with recurrences of dreams. Are you in a transitional period? Maybe there is something big and upsetting that you cannot bring yourself to think about during the waking hours. It may help to record events throughout the day before you sleep and then record the dream once you wake. There may be a pattern that unfolds from this practice.
Consider and Look at All the Elements That Are in the Dream
What are the characteristics and items or people that stood out to you in the dream? Sometimes we can find ourselves, our personalities, in multiple elements of a dream. What was it like to be the observer in the dream? Were you the villain? Whatever role you saw yourself play in will add a shape to the thoughts you may be processing about yourself.
Put Down the Dream Dictionaries and Search Functions!
While there is significance in some specific objects that appear in dreams, ultimately, the key is what this dream means to you. Although I do think there are some universal objects and symbols that may be helpful in self-growth, I believe in the dreamer themselves and the uniqueness you carry that can impact the symbols, objects, tastes, smells that we associate with the dream or story.
Since dream analysis is such a mystery, of course there would be numerous limitations. There are some who believe that dreams are purely a biological phenomena and thus, there are no symbolic meaning to it. Some psychiatrists have stated that dream content is created by commands sent from the brain that never got carried out. Dreaming is simply another form of thinking that happens while we sleep. It can call into question how much of this “unconscious material” is contained in dreams. When also fixated on dream analysis for too long, as with other kind of fixations, it can create worry or unnecessary stress into our daily waking lives.
But…Remember you’re the expert!
I see the primary goal of dream analysis as another tool to help address some problems we may currently be facing, or even to reveal what is going on in our lives. For example, the connection of nightmares and post-traumatic stress is also significant and is a point of treatment in going through a technique called image rehearsal therapy in rewriting the nightmare’s story. It may be relaying the bad dream, writing it down, and changing the content to something positive and mentally rehearsing this new dream script for a certain amount of time to decrease frequency and intensity of the nightmare. I believe our bodies can be wise in telling us what we need in the moment, in showing and revealing what we can handle and bear. If you’re interested in learning more of this in a safe space, give us a call and we’d love to go through this with you!
Written by therapist Tina Choi
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