How Can I Interpret My Own Dreams?

Five guidelines that are generally applicable to most of our dreams:

Dreams speak in metaphor. This means that the events taking place in a dream should not be interpreted as reality. Instead they offer sideways (and sometimes very obscure) reflections on something else that is happening in our lives and lifetimes. Somewhat like an idiom or a figure of speech would. “A penny for your thoughts” and “at the drop of a hat”, clearly do not mean that you will be paid when you speak out, nor that a hat is to be dropped before an action is to occur. 

Dream images work in the same way. A person dying, water rising, a wondrous sexual encounter, a baby being born – these are metaphoric enactments – they are not real. It is as if a short dramatised impersonation is taking place, where people and objects and activities are selected to represent themes from your life. Your very own home theater, so to speak.

Five basic guidelines:

  • Dreams exaggerate.  Wildly. Dreams are experienced as alarmingly real. Take these facts into consideration when you engage with a dream. You will need to take a little distance from the emotionality of it all. It all feels so very real. Remember: it is not.
  • Take note of the ways that you are behaving in your dreams. Most usually you will find that this is similar to how you respond in everyday life. Dreams are really useful in that they can help you to identify your own non-productive and self-limiting, and often habitual, responses to the challenges and opportunities that you face in real life. Dreams can be enormously helpful in this way. Take this as good advice, and to identify what would be better ways of responding in everyday life.
  • The event (the “drama”) in the dream. For example water rising: this is an image that typically comes up at times of rising sadness/depression/anxiety. It is the combination of water (tears, grief/strong emotions) plus the fear of ‘drowning’, and the danger of being overwhelmed by it all. It is a double or triple metaphor: Your own emotions rising, drowning (that is, not coping), and the fear of becoming overwhelmed. Note how I have taken the elements apart to make them work. If it happens in your own home, you can add a fourth possibility: that of your own home is being invaded – being ‘taken over’. A new baby being born often refers to the potential for new opportunity, new life, whereas death in a dream can refer to a big change (death of the existing/the old). Real death more often come in various disguises, from transformation to more ominous messages. 
  • Old injuries. Much like cold weather can activate old injuries, situations in the present can activate old wounds. Felt unloved as a child? Watch how a snub in your current life awakens old feelings. Watch out for these in your dreams. Many a nightmare can be defused by making the link between past and present.
  • Dreams comment on your present situation and offer better ways forward. This is the tricky part. What could/should I have done differently? What would be a solution to the problem in the dream? Driving too fast in a dream? Well, clearly in real life you have to slow down, to be more cautious.  If the solution does not represent something that you knew deep down anyway, I would recommend that you rather leave it.

Dreams repeat themes anyway. The danger of misinterpretation is real. Any solution that requires drastic change should evoke great caution. It is here where people forget that dreams exaggerate and that the dream stories are metaphorical. However, if you are able to bring a sane and rational mind to a dream, you will be able to pick up the life-giving advice that stand in opposition to a stubbornly persistent, habitual mind.

Do beware that there is no such thing as a complete dream dictionary. Your dream is tailor-made for you: You have to make that little bit of an effort to form your own associations to whatever is being presented. Look for the theme, and then unpack it bit by bit, until you understand what is being presented.

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