“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.” – Sigmund Freud
Dreams are just dreams, right?
Nope. At least not according to how I work as a psychotherapist.
While different schools of thought believe that dreams exist for varied reasons, I personally believe that dreams are portals and entryways to our psyches and that some of the richest, most valuable information we need about situations in our waking lives can be found by exploring the content of your dreams.
“Dreams may contain ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic vision, and heaven knows what besides.” – Carl Jung
But how do I remember my dreams? They always seem to slip away!
Dreams largely occur in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep (though they may occur in other stages as well), and it varies from person to person how vividly the dream is experienced and recalled.
Whether you’re an Olympic-level dreamer or someone who maybe recalls only one or two dreams a year, if you want to boost your odds of having and recalling vivid dreams, I have some tips to help you:
- To help set the stage for dreams, turn off screens an hour before bed, refrain from alcohol, and make sure your bedroom environment is comfortably cool, dark, and quiet. We’re setting the stage here for restful sleep with these bedtime-hygiene habits and increasing the odds of getting deep, restful sleep – the fertile ground for dream time.
- Set an intention with your unconscious. I know it sounds corny, but give it a shot: As you’re laying in bed at night, after the lights have been turned off and you’ve said goodnight to your honey, say silently to yourself something along the lines of: “Tonight I will experience a vivid dream about [insert situation in your life you would like more information about] and I’ll remember this dream when I wake up.” I believe strongly in the power of intentions whether awake or asleep and, in my own experience, asking my subconscious for a dream about XYZ has been powerful. Try it.
- Then, when you first wake up, stay in bed and try to mentally review the dream. Those first few hazy, sleepy moments are an important time for mentally reviewing and cementing the dream within your waking mind. I also highly encourage that my clients keep a journal or sticky note on the bedside table because even writing a word or two of the dream down like “Creepy Funhouse!” can help trigger fuller recall of the dream later (Note: Typing down a few words on your iPhone is fine, too, but don’t get sucked into social media or emails before typing. And try to avoid getting up to use the bathroom before you jot down the notes of your dream — dream recall seems to get flushed down the toilet along with everything else.).
By practicing these three habits we increase the possibility of getting good rest (and who doesn’t need that?) and improving our dream recall abilities.
And now for the fun part, dream analysis and unlocking the messages your psyche is sending you.
“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.” – The Talmud
Four tips and techniques to unlock your dreams’ messages.
There’s a wealth of ways you can begin to unlock the meaning of dreams and while preferred techniques vary widely, in the way I work as a psychotherapist, I personally don’t interpret my clients’ dreams.
My clients are the experts of themselves and I assist them in interpreting the meaning of their dreams using the following techniques (all of which you can use by yourself or with assistance):
1) All figures within the dream represent an aspect of the dreamer.
I believe that all figures — meaning, every element and aspect of the dream — represent an aspect of the dreamer, an aspect of your own psyche.
For example, if a young woman dreams of being in a car with her father angrily speeding down some random country road, the figures in this dream are the young woman, the father, the car, even the random country road.
In exploring the dream, I would invite the client to consider what her father represents to her, what a car represents to her, what she represents to herself, and even what the country road represents.
I would then invite her to imagine that all of the qualities of each figure in the dream are actually particular aspects of herself.
For instance, if the young woman says that her father represents someone strong, powerful, but also mean and unforgiving, I would invite her to consider that that figure making an appearance in her dream is the strong, powerful but mean and unforgiving aspect of herself.
So now her father in her dream is not really her father, but rather a part of her that is making an appearance and perhaps trying to tell us something.
Can you see how by using this technique of every figure representing an aspect of yourself, we’ve now opened up a whole different perspective to view and understand this dream from?
“A dream is a microscope through which we look at the hidden occurrences in our soul.” – Erich Fromm
2) What do the figures have to say?
Once we’ve identified all the figures in the dream and explored what each aspect means to the dreamer personally, we can now invite the figures to talk independently and sometimes even to each other.
This technique, in particular, helps up become aware of any disowned or unrecognized desires or concerns we might have that are possibly showing up in our dreams.
Using the above example, I would next invite the young woman to speak as that father figure aspect of herself using “I-statements”. Let’s imagine that in doing this the young woman says,
“It’s not safe. We need to get away. I have to help her [the dreamer]! We’re trapped and I’m trying to get away. I have to protect her!”
Whereas before using this dream analysis, the young woman thought that in the dream her literal father was trying to hurt her with his speeding, she perhaps now sees that the strong, mean, and unforgiving aspect of herself, when invited to speak, this part is actually trying to protect her.
Completely changes the dream meaning, doesn’t it?
Again, when we invite each of our dream figures to speak, we create the possibility for a totally different perspective of interpretation to show up.
“Dreams are faithful interpreters of our inclinations: but there is an art required to sort and understand them.” – Michel Eyquem Montaigne
3) Where was the hook of the dream pointing?
The hook of the dream is the final scene of the dream.
The dream hook is the last scene that plays out before we wake up and often it points to something our psyche wants us to pay attention to.
Let’s imagine that in this young woman’s dream, the hook – the final scene – was that she was yelling at her father and trying to wrestle the steering wheel away from him saying “Let me! I know where to go!”
In exploring the hook of her dream and in imagining that both she and her father represent different aspects of herself, the young woman concludes that in this final scene, these dual parts of her are in conflict – literally tugging the wheel of the car – competing about who can best steer her in the right direction in her life right now.
After identifying the hook, I would invite this particular dreamer to consider what conflict might be playing out in her real life and which part of her might need to “be in the driver’s seat” in solving the dilemma.
Is it ambivalence about her husband? A desire to quit her job? What is she conflicted about in her waking life and what can this dream tell us about how to address this conflict?
By utilizing the concept of the dream hook, we deepen our awareness around what our dream might be asking us to pay attention to and which part of us might need to be accessed in addressing the issue.
“Dreams say what they mean, but they don’t say it in daytime language.” – Gail Godwin
4) How did you feel when you woke up?
One of the final analysis techniques I use with clients in dream interpretation is to invite them to pay attention to how they felt when they woke up from the dream.
The feeling we have upon waking from dreams provides important clues that we want to explore.
For instance, while the content of the young woman’s dream might appear frightening — wrestling the wheel away from a driver in a speeding car — the dreamer might actually recall that when she woke up she actually felt quite calm and almost happy. In exploring what she was feeling and why she images that might have been so, the young woman concludes,
“Well, I actually felt really confident and empowered when I took back the wheel — I know I can drive myself to safety and I don’t need to speed or be super aggressive and unforgiving to get there — like how I’ve been lately making myself work 13 hour days to get this promotion. I guess I was happy I took back the wheel and maybe there’s another way to “drive”.”
Her feelings upon waking can yield information about what her psyche and soul thinks about the issue she’s discovered in her dream analysis.
Can you see how this technique might be helpful in finding different ways of dealing with the issues we face in our waking life, particularly when we’re feeling stuck?
“All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.” – Jack Kerouac
My Invitation For You.
Dreams are complex, rich, and fascinating psychological territory that can yield many insights and messages about issues we face in our everyday lives.
From relationships, careers, to the deepest desires of our soul – when we unlock and pay attention to our dreams’ messages, we can learn so much about ourselves.
I invite you to explore and play with the four dream analysis techniques I offered above and to see if these tools help unlock your own dreams’ messages about anything you may be facing in your own life.
And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Did you find this post helpful? Do dreams fascinate you? What are the ways you explore your own dreams and has this felt helpful and supportive to you in the past?
Leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond. And in the meantime, happy dreaming!
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.