What dreams mean?
An introduction to dreams:
What do dreams mean?
This question people have been asking for a long time. There is a good reason for this too – everyone dreams. Not everyone remembers their dreams, but everyone experiences them during a specific phase of our sleep. That includes you! Dreams seem to be very common, but not as well understood.
Many people experience surreal imagery and plots. Others find their dreams to be full of familiar material and daily worries. Some people find that their dreams are linked to their anxieties and fears. Other claim that they go beyond the everyday mind and to other places that transcend the locale of the body. Some claim experiencing past lives and others future events. The dream world is infinite.
However, what do dreams mean? What is their purpose?
Let’s start with the most basic question: what is a dream?
What Dreams Mean: Defining a dream
What is a dream? It is a universal human experience. It refers to a specific state of consciousness where the person is asleep, but they still have sensory, cognitive, emotional and other experiences. The person dreaming has little control over what they see in dreams (unless they are practiced in lucid dreaming- I provide a link to my lucid dreaming article at the end of this one).
Dreams are usually life-like experiences in certain respects, although they often incorporate bizarre, vivid twists, turns and interesting visuals. They are not constrained by reality. And dreams can have themes, ideas, symbols, and so on.
A subset of dreams are nightmares. Nightmares may occur especially when the person is distressed or after traumatic experiences. Children and adults can have nightmares. Some people even have disorders related to nightmares.
Dreams occur in stage 5 of sleep: the REM stage. At this stage, the eyes begin moving rapidly, breathing becomes faster, and the muscles are temporarily paralyzed. REM is the stage associated with dreaming. This is a deep replenishing stage of sleep.
What Dreams Mean: What purpose do dreams serve?
In order to understand the meaning of dreams and answer the question of what dreams mean, it’s important to start with the possible purposes they might serve. Incredibly, despite all the research done on this state of consciousness, we still don’t have a clear answer.
There is no universal explanation, but there are several theories. Science has limits. Logic has its limits as well. Dreams dwell mainly in the realm of imagination. There are no limits to the imagination. Therefore, they are not bound by the “rules” of logic. Anything can happen.
There are some main theories that have been proposed by traditional science and beyond.
The first theory comes from many ancient traditions: dreams are signs from above, they are messages from the spirits, or they are portents of the future. This is a view that does not have much scientific evidence, but it is popular enough.
Even people who are not superstitious may have dreams that seem to predict the future or can be interpreted like that. Just because there is not scientific evidence for it does not mean it is not possible. Science has its limits and is not always the correct tool to apply.
What Dreams Mean: Purpose continued
More modern theories also believe dreams are important and have meaning. One of these theories is psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis believes that dreams are a gateway to our unconscious mind and that they represent wishes, needs, and desires.
Psychoanalysts also believe that dreams can represent a way for us to blow off some steam by playing inner conflicts safely in our imagination. According to this theory, the meaning of dreams is associated with our unconscious and can tell us a lot about ourselves.
Under this paradigm, dreams can serve as representations of inner conflicts and desires that may be unconscious. These may be ideas that we do not accept when we are awake. Dreams also work as a type of therapy, helping us blow off steam and work through our issues.
Another theory about dreams is associated with memory. We know that regardless of what dreams mean, they are associated with memories. So, one of the ideas behind dreams is that they work as a mechanism for the brain to interpret and consolidate everything that we learned during the day.
When asking myself what dreams mean I would say all of the above and more.
What Dreams Mean: What research says?
What do dreams mean according to research? The religious/spiritual theory of dreams and the psychoanalytical theory of dreams have not been studied significantly because of their characteristics. However, other theories do have support.
In terms of memory, research supports the idea that dreams contribute to memory reprocessing. Dreams can help consolidate learning and create long-term memories.
Daydreaming and dreams seem to activate similar mechanisms in the brain, so dreaming may be a way to simulate real experience. They often reflect “real” situations, even if they are not always realistic. A reinterpretation and re-juggling of vasts amounts of information and experiences occurs.
Dreams are a unique psychological space. Whether they have a deeper meaning or not (I believe some of them do), it seems that they help psychological balance as well as physiological balance.
While we can roughly understand what is a dream, there is still a lot of things about them we don’t know.
What Dreams Mean: Interpreting dreams
Rather than asking what dreams mean in general, many people want to know “what do my dreams mean?” This is a question many people ask. While there is no answer, going by psychoanalytic and other theories, it is possible to suggest that dreams can be interpreted to understand our psyche better and to find the conflicts that are currently unresolved.
While it’s not yet clear whether dreams truly reflect our unconscious (I would say in part it seems like they do), we can still use them to get to know ourselves better. Even if our dreams don’t reflect much beyond what we interpret, they can be a good way to start a journey of introspection.
There are many common symbols that appear in dreams. They might help you realize an inner conflict or a desire. It could reflect your anxiety about something or your desire to escape or ignore some aspect of your life.
A dream that features you getting lost can reflect something similar in your daily life. Another one is about being nude in front of a crowd. This can mean you feel embarrassed or ashamed about something or perhaps are hiding something and fear exposure
Overall, when you are wondering “what do my dreams mean”, you shouldn’t try to find a generalized guide. To discover something new and useful, consider what do you feel that dream means for you. What dreams mean in general may not be as significant as what your dreams mean to you. Here is why….
What Dreams Mean: Individualized meaning is Key
You will often find stock answers for what dream symbols mean….i.e. a house means this, a snake means that, dreaming about swimming or the beach means this etc…..
However, the most important question is what does it mean to you? You set the meaning, not the symbols, the symbols do not have inherent meaning….that is to say that while there are some universal symbols (check out my article about archetypes here) that sometimes lead to the same or similar attached meanings most meaning is extremely personal. The object or symbol itself does not have some innate meaning. You set the meaning through your experiences in life, personality etc…. You are the one who attaches the meaning. It comes internally from your mind. You are an inventor, inventing meaning.
What Dreams Mean: Individualized meaning example
For example let’s say you have 2 people and each one dreams about swimming. Person 1 spent wonderful family trips his whole life at the beach swimming. He met his first love while swimming in the ocean. Etc…..
Person 2 had a horrible upbringing. As part of daily punishment a horrific father would almost drown person 2 in a pond on their property. This rotten father would laugh and ridicule person 2 as person 2 almost drowned. Person 2 (as an adult now) never got over this. He avoids swimming at all costs. Hates the beach, pools, lakes etc…
Now this is why we can’t say dreaming about swimming means X……because that is just way too simplistic. So here, if person 1 dreams about swimming it has an entirely different meaning than if person 2 dreams about swimming. Swimming in and of itself means nothing. Meaning comes from the mind.
One of the main things to look for to help you know what dreams mean is pay attention to the feeling in the dream. What was your emotion in relation to the various symbols you encountered? Keep a pen and paper by your bed and if you wake from the dream record the emotions and dream symbols right away. For more on remembering dreams check out my article “What is Lucid Dreaming (And How to Do It!)”
Also, for more on dream meaning check out my YouTube video What does your dream mean, Meaning of dreams and Dream interpretation
What Dreams Mean: Infinite possibilities
Dreams are a universal experience. Even if people don’t remember dreaming, it happens every night during REM sleep. Despite this being something we all share, it’s also one of the biggest enigmas of our psyche.
What do dreams mean? Nobody knows 100%, and that’s the short answer. There is still a lot of mystery.
The long answer is that dreams may mean different things. Research is studying dreams, but so far only a few things have become clear. Research can only go so far when we are talking about the subjective and non-physical.
On a surface level dreams seem to play an important role in the creation of long-term memories. They appear to help us consolidate our experiences into memories we will be able to remember later.
However, there are different theories about dreams. Some propose that dreams are signs of things to come or messages from the spirits or deities. This religious or esoteric interpretation is popular with many people. Many esoteric and spiritual perspectives believe out of body experiences are common during dreams. Some practice out of body navigation through lucid dreaming techniques.
Another interpretation is through psychoanalytic theory. Dreams may reflect our unconscious mind, our unresolved inner conflicts, and deep desires. Going by this theory, you may find that dreams can have information about your psyche. When interpreting your dreams, focus on your personal meanings and symbols rather than on generalized ideas about what this or that thing might mean.
Dreams can help you by bringing unconscious material to your conscious awareness. In order to do something about an issue you must first be aware of it. Once you are aware it is as if a light has gone off in a once dark room. Except you didn’t even know the room was dark.
Dream meaning is very personal. Canned answers as far as what dream mean are mostly BS.
Pay attention to your emotions in dreams. If you want to go further and even enrich your waking life you can practice lucid dreaming. Infinite adventure awaits and is only a pillow away!