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Dream interpretation is both a talent and a skill. Strong intuition is helpful, but anyone can learn the simple rules of dream interpretation.

  • 1. Dreams are about the dreamer.  It does not matter if one sees one's best friend laughing or sees one's grandmother flying: the dream is not about them. It is about the dreamer.
  • 2. Dreams communicate through symbols. The people and places, objects and actions within a dream almost always represent something other than what they seem to be.
  • 3. Dreams are not limited by logic, time or space. The framework of reality has no relevance in the world of dreams.


Deadly Wedding?

Jennie wrote to me about a recurring dream that threatened to upset all the plans for her upcoming wedding.
Although each dream begins happily, with her sitting on the front steps of a church watching children playing in a garden, the pretty scene quickly turnss nightmarish as a beautiful little girl with a basket of flowers runs toward the church steps. Suddenly the flower petals in the girl's basket turn into flames, the child's pink dress catches fire, and the little girl dies at Jennie's feet. Jennie wrote, "Is this a warning about my wedding? Will something awful happen to my little niece who is going to be my flower girl? Should I cancel the wedding? Please help!"

Interpreting the Language

It's not surprising that Jennie was upset. She went on to describe the flame-red flowers she had chosen to decorate the church and the pink dress her niece was to wear - exactly like the fiery petals and burning dress from her dream.

I was able to assure Jennie that her dream had nothing to do with impending disaster. Rather, the dream was telling Jennie something important about herself and her own feelings about becoming a bride. In the language of dreams, other people very often represent different aspects of the dreamer's personality. In this dream, the little flower girl represented Jennie herself as a child. Her dream used the common expression "approach the altar" in a literal sense, showing the little girl approaching the church steps. Another common expression, "flames of passion" became literal flames of fire. The image of the little girl catching fire as she approached the church was Jennie's subconscious mind showing her a picture of her own childhood coming to an end as she approached marriage. Because she had come from a conservative religious upbringing, she already was anxious about the sexual intimacy in her new role as a bride.  The burning flowers revealed her fear that she might "burn up" with passion, and that in losing what she thought of as her innocence, she would lose herself.

As Jennie began to understand the message of her frightening dream, she actually started to laugh at her own fears. She admitted that some older women from the church had been sharing terrible experiences of their long-ago wedding nights, and Jennie saw how those foolish stories had crept into her thoughts. We agreed that it might be good to change the color of the "flaming red" flowers, and to choose a different dress for the flower girl, just to prevent images from the dream from intruding on her special day. 

More about nightmares...

Let me interpret your nightmare for you.


Symbols About the Self

In dreams, what is seen represents something hidden.  The first and most important thing to understand about dreams is that the people, creatures, objects and activities in dreams each point toward something beyond themselves.

Dreams are about the person having the dream. That is the second important clue to understanding dreams. The dream is almost always about the dreamer, with very few exceptions. Images and actions in the dream represent the dreamer's self, the dreamer's emotions and relationships. Dreams can highlight problems or issues in the dreamer's working life, family life or any other aspect of  the dreamer's life. In many cases, a shadowy or scary stranger turns out to be an informative look into a mirror. [More about strangers... ]

Carly had a dream in which she was walking alone through a beautiful but stifling desert. Far ahead she could see green trees and a beautiful rainbow, and she thought that if she just kept going, soon she would be sitting in the shade enjoying the cool rain shower. But she never seemed to get there. I helped Carly see that the desert represented her job where she was constantly occupied with mind-numbing meaningless busy-work. Her boss kept promising that she would soon get better assignments, but it never seemed to happen. After thinking about her dream, Carly left that job and went back to business school, hoping to improve her options.

Confused? That's not unusual. I can explain in more detail just for you, right here:  Tell me your dream


Your Own Unique Symbols

Dreams speak in symbols, and each dreamer's symbols are unique.  Rob dreamed that he was coerced into having his hair cut, and as it was cut, his hair started bleeding.  I asked him what his hair might symbolize in his real life. We talked about hair being an important part of everyone's appearance. We care about how other people see our hair. I suggested that in real life there was something that effected the way people viewed Rob that had been "cut off" or abruptly ended. Rob admitted that he had been laid off from his job, when the corporation made an unannounced series of job cuts.

The second element in the dream was the bleeding, which represents an injury or serious loss that becomes more serious the longer it continues. Losing a job could be compared with bleeding, because the longer one is out of work, the more serious one's situation becomes. Put together, the entire dream of a bleeding haircut makes a pretty good metaphor for being fired from a job.

When interpreting your own dream, remember that your dream is specific to you. If you were to dream about a bleeding  haircut, it might not refer to job loss but to something in your life that would cause a similar impact. You would need to figure out what it means to you to be "cut off" in such a way that the loss continues and becomes increasingly serious.

Have a bloody dream of your own? I can help you understand it.


[photo credit: Celeb
via Pixdaus.]

Representing Relationships

Jennifer's excitement came clearly through her email message to me. "I dreamed that my husband and I were watching television and I looked over at him and there was this enormous rhinoceros  sitting on his chest! I jumped up and tried to shove the thing off him, but I couldn't make it budge! I even stood up on the back of the couch to try to push the thing off, and I remember it was all bristly and my hands were getting scraped, and I was afraid it was going to gore me with its horn! But my husband was acting like nothing was wrong, and even asked me to go get him a beer! What in the world is that about? Please help me, I'm so worried about my husband!"

Jennifer's dream sounds remarkably like a phrase used by therapists, "the elephant in the living room," with a rhino sitting in for the elephant. The expression refers to a major problem that disrupts the life of a family or group, yet is ignored and never spoken of.

My first question was whether Jennifer's husband had an addiction. After a few uncomfortable moments, she admitted that he liked his beer a bit more than he should, and he smoked not one but two packs of cigarettes every day. The cost of his habits prevented them from getting ahead financially, but Jennifer was much more concerned about her husband's health.

As we exchanged emails, it became clear that Jennifer's husband thought their only problem was Jennifer's nagging about his habits; as far as he was concerned, his lifestyle was just fine. So there was the interpretation of the dream. The rhino was the husband's dual addiction to alcohol and tobacco.  The dream brought to her awareness what she already knew but had so far refused to admit. As long as her husband remained in denial, there was nothing Jennifer could do. She could no more solve his problem than she could shove the rhinoceros off his chest.

It is not unusual for the subconscious mind to use dreams to draw attention to problems we would rather ignore.  But suppose instead of dreaming of a rhino sitting on her husband's chest, Jennifer had dreamed of the rhino sitting on her coffee table, with no one else in the room. That might be a symbol of some issue of her own that she refused to recognize. If the rhino had been in the bedroom, wearing a pink negligee, it might represent a sexual issue. If Jennifer had dreamed that she found a rhino inside her refrigerator, that would be a pretty strong clue that she had issues with food.

Relationships can be complicated, and every couple is unique. But dreams can reveal surprising insights.

 Let's see what we discover:
tell me your dream.


Many Faces, One Self

"I would never, ever hurt anyone," Barbara wrote to my email, "so why would I dream that I killed somebody?" In Barbara's nightmare, she was caught in a bitter fight with a much younger woman. She said that she had never felt the sort of rage that overwhelmed her in the dream, where she watched in horror as she picked up a big pan - a turkey roaster, in fact - and hit the younger woman over the head. Suddenly she was holding the dying woman in her arms while other women stood around accusing her. She remembers someone saying, "Why did you kill her? She loved you so much." Barbara tried to revive the woman with mouth-to-mouth respiration, but as her lips touched the young woman, her mouth opened wide and she felt as if she had swallowed the younger woman whole.  "It was the worst nightmare I've ever had. Please, please tell me what it means!"

Without going into the long discussion we had via email, Barbara's dream was about a conflict within herself. One part of her mind still felt like a young woman, while another part of her self resented everything that her younger self represented. The turkey roaster turned out to be a symbol of family holidays, the only time turkeys were cooked in their family. As a young wife, Barbara had been treated very badly by her husband's family. She realized that even though a family union was approaching, she had refused to go through family photo albums or talk about old times. The dream was showing her what her attitude really was, and that in the end, that young woman was still a part of herself.

It is helpful to understand that all of us have many sides or aspects of the Self that make up a single person. It is like a precious jewel that has many facets reflecting light in different ways, or like a flower that has many petals that point in different directions. Some of the parts of the Self include the Inner Child, who is adventurous and curious and wants to try new things, yet who is also weak and vulnerable.  Another part of the Self is the Adult or Parent who is careful, protective and wants to be safe by following all the rules. The Rebellious Self can team up with the Inner Child in wanting to break the rules and find out whether skydiving is dangerous or not! Guys have a Feminine Self who might long to hold a baby while girls have a Masculine Self who might want to be a warrior at times.

In dreams, these different aspects of the Self appear as different persons. In Barbara's dream, the young woman was her Self in the early, unhappy days of her marriage, while the other women were aspects of her Critical Parent.

Do you dream about your relationships?You can have a personal interpretation.


Photo: Abundantia via Pixdaus

Universal Images

While the images seen in dreams have unique meaning to each dreamer, there are certain images that have significance beyond the individual.

Josh described his dream as a nightmare about a girl under water. "I was in a forest someplace and had to cross this creek. I made it most of the way by jumping from one stone to the next, but when I got close to the opposite side, I wasn't certain I could make the jump. I threw my jacket, shirt and backpack onto the bank, then realized I was wearing some kind of red belt or sash, and the ends hung down to my knees. I took it off to toss it onto the bank with the rest of my stuff when something grabbed it. I looked down, and there was this weird girl under the water. She was really white, like maybe she was dead or frozen or something, and she had this long weird black hair streaming out in the water all around her. She was reaching up and grabbing this red belt I had, and I was terrified. Her eyes were huge and blank, and I felt like she was going to drag me under the water. I woke up screaming. "

The girl in Josh's dream is an ancient, powerful symbol. She is not only the girl in the water but the Lady in the Lake. She appears in the Arthurian Legends and Norse Mythology and more recently in the Harrison Ford film "What Lies Beneath," and M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water." Water itself is a feminine symbol, life-giving yet destructive when out of control. The Lady in the Water is both mother and temptress, lover and destroyer, utterly beyond the control of men.  In Josh's dream she probably represents his feminine self, those tender, nurturing impulses that manly men fiercely deny. The red sash represents control, and his terror that he might lose control to the wild woman is both understandable and universal among men.

What do the symbols in your dreams represent? We can consider them privately:  tell me your dream.


The Naked Dream or "Just Being Human"

"Has anyone else ever dreamed they were naked in public?" Lena asked me via email. "I used to dream I had to give a report in class and was standing in the front when everyone started laughing, and I realized my skirt was so short that everything was showing! Recently the same dream is happening again, only now I'm singing a solo in church, and when I step out of the choir I'm only wearing the choir stole without a robe or anything else! Then I wake up feeling awful. Why is this happening to me?"

The email request was full of anguish, and yet it was so typical that I couldn't help smiling. The Naked Dream has probably been tormenting people since we first understood the meaning of "naked." The feelings are real, even if the scenario is not.

The Naked Dream provides an excellent example of how the subconscious mind takes a figure of speech and presents it literally. "His crime was uncovered," we say when someone's evil deeds are discovered. Even the words discovered  (dis-covered,) disclosure (dis-closed) and exposed are rooted in the idea of seeing what was hidden. Exposure means vulnerability, humiliation and shame.

There are other dreams that, like The Naked Dream, are so common that they seem to define what it means to be human. One is "Falling." Sleep researchers now think that Falling is related to the physical process of falling asleep. Again, the subconscious mind gets overly dramatic by taking the idea of "falling asleep" literally.

"My House" has countless dream expressions, but always involves being in a house you recognize as your own home, although in retrospect it may not have looked anything like your real house. In the dream you wander from room to room, sometimes discovering a room or suite or an entire floor you never knew was there.  My House seems to be the subconscious mind's way of representing the dreamer's life, with each room symbolizing some aspect of life, such as family or interests or education. Lower floors represent the past or more physical concerns while upper floors represent intellectual or spiritual things.

Yet another universal dream, similar to The Naked Dream without the shame, might be called "The Forgotten Assignment." Often in a school setting, the dreamer suddenly remembers a report due within hours or an exam that very day, or perhaps even an entire course in which one forgot to attend lectures and now must present the final paper. In other settings, The Forgotten Assignment might involve a presentation, recital, final accounting or a formal dinner for guests due to arrive in minutes. Like The Naked Dream, one's inadequacy is exposed, but in The Forgotten Assignment, doom lies in the immediate future.

When The Naked Dream flashes into your sleep, look for  vulnerability in your life. Is it time for the annual personnel review at work? Are exams approaching?  Or perhaps Aunt Fussy is coming for a visit with her white gloves and nosy questions? Once you identify the source, the best response is to admit that you are, after all, only human. Then do your best to drop any false pretenses. If nothing else helps, just remember that underneath all our jeans and t-shirts, suits and spandex, we are all completely naked.

How many times have you found yourself in The Naked Dream? Or Falling or trying to Find the Classroom? Tell me your dream.