By David Joel Miller
Ever wondered what you dream meant?
Many readers email me about what their dream may mean. They want answers and hope I can provide them. Dreams can provide useful information for your awake life. Over simplistic interpretations can be harmful. I have written previously about some common drug using dreams that clients have reported to me and what I and they thought these dreams meant.
Dreams about relationships and life events seem, to me, to be open to a lot more possible interpretations than the common drug use dreams I wrote about in those posts.
Dream interpretation used to get more attention.
First I will offer some thoughts on the topic of dream interpretation, then some suggestions for interpreting your particular dreams.
There was a time when interpreting dreams was a large part of what people in the psychology field did. The key concept in dream interpretation was the Freudian interpretation of mental processes and the role that was ascribed to the unconscious. Jung wrote about the collective unconscious and there are “depth” psychologists today that work in this area.
Interpreting dreams went out of fashion.
Somewhere along the line the study of normal psychology and the study of mental health and mental illness, sometimes called “abnormal psychology” were divorced.
Today the predominant model for treatment of mental illness or improving mental wellness is cognitive behavioral therapy. Rather than looking for answers to life problems in the place of an unknowable and uncontrollable unconscious most therapy and counseling looks at very visible processes like learning and cognitive distortions. The emphasis is on things you think and believe, that are unhelpful, not on things your unconscious mind is making you do.
Most of the cognitive interventions, like reframing and challenging faulty assumptions are relatively straightforward. Interpreting dreams is far more subjective and less certain. While interpreting dreams and exploring your unconscious can be personally rewarding it is not the sort of brief, medically necessary, intervention a lot of insurance companies will pay for.
Personally, I have some dreams. Some of those are a bit disturbing and others are happy memories, so yes I may look at them. I find I need to be careful in interpreting my dreams and feel you should be careful with anyone who offers you a quick interpretation of your dreams. Especially be suspicious of those popular books that list a whole lot of things and if you dream of a lake it means one thing and if you dream of a river it means something else.
One thing does not always have one definite meaning for everyone. I am told that Freud, that believer in all things sexual, once replied that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. He was, according to some reports, highly addicted to tobacco, so dreaming of cigars makes sense in a drug using context.
Dream meanings are very personal.
Your past life experiences, in real life and vicariously in movies and books can color your dreams. For example, back in High School, I raised some birds, Pigeons, and parakeets, if I dream about those birds it may have one meaning for me and quite another one for a person who was bitten by a bird and as a result is frightened of birds. The important thing is what does this dream mean to you?
Most of us have far more dreams than we remember. Even people who say they do not dream seem to enter dream states when hooked up to machines during sleep studies. Ever had a dream, awakened and ran for the bathroom and when you got back to bed could not remember that dream? The majority of us forget more dreams than we remember. Some people forget almost all of their dreams.
It is the very unusual or frightening dreams that get remembered. If you keep a pad by the bed and write the dream down upon awakening you will discover you are having and remembering a lot more dreams.
From a cognitive perspective, we think that during dreams memories are taken out, processed and then restored. There are opportunities for memories to undergo some alteration as in Lucid dreaming an intervention proposed to help with dreams that maintain PTSD symptoms.
Things that happen in dreams do not have to follow logic or even the laws of time and space. So you may, in your dream, step out a door and be in another country. So you saw something in your dream, someone did something or something happened to you or a person close to you what does that mean?
Dreams have layers of interpretation.
Recently I read a book on dream interpretation by Jeremy Taylor, Where water runs up hill; he suggests that dreams have many layers of meaning. So the dreams about the parakeets many just be about a fond memory of childhood but it might also have to do with existential things like living, having children and eventually dying, or it might have another meaning altogether.
What he suggests we should do is look at the dream, talk with others you trust about the dream and then look at possible interpretations. What do you think it means at a superficial level, what it could mean at a deeper level and so on. Some of these meanings will not make much sense and some will really speak to you.
So if you comment or use the “contact me” form, I can offer you a possible meaning to two for what you ask about, but I make no pretense that mine is the “correct” interpretation. If when someone tells you that your dream might mean a particular thing and you feel in your gut, your felt-sense, intuition, that this is correct, that meaning is probably part of your truth.
Hope this brief explanation of dreams from purely my perspective might be helpful.
Enjoy your dreams but seek help for disturbing nightmares.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books