DREAMS can be baffling and mysterious. Throughout history dreams have been associated with sacred revelation and prophecy. And it was a dream, so the story goes, that revealed to a scientist the molecular structure of carbon atoms in the benzene ring. And so, just as we can wonder what a particular dream means to the dreamer, we can argue about what causes dreams in the first place.
You don’t have to interpret your dreams in order to solve your problems.But just as there is the saying that “Death cures cigarette smoking,” you might find that listening to your dreams may help you solve your problems before you run out of time. Similarly, although dream analysis does not necessarily have to be a part of psychotherapy, your psychotherapy will be enhanced if you make the effort to interpret your dreams in the psychotherapy.
Dreams are always “true”—it’s just that what they mean isn’t always what we think they mean. Sometimes a dream gives a warning of danger, but if you pay attention to the dream and change your ways the danger won’t necessarily happen. And most often a dream’s meaning will be metaphorical, not literal. For example, a woman may dream that her husband is having a sexual affair, but it would be a mistake to conclude that her husband is really having an affair. The dream is simply providing the woman graphic evidence that she somehow feelsbetrayed by her husband. Once she acknowledges that feeling, she can then start examining her life consciously—and honestly—to find outwhy she feels betrayed and what she needs to do about it.
Dreams often mean the opposite of what they seem to mean. The technical, psychoanalytic explanation for this is complicated, but it has to do with the fact that we often see our own desires as they are reflected (and mirror-reversed) through others. For example, if you dream that you’re embarrassed for being in public without clothes, it likely means that you have a deep unconscious need for some hidden aspect of your being to be shown to others in its “naked truth.”
Images of sexuality are rarely, if ever, expressions of “love.” To the body, sexuality is simply an aspect of the biological process of reproduction and therefore has nothing to do with what we commonly call love. Therefore, in the unconscious—the origin of all dreams—sexual images and feelings have nothing to do with real love; instead they signify a narcissistic need to be seen or to be noticed as a way to compensate for a deep fear of being abandoned or ignored.
“But I don’t dream,” you might say. Well, that’s not exactly true. Scientific studies have shown that everyone ever studied dreams, and so it’s generally accepted that everyone dreams.
Sleep studies have shown that we go through several cycles of light to very deep sleep each night. One phase of each cycle is called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Whenever a researcher woke up a sleeper in REM sleep and asked what was happening, the sleeper always said, “I was dreaming.” In fact, even animals experience REM sleep, so we surmise that they, too, dream—but we cannot communicate with them to find out anything about the nature of their dreams.
It’s easy to forget your dreams. In order to interpret your dreams you have to remember them, so forgetting them is a real problem. In fact, those who chronically forget their dreams tend to claim that they don’t dream. Dreams are remembered only if you wake up during, or just at the end of, a dream. But if you just turn over and fall asleep again, you’re not likely to remember a thing in the morning. So to remember a dream you have to write it down as soon as you wake up from it. It helps to keep a note pad and a pen by your bed—and tell yourself, before you fall asleep, that you want to write down any dreams you can remember that night.
We have several dreams each night. Because we go through several cycles of REM sleep each night, we have many dreams each night, and at times you may be able to remember several of them each night. Sometimes, in the morning, as you review your notes of a dream from the previous night, you might remember other dreams that happened before or after the dream you transcribed.
Don’t worry about being unable to remember a seemingly important dream. If it’s really important the message will eventually get communicated in other ways or in other dreams.
Not every psychotherapist is skilled at, let alone trained in, dream interpretation.
Freud, with good sense, suggested that, in order to work properly with the unconscious, a psychotherapist should be well-educated in literature, history, art, music, and religion, besides having specific psychological training. You have a right to ask about your psychotherapist’s training and education. If your psychotherapist is interested only in TV sit-coms, well, good luck.
All dreams essentially tell us one important thing: “Wake up!”
That is, just as you must wake up from a dream to remember it, the dream itself is telling you to “wake up” to the truth that you try to hide from others—and from yourself.
Repetitive dreams indicate that you are continuing to miss the point about the meaning of the dream.
If you don’t “wake up” to the unconscious meaning of the dream but instead persist in seeing it through your own wish-fulfillment needs, you will remain stuck in your own self-deception.
Sigmund Freud once called dreams the “royal road to . . . the unconscious,”……..