Learning how to analyze your dreams can give you insights into thoughts, feelings, and desires that you may be too busy, or unwilling to acknowledge during waking hours. Furthermore, our subconscious is at play in dreams, influencing what shows up in them. By paying attention to our dreams we can tap into the insights of our subconscious.
We may gain insights into our personal relationships, from coworkers to family and friends. Or we may gain guidance and clues about the path we should take or something that needs attention in our lives. Dreams can be an important tool for self-discovery and growth.
Why do we dream?
Dreams are thought to be a way for our brains to process information and sort through memories of the day, a type of mental housekeeping that allows us to function better during the next day. Our brains may also be trying to help us solve the problems of our day by pulling in our subconscious when we dream.
Many people say they don’t dream, but studies indicate that we all do dream — we just forget them when we wake up. There have been many studies where supposed non-dreamers were awakened from REM sleep and were able to recall dream fragments.
How to Remember Your Dreams?
You can’t learn how to analyze your dreams if you can’t remember them. And it is very difficult to remember your dreams once your conscious mind kicks into gear and fills your mind with the activities and needs of the day.
So it’s important to write your dreams down immediately when you wake up. I keep a dream journal by my bed to use, but any notebook will do. You want to record the who-what-when-where-and how of the dream immediately:
- who was in it
- what happened
- when did it happen (past, present, or future)
- where did it happen
- how did you feel
Then try to draw or sketch out anything that seems important, the layout of your dream, any symbols, anything that is still vivid in your mind. Once you have the details recorded, you can begin looking for connections and interpretations.
How to Analyze Your Dreams
There are two main strategies for interpreting and analyzing your dreams.
One strategy holds that dream themes and symbols are universal. That if someone dreams about a cat, the cat means the same thing regardless of who is dreaming about it. If this sounds like you, then you will enjoy books about dream interpretations like this one.
The second strategy holds that dream themes and symbols are specific, that is, unique to the viewer. The cat in two people’s dreams will represent something different to each dreamer.
I don’t use dream dictionaries because while I believe some themes are universal, I think most of them are more contextual and personal, as are almost all symbols.
For example, some universal themes might be falling, flying, or being chased. Dreams of falling may represent a lack of control or being in free fall in some area of your life. Dreams of flying may represent a desire for freedom, liberation, or escape. And dreams of being chased might represent a feeling of being helpless or threatened.
For most of my childhood and adolescence, I had vivid dreams of being chased. Looking back, this makes sense, because I felt a lot of anxiety and was under a lot of stress. I rarely dream of being chased nowadays, but when I do, I consider it a signal. Sometimes anxiety can build slowly, like the proverbial frog being clueless he is being cooked when the temperature increases very slowly. So for me, a dream of being chased is an early warning system that something in my life needs my attention.
I believe most dream symbols, however, vary depending on culture, personal beliefs, and experiences. I think experiences are especially salient when your unconscious mind uses symbols.
For example, a dream about an ocean might mean something different to someone who is looking forward to a beach vacation, versus someone who just lived through a tsunami.
So if you want to learn how to analyze your dreams, the most important thing to consider is your personal context. Dreams often reflect pieces or fragments of what is going on in our lives. And a second very important consideration is the emotion within your dream. What were you feeling? Fear, happiness, anger, etc.?
Sample Dream Interpretation
A few years ago I had a dream about my older college-aged son, who has autism. He was in the back seat of our car, I was driving, and we were lost in a storm on the top of a mountain. I stopped the car and got out, maybe to ask for directions, and when I looked back, the car had started to roll down the mountain.
And I was terrified about what would happen to my son, screaming at the top of my lungs, “Take the wheel! Take the wheel!!” And the car rolled out of view and I started running after it to see if he had taken the wheel.
So at face value, this might appear to be a dream about me being concerned about my son’s driving skills. However, in the context of real life, I’m not actually very concerned about that. He is a very conscientious and careful driver.
But what if the storm and mountain represented life? And the car represented my son’s life? A car I had been driving? And then I got out and wanted HIM to drive? And the disappearing car could have represented the unknown future?
The meaning of my dream is now pretty clear. I was worried about my son moving forward, having agency in life when I wasn’t around. And that gave me information about something that needed to be a priority — shifting control of his life from me to him. So over the next couple of years I made a concerted effort to do that, to hand over the reins, only assisting when he asked me for help.
The interesting thing about this dream however, is that during the day I wasn’t actually thinking or worrying about my older son, I was super busy with photography clients and school activities for my younger son. My subconscious, however, moved this concern to the forefront of my awareness.
If you would like to start understanding your dreams more, try keeping a dream diary. Dream diaries are especially helpful over time, as some themes and symbols are likely to recur. You’ll want to look for associations and connections between your dream and real life, especially where there is emotional synchronicity between the feelings in your dream and something you’re feeling in real life.
Learning how to analyze your dreams allows you to be a gleaner of your subconscious, gathering dream fragments together and discovering patterns over time that may help you understand yourself better and empower you to make more meaningful decisions in your life.