Dream A Little Dream (And Then Figure Out What It Means)

Dream interpretation is something I’ve been interested in since I was fifteen, when I went through a period when I suffered from fairly intense panic attacks and briefly ended up seeing a therapist who was very big on having me write down my dreams so that we could discuss them at the next session. But over time, I’ve realized that I’m less interested in literal interpretations of dream-symbols (losing your teeth means that you’re worried about your appearance; snakes mean that there’s a hidden threat in your life; spiders suggest that someone in your life is manipulating you) than in using these “classic” meanings as a jumping-off point, and then relying primarily on my feelings about the symbols that appear in my dreams to unravel what they’re actually trying to tell me.

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Step 1: Write It Down

Immediately. And don’t just stick to the basic storyline; make sure to include any emotions that you felt, strange details, and associations (no matter how seemingly unrelated) that you have with the things that you saw.

Step 2: Determine The “Classic” Meaning

This is where Google comes in handy: just settle on two or three of the most salient symbols or objects in your dream, and do a search to find out what they “usually” mean. This isn’t to say that this is what they’ll mean in your dream…but I find it’s almost always a helpful jumping-off point.

Take this dream I’ve been having lately: I’m in a house – sometimes a house I’m thinking of buying, sometimes a house that I don’t recognize but that is clearly where I live, sometimes our actual house – and at some point in the dream I discover an enormous room or set of rooms that I hadn’t known existed before. The rooms are always huge and have cool architectural details and are filled to overflowing with antique furniture, knickknacks, and boxes…but they’re also always dilapidated (ripped couches, broken mirrors, dusty tables), in need of serious TLC if they’re ever going to be useful.

The “classic” meaning of a dream about extra rooms in your house is usually about unlocking potential in previously untapped parts of your life: discovering new strengths and moving beyond what you thought were your limitations…but while that’s helpful to know, what’s even more helpful is to figure out what it means. To me.

Step 3: Figure Out How You Feel

Knowing what my dream is “about” is interesting (and, in this case, feels accurate), but even more important is to honestly assess the emotions associated with the dream. In my case, all those extra rooms made me feel simultaneously excited and anxious: I was thrilled to discover the extra space and felt like I’d won the lottery, but also frustrated that I hadn’t know about it before and overwhelmed by the work that it would take to make it usable. Applying those emotions to the dream’s “classic” meaning suggests that I have a desire to take on challenges that I previously thought were beyond my capabilities…and that I find the prospect both exciting and terrifying.

Step 4: Analyze What The Dream Is Trying To Tell You

Now comes the part where you can actually use your dreams to help you figure out what’s going on in your head…and maybe even to make changes in your life. My dream clearly suggests that I’m anxious about taking on new challenges…but even more salient than my anxiety was my excitement. I want to take them on. And beyond that, something else that I noticed in my dream was that I never questioned whether I could transform the rooms and make them my own…I was just going to do it. 

And that’s a pretty cool thing to know.

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