Dream Interpretation 101

A dream is a message from the universe tailored for you alone, which is why “dream dictionaries” supposedly able to interpret every dream don’t seem to explain your dreams very well.

Not every dream can be explained, or correctly explained. But a few things are always true of dreams:

  • They’re symbolic, not literal.
  • They know everything about you, including all your thoughts and feelings, and knowledge you keep hidden or repressed.
  • Certain dream symbols have special meaning for you they would not have for anyone else. In my dreams, apartments symbolize freedom. In other people’s dreams, apartments symbolize isolation.
  • People in your dreams can be substitutes for people in your life.
  • Dreams use plays on words, such as puns and homonyms.

Most every source will tell you, correctly, that dreams are symbolic rather than prophetic. They are about your present rather than your future. Dream symbolism is unique to you. In various dream dictionaries, under “apartments” are dozens of contradictory interpretations. None have any basis in “ancient wisdom” because in ancient times, apartments as we know them did not exist. So put the book away and think of what apartments mean to you and how they make you feel.

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

The way dreams play with words and names, which “dream dictionaries” don’t account for, was discovered by Dr. Sigmund Freud. He used real-life examples in his book The Interpretation of Dreams. In one case, a French patient who drank too much told Freud that he dreamed that his alcoholic father came back from the dead and handed him six roses. Freud said, “Six roses? Or cirrhosis?”

You are the best interpreter of your own dreams. Even very serious or scary dreams play with words and names in ways that we don’t in waking life. Here are some examples:

The Cheating Dream

In waking life, Carol has a steady boyfriend, Scott, and isn’t interested in anyone else. In her dream she is back in high school, making out with a classmate also named Scott, a boy who in real life never attracted her. Carol’s dream is very vivid and when she wakes she feels as if she has cheated on her boyfriend.

Interpretation: This dream isn’t about cheating. Scott in the dream is only a substitute for the real Scott.

The Argument Dream

In waking life, Courtney is just about fed up with Zach, who’s been pulling away from their relationship. She keeps a private mental list of the times she has felt Zach hurt or failed her. In Courtney’s dream she and Zach are artists and comparing designs they have made on matchbooks. Zach accuses Courtney of copying his designs and threatens to sue her. Courtney is stunned and defends herself. She wakes feeling terrible.

Interpretation: Courtney’s view is that the couple’s differences are small and common things of little value, represented by the matchbooks. Because a serious argument erupts over these “matchbooks,” something is basically wrong with their “match.” Deep down Courtney knows she and Zach are not a true match. She also knows that Zach is readier than she is to break off their relationship.

The Pun Dream

In waking life, Vicky’s romantic interest quit answering her emails and texts. Vicky’s sadness over this has turned to hate. She dreams she is traveling alone and decides to stay overnight in a hostel with bunk beds and room on the floor for sleeping bags. She leaves her backpack on a bunk and goes out for a while. When she returns, someone has claimed that bed and moved her backpack onto another. Vicki says nothing and sets her backpack on yet another bed and leaves again. She returns to find all the bunks occupied and her backpack on the floor next to people sleeping. She could sleep on the floor, but decides to find somewhere else to stay.

Interpretation: “Hostel” is a homonym for “hostile.” Vicky’s dream is telling her she shouldn’t stay, emotionally, in a “hostile” space, but should move on.

The “Imaginary Town” Dream

Aisha moves from city to city because of her job, but wishes she could finally settle down somewhere nice and make friends. She dreamed that she was planning a move to Toomey, Maryland. When she woke she googled “Toomey, Maryland,” and found there is no such place.

Interpretation: Aisha’s dream was about her hope that she’d settle down in a place both happy and fun: “To me, merry land.”


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