In 1900, Sigmund Freud taught the world that dreams were not insignificant and ephemeral mental by-products, but rather, important means of discovering what lay beneath the surface of a person’s conscious life. He also demonstrated that there was an organized approach to interpreting dreams that best illuminated their hidden meanings.
After Freud, generations of psychoanalysts utilized and refined his theories, developing ever more sophisticated and alternative versions of Freud’s approaches. My understanding of dream interpretation is one of those alternative approaches.
It’s really very simple, at least in theory. In order to understand your dreams, you need only to grasp two essential aspects.
The first important factor of any dream is its emotional theme(s). As the dream-story unfolds, are you hurt, angry, sad, excited, confused, scared, ashamed, guilty, sorry, panicked, delighted, or depressed? Do you want to run, fight, hide, scream, escape, embrace, or attack? Are the feelings intense, the images vivid, or are they faint and hard to get hold of? Is it a story about love, hate, death, birth, fighting, or freezing? Are the images warm, hot, or cold? Are they of explosions and destruction? Sexuality? Love and connection? Obstacles to overcome? The emotional tone forms the center of the dream’s narrative, and it tells an important story about your life in the present.
And the future. Generally speaking, dreams are about hopes and fears about pressing issues, which leads to the second important factor in dream interpretation: the life context. Does the dream refer to a work situation, a relationship problem, or a personal striving? Is it connected to your significant other, your boss, your parent, or your child? What specific area of your life is open to hopes and dreads right now? What is pressing and unresolved? By connecting the life context/issue with the emotional theme, the story of the dream will become clear.
Many people ask about specific symbols. “What does flying mean?” Or falling? Or water? Or houses?” While it may be true that certain symbols have acquired common meanings based upon their cultural usage, I believe that the search for objective interpretation is misguided. One of Freud’s greatest contributions to dream interpretation was his observation that dream symbols do not have universal meanings but depend instead upon their place within the entire dream narrative. So it is important to first unpack the emotional themes and the context – the entire dream story – so that individual sounds and images can be understood in their rightful symbolic roles.