Ever have a dream that left you wondering what just happened? Your unconscious may be trying to tell you something, and the clues to understanding your dream may be in your waking life.
Freud called dreams “the royal road to the unconscious.”
The unconscious consists of deep parts of ourselves that we generally pay little attention to. Developing an understanding and awareness of one’s unconscious can lead to greater life satisfaction through self-understanding. Unfortunately, American culture seems to have trained most of us to ignore this vital aspect of ourselves, and some modern psychological theories completely discount the role of the unconscious altogether. Some people find that they don’t even dream.
How to remember your dreams.
Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night after having a dream that left you puzzled, intrigued, or frightened. What can you do to remember your dream? Turning on your bedside laptop or smartphone to type a quick note is not an option since the brightness of the screen may keep you up for the rest of the night and will likely annoy your partner.
One of the easiest ways to remember your dreams is to keep a small pad of paper near your bed to write short notes on. Don’t worry about providing a complete narrative – just get the main images and emotions down. Another option is to keep a voice recorder next to your bed. These are relatively cheap nowadays, and you’ll be saving a tree in the process.
Interpreting your dreams.
Once it’s morning and you have your dream in hand, you can start with trying to make sense of your dream. Before you grab a dream dictionary, keep in mind that dream images are highly personal and likely cannot be fully explained by a cookie-cutter dictionary. If you are willing to explore your dream without a dictionary, grab a trusted friend who knows you well and follow the following steps. They are based on what is known as the cognitive-experiential model of dream interpretation.
1. Retell the dream to your friend. It is important to tell the dream in first-person present tense. This will help you relive the dream and experience the emotions that may be attached to the dream. For example, say to your friend “I am walking through a forest” instead of “I was walking through a forest.”
2. Get in touch with feelings that you experienced during the dream. It is important to recognize any emotions that the dream may bring up. Seeing a clown in a dream may be funny for some and frightening for others, so it is important to clarify the overall emotional impact of the dream to understand it from your perspective.
3. Identify images that are in your dream. Describe each image to your friend as if he or she was from a different planet. Be as detailed and specific as possible. As you describe the image, you may re-experience parts of the dream. Ask yourself whether these images and feelings remind you of something that happened in your waking life or something you anticipate happening in your future. Dream images often are not spontaneous.
4. Have your friend summarize their understanding of your dream. This is not an exercise in interpretation – just have your friend repeat the facts that you’ve shared so far. This is to ensure that both people are on the same page and that your dream has been fully explored.
5. Ask yourself: If I could change one thing about the dream, what would it be? How would the dream change? These questions will help you think of different outcomes to your dreams and how those outcomes may happen.
6. Translate the changes in the dream to your waking life. If you were successful in relating your dream to your waking life, the changes made in your dreams could translate to changes in your waking life.
Do not be surprised if this process is frustrating or confusing. Psychoanalysts train for years to understand unconscious processes, and this article only scratches the surface of understanding dreams. If you are interested in dreamwork, a therapist who has training in psychoanalysis or dream analysis can help you explore and learn about your unconscious world.
Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Mira Mesa and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and kink-friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377–3120 or you can visit his website at http://www.therapybrew.com