Out of nowhere, long-lost acquaintances can appear in our dreams, causing bewilderment and unease.
Does this mean that they are thinking about us? Perhaps it’s a sign that our paths will cross again soon. However, dreams tell us more about our relationship with ourselves than others.
Dreams are a product of the unconscious mind, so they’re not constrained by the rules of the conscious mind. Dreams can provide direct access to our worries, concerns, desires, and goals. Some people find it therapeutic to analyze their dreams and use their interpretations to guide their spiritual growth.
So, if a specific person keeps appearing in your dreams, don’t read too much into their presence. Rather, analyze the dream as a whole to determine what it might reveal about your waking life.
Dreaming About Someone Out of The Blue
According to Carl Jung, the people in our dreams rarely represent actual people.
Rather, dream characters are symbolic representations of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. For example, dreaming that a childhood enemy suddenly wants to be your friend is unlikely to reveal anything about their feelings for you.
Instead, dream analysts suggest that this dream signifies the dreamer’s newfound sense of self-esteem. The childhood bully is a symbol of weakened self-esteem, but because the bully has changed their behavior, this suggests the dreamer is less troubled by threats to their self-esteem in the present day.
Characters in Our Dreams Symbolize Emotional Experiences
In ‘Dream Research: Contributions to Clinical Practice,’ the authors discuss the importance of emotional experiences for dreams. They state that emotionally-charged waking events are likely to become the content of our dreams.
The person you’ve been dreaming of may be symbolic of an emotional experience you’ve recently had in your life. For example, dreaming that a childhood bully wants to be your friend might suggest you’ve recently experienced feelings of confidence, empowerment, and joy in an area of your life.
Alternatively, it could signal that you’ve let go of the unpleasant emotional experiences of envy, disdain, or indignation in some aspect of your life.
So, when you dream of particular people and events, imagine them as symbols of emotionally-charged waking experiences. Poorly managed emotions may cause stress and mood disorders.
If dreams are symbols of our emotional experiences, analyzing our dreams can shed light on our emotional responses and provide us with the insight required to improve our emotional intelligence.
Do All Dreams Mean Something?
Not everyone is convinced by the notion that dreams are meaningful experiences.
Some experts argue that dreams are random and hold no value for personal development. Even psychotherapists would agree that some of our dreams hold little symbolic meaning.
Let’s assume you’ve spent all evening with a friend and dream about them that night. According to Jung, these are day residue dreams, so you’re re-living and re-processing the day’s events in these dreams.
Day residue dreams may have some symbolic meaning too, but this isn’t always the case. Most psychotherapists would argue that if a dream is unsettling, disturbing, or intriguing, this indicates there is symbolic meaning worth exploring.
Function of Dreams
As mentioned, dream analysis can be used for personal development. Specifically, analyzing the characters in our dreams is likely to reveal something about our inner psyche.
According to Jung, dreams are valuable because they enable us to achieve the following:
- Expose pain in the unconscious mind, sidestepping the defense mechanisms we use to obscure emotional pain.
- Reveal problems in our waking lives and suggest ways to resolve them.
- Reveal our deepest fears or regrets.
- Express unguarded emotions (positive and negative).
- Reveal conflicts between the conscious and unconscious mind.
- Enable us to design and think through goals for the future.
- Help us understand ourselves better (self-actualization).
- Enable us to make sense of, or disassociate from, traumatic experiences.
Why Am I Dreaming So Much?
Dreaming suggests a conflict in the mind that needs resolving. Those under stress are likely to have more dreams. Moreover, if you frequently wake during REM sleep episodes, you’re more likely to remember your dreams, so it can appear as if you’re dreaming more than usual.
Pregnant women, women going through menopause, and people with sleep apnea are likely to wake frequently throughout the night, so they’re more likely to wake up during their dreams.
Other factors can make dreaming more likely to occur:
- An inactive lifestyle
- Being involved in a new creative project
- Eating too close to bedtime
- Sleeping for longer than 8 hours
- Psychoactive substances or withdrawal from substances
- Experimenting with meditation
- Emotional turbulence, such as a breakup with a partner
How To Interpret the Characters in Your Dreams
According to Jung, dream exploration is a personal process. He agreed that there are some universal dream symbols, but these should only be used as a guide because each person’s understanding of these symbols is unique. So, dream analysis is more thorough if it’s self-guided.
The following steps will introduce you to the process of Jungian dream interpretation:
Keep a Dream Journal
Start a daily dream journal to analyze your dreams in depth. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but some people find it beneficial to use a diary planner with separate pages for each day of the week.
This makes it easier to track your dreams’ patterns and triggers. For example, you might notice that you always seem to have more dreams on a Monday when stressed about work.
Start by recording every dream you can remember. Do this first thing in the morning when the dream is fresh in your mind. Record as much information as you can remember, even if it seems nonsense.
When recording your dreams, you might find it useful to ask yourself these questions:
- What images did I see?
- Did I hear any sounds?
- Who was I with?
- How did I feel about the other characters in my dream?
- What was the location of the dream?
- How long did the dream seem to last?
- Have I had this dream before?
Focus on Emotions
Dreams are usually vivid emotional experiences. Moreover, the content of our dreams can reveal something about the emotionally-charged experiences we’ve felt in our waking lives.
When journaling, summarize the emotions of the dream in 1-2 words. We often wake up feeling some residual emotion from our dreams, so capture the essence of the emotion when you awaken.
Determine the Symbolism in Your Dreams
Once you’ve determined a dream’s characters, location, and storyline, list what they might symbolize.
Some common dream symbols make sense to most people. For example, most of us relate easily to the notion that drowning signifies a loss of control.
If you’re unsure what your dreams might symbolize, start by consulting a dream dictionary for a list of common motives. We’ll explore some common symbols of dream characters shortly.
Be cautious with dream dictionaries because characters symbolize different things for different people.
For example, dream dictionaries suggest that dreaming of our mother can symbolize our nurturing and caring qualities and may suggest we feel a sense of responsibility for something in our lives.
However, not everyone perceives their mother to be nurturing or caring, so dreaming about their mother could mean something different.
Common dream symbols are a good starting point, but determine what the content of your dreams means for you. This is part of the therapeutic process, so it requires some self-determined effort.
Connect the Appropriate Symbol With Your Inner Self
Once you’ve established a list of symbols, determine which is most appropriate or relevant to your life.
According to Jung, dreams won’t tell us things we already know about ourselves, so we should work hard to understand their meaning. Don’t settle for the first meaning you decipher. Rather, list multiple possibilities and use the option that seems most challenging.
The people in our dreams often represent exaggerated versions of our personalities or temperaments. Let’s assume you have a recurring dream about a strict and unpopular teacher.
Perhaps this teacher has become a caricature of the bossy and domineering aspects of your personality that negatively impact your relationships.
As you can see, symbols in our dreams can become hard to face because they might reveal aspects of our character that we find difficult to acknowledge.
However, it’s important to be as open-minded and honest as possible, even if your dreams provide a harsh critique of some aspect of yourself.
In ‘Inner Work,’ the author cautions against using dreams to stroke the ego. Rather, use them for self-development.
Act on the Interpretation
If you’re using dream analysis to guide self-improvement, it makes sense to do something to solidify the insight you’ve gained. Your action will depend on what you’ve learned from your dreams.
Let’s assume that your dream about a strict teacher has shed light on the imbalanced relationship with a younger sibling and the tendency to boss them around.
Perhaps you’ve determined that your identity and ego depend upon feeling superior to your younger sibling. Still, you’d like to tackle this aspect of yourself to improve your relationship with them.
To solidify this interpretation, you might do one of the following things:
- Have a conversation with your sibling about the issues that have been raised.
- Write a letter to the part of your identity that needs to feel powerful and superior.
- Consider alternative behaviors to reflect the insight gained from your dreams.
This process could stop recurring dreams because you’re signaling to your unconscious mind that something is being done to tackle the issue.
Common Dream Symbols
Here are some common dream symbols to start your dream analysis:
Dreaming of Strangers
The people in our dreams often symbolize aspects of ourselves. To dream of strangers might suggest that you feel like a stranger to yourself.
This might indicate that, in your daily life, you are suppressing or hiding part of your identity. Perhaps this has led to deep-seated frustration, which is being expressed by your unconscious mind.
If you dream of being inside a stranger’s home, this may suggest you’re misguided and trying to decide where you belong. It might indicate that you feel fraudulent or out of place in your career or home life.
Dreaming of Someone You Haven’t Seen for Years
We often dream about things that started as strong emotional experiences in our lives.
Think about the person you’re dreaming of. Did they stir up a significant emotional response in you long ago? If not, perhaps they embody an emotional experience you’ve had. For example, perhaps this person you’ve been dreaming of was a childhood friend you made at a sports club.
Let’s assume you secretly hated attending this sports club, but you did it for your family out of a sense of duty, so you learned to associate your friend with this sense of duty.
Now that you’re dreaming about this person years later, it might suggest that this sense of duty has become relevant in your life again and is causing you issues.
Dreaming of A Love Interest
Residue dreams are the least symbolic of all dreams because they’re mostly a regurgitation of our conscious thoughts and experiences during the day. If you constantly see and think about your love interest, it’s probably no surprise that you’re dreaming about them.
Dreaming of Famous People
Jung said that the people in our dreams represent elements of ourselves. Think about the characteristics of this celebrity. Are they abrupt? Are they an exhibitionist? Are they honest?
Their qualities might reveal something about how you see yourself. Celebrities are often seen as brave and successful, so dreaming about one might suggest something about your drive and determination or the pressures you feel to perform.
Dreaming of Family
Dreaming about your family usually hints that you’re feeling secure and loved, although this depends on your interpretations of family life.
Dreaming of conflict within the family is more likely to suggest a fragmented sense of self than a fragmented family.
Dreaming of An Ex-Partner
If you’re dreaming of a childhood partner, this may suggest that you’re reminiscing about the stress-free life of a child, and you’d like to gain some of that innocence back in your life.
To dream that an ex-partner is giving you advice about future relationships suggests that you may be concerned about making bad relationship choices.
We should be careful about reading into our dreams too literally. Dreaming about an ex-partner doesn’t necessarily suggest that you’d like to rekindle the relationship because this is probably something the conscious mind would conclude on its own.
Rather, determine whether an ex-partner symbolizes an aspect of your personality, character, or behavior.
How To Remember Dreams
Psychotherapists suggest that we should always remind ourselves of our goals to remember our dreams. Before you fall asleep, tell yourself that you’ll try hard to remember your dreams.
Keep your dream journal on a bedside table and reach for it as soon as you wake up in the morning. If you wake up at night and know you’re unlikely to get back to sleep, it might be worth recording your dreams when they’re fresh in your mind.
Sometimes we recall fragments of our dreams later in the day. It’s tempting to think we’ll add these thoughts to our diaries when we get home, but we’ve usually forgotten them again by that time. Write down any fragments of your dreams as soon as they’re recalled.
If you can’t recall enough details to write down your dream, try drawing the dream instead. Drawing the characters and location might jog your memory.
It’s a good idea to record dreams daily. The more dreams we have access to, the more valuable they become for facilitating personal development.
So, the next time you dream of someone and wonder what their presence means, delve deeper into determining if their presence has any symbolic meaning.