Find the Spiritual Meanings of Your Dream
What is Dream Interpretation?
We all dream almost every night, even if we don’t always remember it – and we also know that dreaming is incredibly important to us and that if we don’t dream, our physical and mental states can deteriorate rapidly. Furthermore, many animals dream too.
But what do our dreams mean? How can we interpret them? Or do they even mean anything at all?
To answer questions like these and more, in this post, we discuss the question, what is dream interpretation?
Why do we dream?
The short answer to our central question is that dream interpretation is about ascribing meaning to the images and adventures we experience as we sleep.
However, if we want to know how to interpret a dream, we first need to know why we dream and what dreams are – but the problem is, science still doesn’t have definitive answers to these questions.
While many people believe that dreams have a deeper meaning that can be interpreted, some theories suggest that dreams don’t have any meaning at all and that trying to interpret them is therefore pointless.
Two of the most prominent theories suggesting that dreams don’t mean anything are the “activation-synthesis” hypothesis and the “threat simulation” hypothesis, so before we look at ideas about dream interpretation, let’s think about these ideas first.
According to the activation-synthesis hypothesis, a theory put forward by Harvard University psychiatrists, John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, our dreams are merely the side-effect of our brains trying to make sense of brain activity while we are asleep.
When we sleep, our brains continue to carry out many important “maintenance” functions, particularly in the parts of the brain responsible for dealing with emotions, senses and memories.
According to the theory, in the absence of external stimuli, the brain then tries to make sense of this nighttime activity, creating images and sensations from our memories.
This would mean dreams are no more than the reaction to signals and impulses being sent by the brain while we sleep and so have no deeper meaning.
However, many find this reasoning unsatisfactory, and as an argument against it, they point to recurring dreams – which, by definition, can’t be the result of random activity.
Threat simulation hypothesis
Another possibility is that dreams provide us with a safe environment in which to run through and rehearse dangerous situations so that when we meet them in real life, we are more likely to escape with our lives.
For example, if one of our distant ancestors dreamed of facing a saber-toothed tiger, he would then be more likely to survive when it really happened because he would have been in the situation before.
As a result, evolution would have favored this ability to try out dangerous situations in our dreams through natural selection, and it would have been passed down to us through the generations.
There is also some evidence to support this idea. One study showed that children who often faced threatening situations in real life were also more likely to have this kind of “rehearsal” dream while they slept.
However, others counter with several arguments, including a strong one that points out that dreams are often so bizarre and unrealistic that they can hardly provide useful training and practice for dangerous scenarios in real life.
Dream interpretation – a pervasive idea
Although theories such as these have their adherents, the idea that dreams have a deeper meaning is extremely pervasive, and people have been trying to interpret dreams for millennia.
As long ago as 3,100 BCE, the Sumerians are recorded as having tried to interpret their dreams. The importance of dreams appears several times in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Mesopotamian kings sometimes acted on messages they believed they received while sleeping.
The ancient Greeks also believed that dreams could be omens or prophecies, and similar beliefs have been held around the world by various cultures right up to the present day.
Even now, many people continue to believe that dreams are more than just random brain activity.
For example, research carried out in the US, India and South Korea showed that the majority of people believe that dreams reveal hidden truths and that they can affect our actions in waking life.
In one part of the paper, people admitted that they would be reluctant to board a flight if they had previously dreamed about the plane crashing – whereas they were less likely to skip the flight if they merely considered the possibility while awake.
However, even among those who believe dreams carry a deeper meaning, there is still much disagreement over what they represent and how we should interpret them.
One of the best-known and most important names in the development of modern dream interpretation is Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis.
In his seminal work of 1899, The Interpretation of Dreams, he introduced the idea that dreams represent wish fulfilment.
However, while children have very simple and direct dreams about fulfilling their most recent wishes from the previous day, as adults, our dreams become distorted as a kind of defense mechanism.
This is because, in our waking lives, certain desires are suppressed, and according to Freud, they remain partially repressed while we are asleep too, but our subconscious mind allows us to experience them through a “veil of disguise”.
According to Freud, to interpret a dream, we need to analyze the individual elements of the “manifest content” of the dream – or in other words, what we see and experience – to understand the “latent dream thoughts”, the deeper meaning, being represented.
While doing this, any apparent connection between the elements in the dream should be disregarded, and you should focus only on the individual elements and the ideas you associate them with.
Carl Jung is the other giant in the field of dream interpretation, and while he agreed with Freud in part, he believed that seeing dreams as only representing wish fulfilment was too limited.
Rather, he believed that the role of dreams was to act as a kind of dialogue between the “self” and the “ego”, with the self telling the ego things it should know but doesn’t.
To do this, the various elements of dreams are often symbolic, and sometimes people that appear in a dream can represent certain aspects of the dreamer rather than the person they appear to be in the dream.
He also believed that the symbolism of elements in a dream is highly dependent on how the dreamer perceives that element rather than having some absolute meaning.
In the 1950s, Calvin S. Hall took a quantitative approach to analyzing dreams and concluded that dreams were a form of cognitive process, with the images of a dream representing the conceptions of the dreamer.
According to his theories, correctly interpreting a dream involves understanding the actions of the dreamer in the dream, the presence of the various elements in the dream, how the dreamer interacts with other people in the dream and the dream’s setting and outcome.
By understanding these various aspects, it’s possible to learn more about the mental state of the dreamer from what happened in the dream.
In the 1970s, Ann Faraday popularized dream interpretation with the publication of her book The Dream Game.
Since then, various other dream interpretation guides and dream dictionaries have appeared, often ascribing fixed meaning to the presence of certain common elements that might appear in a dream.
For example, you might be told that losing teeth in a dream means you fear a loss of control.
However, this kind of dream interpretation is not considered scientific, and it also doesn’t follow the ideas of the most important researchers in the field that suggest the interpretation of dreams is highly subjective and depends as much on the dreamer as what the dreamer sees.
How to interpret your dreams
Since we don’t fully understand what dreams are, there is no single accepted way to interpret dreams, and deciding what a dream means depends largely on which theories you choose to believe.
However, perhaps the best way to interpret a dream is to spend time examining what the various elements in a dream represent to you to try to work out how the dream relates to the challenges you are currently facing.
For example, if a dog lover dreams of a dog, the meaning of the dream will be very different from the interpretation of the same symbol appearing in the dream of somebody who is afraid of dogs.
If you dream of a dog, think about what it represents to you. Does it represent security? Friendship? Loyalty? Danger? Aggression?
And think about what the dog was doing in the dream. Was it protecting you? Or was it attacking you? Or perhaps the dog was sick?
And finally, how did you feel about the dog? Were you afraid of it? Did you want to pet it? Did you feel sad because the dog was dying?
By taking all of the various elements of a dream and considering how you feel about them, you can then try to apply the dream to your current life situation. Then, through deep thought and meditation – and trusting your intuition – you will be led to the correct interpretation.
An unsolved mystery
Our dreams remain an unsolved mystery, but there is no shortage of theories about what they are or how to interpret them.
In the end, without definitive proof, it comes down to personal belief, and if you believe dreams can tell you about your suppressed emotions or even about the future, it’s important to try to interpret them.
To do this, you should think about the significance the various elements in the dream have to you and then try to understand how they apply to your current life situation and what messages your subconscious might be trying to send you.