What Is Dream Analysis? Psychology Behind Decoding Your Dreams

By Jon Jaehnig|Updated May 16, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

These days, most of us think of dreams as freak occurrences. They can be amusing or frightening, or just strange, but they don't mean anything. Right?

Everyone Dreams

Everyone dreams. Of course, not everyone dreams in the same way. Some people dream more often than others; some people dream in black-and-white, etc.

Further, your dream can change based on things like your diet, your stress levels, and other factors. Dreams can be unsettling, but they're harmless. That doesn't mean that you can't learn from them.

The Importance Of Dreams

People have been interpreting dreams and taking meaning from them for thousands of years. Some of the earliest records of humans trying to learn from their dreams are actually in the biblical book of Genesis. Native American groups also considered dreams to be significant and mystical experiences.

Since then, the perceived importance of dreams has declined as humans have become more rationally grounded in their thinking. However, the perceived importance of dreams across cultures inspired at least one significant psychologist to unpack their meaning.

What Are Dreams?

Some experts believe that dreams are the result of neurons in our brains randomly firing as we sleep.

However, other experts believe that dreams are a bit more complicated than that. We know that while we rest our bodies, our brains are transferring memories from short-term to long-term. Some believe that dreams are a part of this process. If so, dreams may be much more significant than some think.

Different Kinds of Dreams

Most dreams are just dreams. However, some dreams stand out.

Nightmares are dreams that scare us or make us feel uncomfortable. They may be related to something that happened or that you thought about during the day. They may also be strange dreams with no real cause.

Night terrors are like nightmares but worse. These dreams may be particularly vivid. They make even wake you up and make it difficult to fall back asleep. Like nightmares, they may be dreams or reflections of something that you worried about during the day.

Stress dreams are dreams that you have because you're worried about something. Often you are doing something that you would in your everyday life, but something goes wrong. These dreams aren't usually as vivid or as scary as nightmares or night terrors, but they also aren't fun.

Sometimes, dreams like these can be symptoms of emotional disorders like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. If your dreams make you concerned for your mental and emotional health, bring them up with a doctor.

Carl Jung And Dream Analysis Psychology

Carl Jung was one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century.

Jung was a student of Sigmund Freud. Freud was interested in what he called the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is difficult to access, but it influences how we think, act, and feel.

Freud thought that one of the best ways to learn about the subconscious mind was to study how the conscious mind made connections between images and ideas. He tested this by saying a word and asking his patients to say the first thing that came to mind. He also used methods like inkblot tests.

Jung was interested in association but made a much larger study of it through the study of symbols. He was particularly interested in symbols and dream elements that were the same across different cultures. Jung used his research to compile books on the psychological importance of dream elements.

Like "dream dictionaries," similar books are still widely available online and in most book stores. These books often vary slightly in how they work and what they say. However, most of them are based on Jung's work.

Jung's Method

Jung's method of dream analysis psychology involved studying the symbolism used by different cultural groups. Themes that occurred in the dreams of different cultural groups and that were seen to mean the same thing was identified as "archetypes."

Jung believed that archetypes exist because of what he called the "collective unconscious." The collective unconscious, according to Jung, is a part of our psyche that we have genetically inherited from our prehistoric ancestors. That's why all cultures seem to have some beliefs in common.

Another theory is that different groups have the same symbols because we see the world in the same basic way even though we may be different. Sociologists use this theory, called "independent invention," to explain why many cultures have stories about the world being flooded.

Of course, all of our dreams are different because we all lead different lives. If your aunt Marj shows up in a dream, that's pretty personal to you. As a result, Jung would look at Marge as an example of a maternal figure and consider other dream elements.

Modern Dream Analysis Psychology

Today, most people don't turn to their dreams for spiritual experiences like the Native Americans. We're also unlikely to see our dreams as visions of the future like the biblical Hebrews and Egyptians. However, psychologists like Jung have to lead to a return to our dreams as a field of study.

Some of the psychologists who engage in dream analysis still use a method similar to Jung's. This method relies heavily on interpreting the symbolism of the dream compared with standard meanings.

Others examine dreams but focus on what the dream means to you and how it made you feel.

Dreams In Your Life

The significance that dreams have in your life is entirely dependent on how important dreams are to you.

If you think that dreams are firing random neurons, they likely won't matter to you by the time you've finished breakfast.

If you think that dreams are messages from your subconscious or a glimpse into the divine, a dream may stick with you for years.

One of the biggest ways that dreams can affect us is by becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. Self-fulfilling prophecies are things that come true because we think that they will. Just about any dream can fill this role, and so dreams can be just as important as you make them.

Dreams In Your Relationship

Because dreams mean different things to different people, they can play a unique role in a relationship.

Dreams are very personal things. No one else can experience our dreams unless we share them. Sharing your dreams with your partner can be a way for the two of you to grow closer together. You may also rely on your partner to help you recover from the negative feelings of bad dreams.

However, sometimes sharing dreams with a partner can be awkward. This is often the case if you dream that you were with someone else or that something happened to your partner. Sometimes, people can feel jealousy, sadness, or fear because of a dream their partner has told them about.

Remember that dreams are only as important as you make them. If your dream alarmed you and you feel like your partner should know about it, maybe you should bring it up with them. However, if you believe your dream was just a dream, it may be easier to keep it to yourself.

When Dreams Come Between You And Your Partner

Whatever your philosophy or personal belief about dreams may be, dreams can sometimes come between partners in a relationship. Usually, this problem is small and quickly goes away, but sometimes it can be a problem or uncover other relationship problems that you may not have been prepared for.

If you have dreams that make you worry about your relationship, it can help bring in a third party. This may be a friend or even a parent. Sometimes, more help is needed, however. You may even consider going to a relationship counselor.

Relationship counselors specialize in helping people make the best of their relationships. They can work with couples or with just one member of a relationship. They can help repair relationship problems, but they can also help couples who aren't having problems.

If you aren't sure how to think, feel, or talk about dreams that may affect your relationship, consider reaching out to a relationship counselor from ReGain.

Dealing With Dreams

Knowing how to deal with dreams can be difficult. That's particularly true if they have a strong impact on your feelings, if you find them shocking or frightening, or if you have the same dream over and over again.

The thing to keep in mind is that dreams communicate something to each of us. How you answer the question they pose is up to you.

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