What Does My Dream Mean?

Published on: 26 Feb 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Cynthia V. Catchings LCSW-S
what does my dream mean

All of us, at one point or another, wake up from a deep sleep with a feeling or image that lingers throughout the day. It feels like your dream is trying to tell you something, but what could your dream really mean?

Since the early days of psychoanalysis, there’s a theory that dreams are a way for your unconscious to communicate conflicts and desires. The subconscious mind holds all the information that you don’t need in your daily life — past experiences and knowledge — allowing your conscious mind to function without being overloaded. Therapy, meditation, and art-making can help you get in touch with your unconscious. But, sometimes there’s an important message that can’t wait. When your mind is sleeping, it sneaks in and tells you a secret in a mysterious language of symbolism.

Not every symbol has the same associations for each person — some people see water as calm and serene, others see it as terrifying and unpredictable. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to symbolism in dreams.

The Meaning of Symbols

Although guides, or “dictionaries,” with dream symbols and their meanings have been popular since the 1970s, most therapists will recommend that you find your own answers. This is done through “free association,” a therapy technique where you share whatever comes to mind without censorship or judgement. Say, for example, you dream of swimming in the water. The first step would be to figure out how you feel about water. If you’re afraid of it, or had a bad past experience, this is going to affect your interpretation of the symbol. Not every symbol has the same associations for each person — some people see water as calm and serene, others see it as terrifying and unpredictable. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to symbolism in dreams.

Recurring dreams

When you start to examine the symbols in your dreams, it could be helpful to step back and see how they all work together. Then, comparing different dreams can start to reveal themes or indications of your emotional state. Have you ever noticed that you have similar dreams whenever you’re stressed out? These “recurring dreams” can be extremely frustrating, but they can also help you gauge your mental health. A recurring dream can be a signal that it’s time to slow down or address something that’s been bothering you.

Although dreams and their meanings are highly personal, scientists have been fascinated to discover that we’re mostly dreaming about the same things. Some of the most common dreams include teeth falling out, being naked in public, missing a school exam, flying, and being chased. These were also topics that Freud included in his book The Interpretation of Dreams published in 1900. He writes, “…no matter who dreams them, they presumably all derive from the same sources so [they] would seem to be particularly fitted to provide us with information as to the sources of dreams.” Essentially, it’s believed that these common dreams are triggered by primal instincts that link all of humankind, therefore we can more easily assign them generalized meanings. At the very least, Freud’s thoughts might help you solve the puzzle of your own dreams.

Dreams About Teeth Falling Out

There are many ways your teeth can fall out in a dream — they can crumble as you chew, pop out one-by-one, or rot away. Many dreamers report feelings of horror, disgust, and embarrassment. There’s a few theories about what this dream means. It could be related to vanity and indicate that you feel unattractive. Or, it could indicate that you’re having a hard time communicating, but need desperately to express yourself. If you have an upcoming event that you’re worried about, teeth falling out could be a symbol for anxiety. Other explanations include feeling powerlessness or guilt about telling lies.

Dreams About Being Naked in Public

It’s amazing how real dreams can feel, especially when you look down and you’re not wearing pants. Whether you’re partially undressed or completely nude, dreams that involve being naked in public are usually about insecurity. You might feel helpless in a current situation or you fear being “exposed” by the truth. If other people in the dream notice your nakedness, this could be an indication that you’re feeling insecure and criticized by those around you. If you’re not embarrassed by your nudity in the dream, the meaning could be a need for freedom or attention.

Dreams About Missing a School Exam

School causes many of us anxiety in waking life but when it shows up in a dream, it’s ten times worse! Dreams about tests can range from missing an exam to returning to your old school because you somehow didn’t get a needed certification. No matter how hard you try to explain the mix-up, you’re stuck feeling unprepared. This dream is usually linked to anxiety about failure. You might have set goals that are too high or not prepared properly for a task. Is anything in your life right now making you feel inadequate? The dream is likely drawing attention to that situation.

Dreams About Flying

Unlike most recurring dreams, flying is usually a fun and positive experience. It’s like having a super power. If you’re confidently soaring through the skies, this indicates that you’ve gained control over your life. The ability to see everything below suggests that you’re getting a new perspective on things. Pay attention to your speed, height from the ground, and any obstacles in your way — these can all be clues about how you’re “flying” through life.

Dreams About Being Chased

Nothing will get your heart thumping like a dream about being chased. It’s the most primal expression of fear, the classic “fight or flight” response. When you’re in a “flight” state, you’ll do anything you can to outrun or hide from your enemy. These dreams signal avoidance and you should ask yourself, “What am I running from in real life?” If you can remember who or what was chasing you, this can help you figure out the dream’s meaning. The answer might surprise you. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re running away from things — like love — but your subconscious knows the truth.

To further explore what your dreams mean and work through what they’re trying to communicate, consider working with a therapist. A therapist will help guide you through these confusing thoughts and help you get to the root of what your subconscious is trying to tell you. If you’re interested in finding out more about your dreams, try online therapy to speak to a licensed therapist today.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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