Dream interpretation: How can I find out more about my dreams?

A dream can be funny and illogical, but it can also offer fascinating insights. Here are some suggestions from dream research for all those who are interested in dream interpretation.

24.09.2018 Christian Benz 4 minutes

We don’t know why people dream. But we do know how often they do. When we are asleep, we are always dreaming. A wealth of dream images that we come across every night throughout our lives. And which we mostly forget about after waking up. This is why the moment we wake up is key when it comes to dream interpretation.

“Never let go of your dream”, says Renate Daniel, psychiatrist and dream researcher at the CG Jung Institut in Küsnacht, following with memorable imagery: “Think of a beach and imagine walking next to the water. Something new washes ashore with every wave, be it stones, muscles, seaweed, maybe even a starfish. If you pick up the beached item, then it stays with you. If you walk past it, you risk losing it as it might disappear again into the vastness of the ocean with the next wave. The item is a symbol of your dream, or rather your dream images, whereas the sea represents your unconscious mind.”

Dream interpretation: writing or speaking

If you want to interpret your dreams better, put a pen and paper within reach next to your bed before you go to sleep. Those looking for a more convenient approach can opt for making voice recordings on their smart phone or, even better, on a dictation device, requiring you to press only one button. To interpret dreams effectively, it is important to act quickly when waking up. “A dream is a message of the unconscious mind, commentary on your personal situation in life”, says Renate Daniel, who, among other things, draws on dreams and dream interpretation in her therapy sessions. Daniel believes that a person's own behaviour in their dream plays a key role: How does my dream ego behave? Am I passive or active in dreams? Am I involved in what is going on in the dream or do I observe it? Are there parallels to my real self?

An example of this sort of parallel between dream and reality is the story of one of Daniel’s patients, who, despite her divorce a long time ago, was still very emotionally tied to her ex-husband. She told of a dream she had: In her sleep, her father, who was long deceased, suddenly appeared and handed her into the police for arrest. It became clear in the therapy session that her relationship with her father in childhood was marked by a great fear of rejection and punishment. The dream allowed the patient to recognise parallels between her father and her ex-husband – a finding that ultimately helped her to process the painful separation from her ex-husband. “Our relationship with our own parents – be there a close tie or no contact at all – has an effect on every person”, says Renate Daniel, “and this relationship also influences our choice of partner in the end.”

Writing down dreams and talking about them

You don’t have to get stuck into psychotherapy if you are interested in interpreting your dreams. A written or spoken dream diary can provide enough information. For dream interpretation, it is not just helpful to record the dream but also to talk about it. Talking about your dream and its possible meaning allows for new perspectives, which could be paramount to interpreting your dream. According to Daniel, it is best to talk about it with a trusted person who is interested in dreams and dream interpretation. “Ultimately, your own dream is often the hardest to understand.”

Helpful questions when interpreting dreams

When interpreting your own dreams, always remember that dreams are unique. Why and what we dream about in our sleep differs from person to person. The answers to what you have dreamt about are just as personal and unique. Questions from dream research can help you interpret your dream and its symbols. Renate Daniel, FMH specialist for psychiatry and psychotherapy, has created a questionnaire to help you interpret your own dreams. Find out more:

The dream as a form of curiosity

In addition to psychological dream research, there are other scientific disciplines that also focus on dreams and their meaning. To this day, we still do not know why we dream. Since a dream cannot be recorded with technical tools, researchers need to be content with subjective, fragmented stories. But other findings could be obtained, such as from neuroscientific research: measurements of the brain during sleep have shown that the limbic system is highly active while we sleep. This system is also responsible for emotions such as anger, fear, panic and the so-called seeking system.

The seeking system springs into action as soon as we feel a desire for something or have a great deal of interest – an indication that dreams could have something to do with our curiosity. On the basis of this, some neuroscientists today are of the opinion that nightmares serve to simulate dangerous and indeed frightening situations. Behaviours can therefore be learned in the dream that could be useful to our lives in the future. For example, if you dream about a person close to you dying, the process of saying farewell is put to the test. From a biological perspective, dreaming is a type of survival strategy.

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