Emotions in Dreams – Decoding Dream Symbolism

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Emotions in dreams: A key to decoding dream symbolism

Emotions are at the heart of many dream stories. The dream imagery and actions trigger emotions that would otherwise stay bottled up or unexpressed. So in that sense, dreams provide venting, like a volcano vents to release pressure. By releasing emotions during a dream you might avoid a blow up while awake.

Dreams can trigger strong emotions like rage, terror, love, and ecstasy. Experiencing these emotions while dreaming doesn’t necessarily mean you feel them in your waking life, but is a good indication you feel something similar. In dreams the gloves come off, your inhibitions come down, and the emotional centers of your brain are highly active. So you might not feel rage in your waking life, for example, but something is probably pushing you that direction, and if the situation is left unaddressed you could find yourself in a rage. You might not be in a state of ecstasy, either, but maybe you feel really happy—or could feel that way under the right circumstances. The potential is there.

emotions in dreams - rage

A volcano erupting can symbolize rage

One of the golden rules of dream interpretation is that dreams exaggerate. They do so to get your attention and really express the underlying dynamics of a situation. For example, you are buried with work and dream that you are buried alive. Being buried alive is a much worse situation than being buried at work, of course, but in an exaggerated way it expresses how you feel. Many dreams can be interpreted simply by relating the emotions they trigger with your waking life. Look especially at how you react in a dream. When you react strongly to a situation in a dream, it’s a good indicator that it symbolizes something you feel strongly about, something that arouses powerful emotions in you.

For example, a female dreams about a bit of drink spilling on her mattress during sex, while a condom is being put on. She flies off in a rage and kicks out her partner. Her reaction shows that she feels very strongly about whatever the spilled drink symbolizes. Turns out, it symbolizes the spilling of semen, and she fears accidentally getting pregnant. Only takes a little bit to get her pregnant.

Her reaction reveals that she subconsciously knows the meaning of the symbolism of the spilled drink. Otherwise, why react so strongly to something that on the surface appears innocuous? Her emotional reaction reveals the meaning of the underlying symbolism, and in turn reveals the meaning of the dream.

Cheating Dreams Explained: What it means to cheat in a dream

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Cheating Dreams: What it means to cheat in a dream

Cheating in a relationship is a commonly reported dream theme. Rarely does it indicate actual cheating, though.

Instead, cheating is often related to insecurity. For example, you see your significant other getting friendly with someone and it sparks feelings of jealousy, or raises insecurities about your desirability or the security of the relationship. Cheating can also be used to symbolize any situation that feels unfair, such as a mate having other priorities or passions than the relationship. Or the theme can be used to describe situations that involve emotional or physical closeness with someone other than your mate, even if that closeness is completely innocent.what it means to cheat in a dream

Cheating dreams pop up a lot with people who have been cheated on in a relationship, either a current or former relationship, but it’s not a prerequisite. The dreams can also pop up in relationship that are very secure.

Expand the idea of cheating and it can include other definitions of the word related to playing unfairly, breaking a rule of the relationship, or doing something that your significant other disapproves. Playing unfairly can include a situation such as bringing up past transgressions to win an argument. Breaking a rule of the relationship can include a situation such as not calling when working late. Doing something that your significant other disapproves—or vice-versa—can include a situation such as talking to someone that makes him or her jealous, envious, or leery.

cheating dreams

Hmm, I bet they’re just renting a room for choir practice

If you consider the possibilities for symbolism and they don’t ring a bell, it’s possible that you have picked up clues that your mate really is involved with someone else. Just don’t jump to conclusions—most dreams about cheating are symbolic.

Next is a sample of dreams I have interpreted at Reddit Dreams that cover a variety of possibilities for what cheating can symbolize. In some cases I summarize the post rather than copy it directly. The links are to the posts so you can read for yourself. My user name is RadOwl, fyi, if you want to follow my exchanges with these people.

Dream: I have been in a committed relationship with my boyfriend for five years. It recently turned into a long-distance relationship, but we’ve been making it work. In fact, we are happier than ever. But since coming home for the holidays and seeing our old friends I have been dreaming about physically and emotionally cheating on my boyfriend with some of our close friends. The dreams about physically cheating are very sexual, and the emotional cheating ones involve talking about my own deep issues. I wake up conflicted.

Interpretation: These dreams are sparked by the dreamer talking about personal issues with mutual friends when she should be talking about them with her boyfriend. The dreams depict the situation as cheating because she is establishing intimate closeness with those friends, combined with the fact that she is not talking to her boyfriend about the issues she talks about with them.

Dream: I have recurring dreams of cheating on my boyfriend of nine months, except no sex, I just meet these really interesting guys, feel a warmth from them, whether we end up watching a movie or dancing together dressed to the nines it is really nice. When I wake up I almost have this urge to find the guy I dreamed about.

Interpretation: These “cheating” dreams are sparked by the dreamer’s interactions with guys at school. She spends a lot of time doing schoolwork with them, and it establishes a friendly sort of closeness. Plus, with her heavy school and work schedule the dreamer doesn’t have as much time to spend with her boyfriend.

Dream: For the past week I have been having these dreams where my girlfriend is in my bed with another guy. It’s real annoying because I can never do anything about it. It’s almost like I get pushed out of the room.

Interpretation: “Cheating” in these dreams is a manifestation of the dreamer’s anxieties related to self-esteem issues. He has been unemployed and it makes him feel like a loser. Seeing his girlfriend in bed with another guy shows that he fears that someone more financially secure will come along and steal her away. He has been cheated on previously, so deep in his mind he expects it to happen again. Doesn’t matter how much his girl shows her love for him and tells him everything is all right.

Dream: I had a nightmare that I cheated on my girlfriend. In the dream I knew it was wrong, but some force wouldn’t let me just say no or not do it. No I’m not cheating in real life.

Interpretation: This “cheating” nightmare is sparked by the dreamer talking with a girl at work that his girlfriend told him to avoid. His girlfriend is jealous of any female who is even remotely attractive, and tries to control him. He said he only talks to the girl to be friendly with a coworker, but his motives do not matter. He knows if his girlfriend found out there would be hell to pay.

Dream: I had a dream my boyfriend was cheating on me while I was sleeping next to him in his bed. I woke up literally heartbroken. We have been together for five years. Anyway, I woke up and tried to ignore my feelings, but when I couldn’t do that anymore I told him about my dream. He shrugged it off. After a little time had passed that morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was actually up. I kept prying at him because he didn’t seem to really care or understand how I was feeling. Finally I guess I had pried so much that he finally told me the truth. He WAS cheating on me with a girl he had met at school. I packed my things and left.

No interpretation needed. The dreamer either picked up on subtle clues that her boyfriend was cheating, or she has psychic ability.

cheating dreams


The next example is not about cheating, it’s about dreams of his wife leaving him for another man. The theme is similar to cheating dreams, and shows the feelings and dynamics of a personal situation that can spark cheating dreams.

Dream: I have a recurring dream that my wife is cheating on me. I’m pretty sure she is not actually cheating on me, yet I dream about it repeatedly and it’s really disturbing. In one dream she told me she was leaving me because we don’t share the same interests or profession (she is a transplant nurse). In another dream she has broken up with me and texts to tell me about dates she goes on with other guys.

Interpretation: This recurring dream is sparked by the wife’s work situation. As a transplant nurse she works long hours and is often on-call. The dreamer knows the long hours away from each other and frequent interruptions of their home life are part of the job, but he can’t rationalize away his feelings. His dreams portray the situation as cheating because it feels unfair that his wife has to be away from him so much for her job. Also, some jealousy might be involved because she works closely with highly successful and desirable surgeons, while the dreamer is out of work because of illness.

Pretty fascinating, eh? The symbolism of cheating can apply to a wide variety of situations. If you have dreams about cheating, please share them in the comments.


Interpreting a dream about ghosts of illness past

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Interpreting a dream about ghosts of illness past

Dreams bring to light subconscious information. Something important that escapes your attention is highlighted in bright color (figuratively) in your dreams. That information can be critically important.

For example, in my book Dreams 1-2-3 I recount the dream of a mother with a small child. She dreamed there was a small white pill beneath her couch, and her first thought was about the safety of her child. In the morning she checked beneath her couch and found a white pill, a powerful medication that could have severely harmed or killed her child. Luckily, she found the pill before her child did. My guess is she had seen the pill out of the corner of her eye but it didn’t register consciously, so her dream made sure she got the message.

The dream we are about to discuss is another example of subconscious information brought to light. The dreamer described it as the weirdest and scariest dream he could remember. It is a story, told through symbolism, about when he caught typhoid fever as a child and almost died. The event occurred many years before the dream. Keep that in mind as we delve in.

Interpreting a dream like this one requires being intimately familiar with the dreamer’s personal history. Otherwise, an outsider will have great difficulty connecting the details to the dreamer’s life. Some dreams can be interpreted simply by looking at the details and taking guesses at what the symbolism means. They are relatively easy to interpret because the meaning is right there in your face. Not with this dream, though as you will see, the meaning is in plain sight once you know the details of the incident the dream illustrates.

The dream opens with a scene that sparks fear in the dreamer. Fear is an important detail because the dreamer used it to figure out the dream by focusing on what made him afraid, and he remembered an important incident from the day before the dream, which I’ll explain later. The dreamer is an adult male. Here is the opening scene of the dream.

(Link to original post. This version is edited for brevity.)

I am living in my childhood home with my parents. It’s a rainy night and I am on a bed, half asleep. Suddenly, a noise catches my attention, similar to the sound made by the pages of a book when they are flipped quickly. I get up and flip the light switch, but it’s not working. I shout and my parents come and tell me that the rain caused a power failure, but they leave a candle to help me see in the dark.

I go back to sleep and the noise starts again. I take the candle and start searching for the source of the noise. Then I notice that it comes from a wall that has a lot of pictures of saints. Something is ripping the pictures, one by one. I get scared and run to my parents’ room.

St. Jude

St. Jude

As I considered this scene all I could gather from it is the dreamer is scared by something. However, the dream is referencing the incident when the dreamer caught typhoid as a child. It happened after a heavy rain that caused a power failure. His parents lit candles at night. The childhood home depicted in the dream is near where he caught typhoid, and is the same house where the dreamer first showed symptoms of the illness.

I’m not sure what to make of the pictures of saints ripping. I think it could be another detail from his life. His parents were Catholic and might have had pictures of saints around the house. Also, saints are prayed to when a person is ill.

The next scene is filled with more details from the experience with typhoid.

I hear kids’ voices and laughter coming from outside. My mom says, “Don’t worry. They are just playing outside, just let them be. They won’t bother us anymore if they are distracted.” But I am angry, and shout, “Well, I’m pissed off! Why can’t they just realize that this is not their world anymore!? Those parasites, they are worse than ticks! I wish I had a flamethrower, so I could go outside right now and start shooting flames until they shut the hell up!”

The laughter stops. But some minutes later, the room starts to get very cold. Then, I see the silhouette of a woman coming near me. She gets into my bed and covers herself with the sheet. I start shouting, and my mother tells me to make the Sign of the Cross to make her vanish, but my hands are paralyzed. Then the ghost woman says, “Don’t bother me! I am very, very cold! Don’t you see I have just managed to get out of the river?”

This scene is quite mysterious until you see how it connects to the dreamer’s childhood battle with typhoid. Begin with the reference to parasites. Typhoid is caused by a bacteria, which is symbolized in the dream as parasites. After the dreamer was diagnosed with typhoid, the doctors told his parents to burn everything: bedding, clothes, toys. That explains the reference to a flamethrower. The laughing children references how the dreamer caught typhoid. He was playing in a river, having fun like a kid, and swallowed some water. That explains the ghost woman’s statement that she had just managed to get out of the river, and the children’s laughter.

Two days later the dreamer caught a high fever. He was extremely cold as he lay shivering in bed. His parents took him to the hospital, and he was put on antibiotics. However, his condition worsened and the doctors said there was nothing else they could do. A priest was called to deliver Last Rites. That explains the reference to making the Sign of the Cross.

This is how the dream ends:

My mom pulls me out of the bed, and the woman disappears. My parents tell me to calm myself, but I am too scared. Some minutes later, I hear the noise of a coming train. As this house is near a railroad, this isn’t something out of the ordinary, but I am curious, so I get near the window to watch it. Then I notice that the engine is a very old model, one that couldn’t possibly be in use. A black steam locomotive, and there isn’t any steam coming out of its chimney! After it, there are wagons made of wood with people inside of them, shouting.

Then, another train appears, this time a modern one. To me, it seems that this one is real, not a ghost train like the previous one. The train gets off the tracks and moves towards me. I try to shout, but my throat is blocked. Then I wake up!

Ghosts are associated with death, and the dreamer nearly died. When his parents realized he was seriously ill, they pulled him out of bed and started to drive to the hospital. But along the way they were blocked by a train. I can picture the scene, everyone starting to panic and shouting as they wait and wait for the train pass. That explains the presence of the trains in the dream, and the shouting of the people. The depiction of the first train as being ancient could be a way of saying the incident with the illness happened long ago.

I struggled initially to interpret this dream, made a few suggestions to the dreamer about the symbolism that didn’t ring a bell with him. I told him to focus on the fear aspect and think back on the day before the dream, searching his memory for anything that caused him fear.

from a dream about ghosts

The typhoid bacteria, a strain of salmonella

With that in mind he remembered he’d had a visitor to his house the day before the dream. He smelled something foul on the visitor’s breath—the distinct smell of typhoid, which his mother smelled on his breath once upon a time and didn’t recognize—but wrote it off and didn’t make a connection. However, it did spark fear in him. The day after the dream the visitor was supposed to return, but instead called to say he had woken up with a high fever and went to see a doctor. He was diagnosed with typhoid!

Now the dream makes sense: the fear, the ghost, the power outage, the reference to a river, the parasites, the flamethrower, the Sign of the Cross, the train, the saints. All the details tie in with the typhoid incident. Rather than just recount the incident verbatim, the dream turned it all into symbolism. Smelling typhoid on his visitor’s breath sparked it all—a smell he subconsciously recognized but failed to make the connection.

It is one of the most extraordinary dreams I’ve interpreted. And it makes me wonder how many other dreams I haven’t been able to decipher because I didn’t know enough about the dreamer.

A dream about ghosts of illness past.

Interpretation of a dream about boots

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dream about boots

Interpretation of a dream about boots

The way you react during a dream says a lot about how you really feel. The dream presents a scenario and you react to it, but what you react to is the symbolism, not to the overt story. Subconsciously you know what the symbolism means and react to that. This fact can help decipher some of the most perplexing dreams.

Here is an example to illustrate what I mean. I interpreted this dream at Reddit Dreams (edited for clarity; link to post:)

While standing outside of a shop, sitting on a step, I got approached by two Chinese people—an old woman on my left, and a middle-aged man on the right—both quite shady in their overall demeanor. They sat and crouched next to me, while staring at my shoes. Then kept gazing at them while exchanging a few words in their language, which I couldn’t understand. Soon after, the man popped me the question: “Would you sell those?” I refused, but he went on insisting, also voicing out some quick evaluation concerning the actual state of my boots—a pair of sporty boxing ones I’ve actually wear irl. “They’re a bit worn out. 8 euro.” I refused again, a tad offended by the utter unappreciative offer as well.

The dreamer is asked if he wants to sell his boots, and his reaction is ‘no way.’ He is even a bit offended by the idea. Now the trick is to figure out what the dream is really asking him.

To do that we must know what the boots symbolize. Boots or shoes can symbolize the path you’re on in life, your willingness to take action, preparing for a personal journey, or something that helps your life move forward. That’s the generalized “dream dictionary” definition of the symbolism. But oftentimes a symbol in a dream is based on the personal associations of the dreamer. I asked the dreamer what the boots meant to him.

He replied that the boots were his “stage boots.” He used to play in a band, and hadn’t worn the boots since the last time he played with that band. He’d been thinking about getting back into playing music, but wasn’t sure if it was worth the hassle. Maybe he was getting too old. Maybe he should just settle down.

Those associations reveal the meaning of the dream. When asked if he wants to sell the boots, he is really being asked if he wants to give up on playing music on stage. When told that the boots seem worn out, it’s really playing on the idea that he feels worn out. When the old man offer eight euro for the boots, it’s probably a way of symbolizing the low value the dreamer is putting on an important part of his life. The low offer could also be a deliberate attempt to rile him up and spark his feelings.

He is really being asked, are the boots really worth so little to you? Remember, the boots symbolize playing music on stage. It has nothing to do with the actual value of the boots, but to what they mean to him.

If he had sold the boots, or maybe haggled for a better offer, it would show he is ready to give up on the idea of playing music on stage. But because he reacts by rejecting the offer, I think he isn’t ready to hang up those shoes, er, boots just yet.

The First Rule of Dream Interpretation: Consider the Obvious

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The first rule of dream interpretation

Some dreams are full of archetypal imagery and themes that offer a view into the deepest reaches of the inner world of the dreamer. They are windows to the soul. Analyzing these dreams using techniques such as those offered by depth psychology can lead to astute, sometimes life-changing insights.

However, as the lead moderator at Reddit Dreams, a popular online dreams forum, I have observed that most of the dreams submitted to the site have more to do with daily life than with life of the soul. They reflect the dreamers’ thoughts, concerns, and feelings, and tell stories about recent events in their lives. They can be interpreted with no special training or techniques simply by looking for the obvious meaning.

I will give you some examples and explain how I interpreted them, with the hope that you will better understand the everyday dreams that make up the bulk of your dream life. For the sake of brevity, I chose dreams with short descriptions (edited for brevity and clarity).

keyinlockI’ve been dating this girl for six weeks and things are going great. But last night I dreamed she was at my house, in my bedroom, and wouldn’t allow me in. She said it was “too risky.”

When I interpret dreams I look for symbolism in the settings. The symbolism is often related to the function a setting has in daily life. A bedroom is for sleeping. It can be a place of privacy. It is also a setting where people have sex.

The young man who had this dream is ready to have sex with his girlfriend, but she is putting it off because it’s “too risky.” Combine the idea of “too risky” with the function of a bedroom as a place for having sex, and the meaning is obvious.

Now look at the next dream, also with a bedroom setting, and try to figure out what it relates to. The dreamer has a roommate; the roommate referred to in the dream is a person he lives with, not a fictional character the dream invented.

In my dream a gorilla jumps around my room being violent. I tell my roommate to lock him up. Then the gorilla comes to me and I am sweet with him, but in the back of my mind I’m afraid he could get violent again.

The reference to the roommate in this dream indicates that the gorilla is a symbol for him. Otherwise, why would the dreamer ask him to lock up the gorilla? The dream clearly connects together the roommate and the gorilla. The dreamer said his roommate would invade his privacy by entering his bedroom uninvited and messing with his computer. He also said that his roommate’s behavior could be described as acting like a gorilla, and he handled him delicately, leery of his unpredictability. (Read the original post if you like.)

Just for fun, let’s look at other possible interpretations for these dreams. The dream about the girlfriend could be interpreted as the dreamer denying his feminine side, because the girlfriend character shuts him out of his bedroom, a way of saying he is cut off from a feminine-oriented part of himself. We could spend hours talking about getting in touch with his “inner woman,” when really he just wants to physically get in touch with his girlfriend!

The dream about the gorilla could be interpreted as symbolizing the dreamer’s inner nature. We could end up talking about following instincts and getting to know his animal side, when actually the dream is describing his roommate.

My point is, keep it simple. The most obvious answer is often the correct one. When obvious answers don’t apply, we break out the tools Carl Jung and his contemporaries in depth psychology gave us to interpret dreams. With most dreams I don’t find it necessary, though.

This is another dream for which the obvious interpretation is the best one:

I dream that my fiance is completely blind. As we sit on the couch together I forget that he can no longer see my face and it makes me cry.

A reference to seeing someone in a dream can mean to see the person they are, to see the inside of them, not the outside. By portraying her fiance as blind, the dream is saying that the dreamer feels like he doesn’t really “see” her. There are other possible interpretations, but I zeroed in on this one because of the dreamer’s reaction. It hurts to know she is engaged to someone who doesn’t really see her for the person she is.

In comparison, check out the next dream, about processing perceptions related to the person the dreamer is about to marry. The dreamer is engaged and her wedding day is right around the corner.

I dream that it’s my wedding day and I’m about to say my vows in a big church full of people I know. Suddenly my ex-boyfriend barges through the doors and says he is there to rescue me.wedding day dream

The meaning of this dream seems obvious to me. She needs someone to rescue her from marrying the wrong person. She knows that marrying the person she is engaged to is a bad decision, but is blind to the obvious. She can’t figure it out for herself so her dream makes it unmistakable.

Dreams show us what we don’t realize consciously. They amplify the small voices in our head that are sometimes ignored or overlooked. They teach us what we need to know to make good decisions and live our lives better.

Depth psychology provided my introduction to dream interpretation, and I am forever grateful for how it expanded my mind and opened my life to new possibilities. It is invaluable for understanding those occasional dreams that have no obvious connection to daily life and ordinary concerns. The deep dreams about life of the soul. But before breaking out those dream interpretation tools, follow the first rule of dream interpretation and consider the obvious first.

Dream Interpretation: Apocalyptic battle relates to dreamer’s work

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Dream Interpretation: Apocalyptic Battle

Dreams exaggerate. They take something going on in your life or in yourself and blow it way out of proportion. They do this to get your attention and be memorable. You can have as many as 20 dreams in a night, and among all that content the few dreams that are the most important need to stand out. Many dreams simply process memories of the day and don’t really have anything to teach you, nor important meaning. Some are very important, very meaningful, and have much to teach you.

The dream about an apocalyptic battle I’m about to analyze is a great example of exaggeration to get a point across. It was shared at Reddit Dreams, where I’m a moderator.

(Link to original. I’m “RadOwl” in that discussion. I changed the dream description to present tense and lightly edited it.)

In my dream, I travel just about as far forward in time as it is possible to go, which is actually so far that time somehow loops over and takes me back to the very beginning of time, where the world is jagged, rocky, and constantly blanketed by a thick, silvery mist. There, the last remnants of humanity — super-soldiers augmented with cybernetic parts to enhance their combat prowess — are fighting an endless battle against an invading enemy force: strange, mantis-like humanoids that seem to be swarming en masse from the center of the earth, intent on eliminating the very last human settlement in history.

dream interpretation about an apocalyptic battle

dream interpretation about an apocalyptic battle

Somehow, after briefly observing the battle, I know that things are going even worse than usual for humanity, so I go inside and voice my concerns to the person in charge — a tough-as-nails black woman in her mid-fifties — who then goes outside and fires the general overseeing the battle.

After that, I am back in the base for some reason, and I am being given a tour that showcases all the futuristic weapons and equipment that the soldiers are fighting with. The one that stands out the most for me is a sort of foldable APC: light as a feather but tough as a tank, it is made out of a material that looks like plastic but can withstand just about anything, and the whole thing can be collapsed like a tent and carried around by hand.

Wow, this dream has it all: time travel; battles to save humanity; futuristic technology; interpersonal drama; powerful alien enemies. It’s like an episode of Battlestar Galactica or something.

To interpret it, I began with the idea of battling something, because that’s the main theme of the dream. The other main idea that clued me in is the part about time travel, reaching the end only to go back to the beginning. The picture I got in my mind reminded me of people I know who work in high-pressure environments. They finish some huge project only to find another one waiting for them. They have a constant sense of alarm as they race to meet deadlines and stay on top of a tidal wave of work.

Specifically, I thought of someone I know who works for a major video gaming company. The team he is on work really hard and fast to produce a game, then work even harder and faster as the game is getting ready to launch. They sometimes eat and sleep at work. They do all that frantic work, finish the project, only to turn around and have a new project waiting for them. Rarely do they get a chance to take a breather.

I told the dreamer about the thoughts her dream sparked in me, and she related. She works in the front office at a private school and says there is always something that has to be done right now. The panic button is always being pushed. The work is endless. One project is finished and another immediately begins.

So with that in mind, take a look again at the dream’s description. The super-soldiers augmented with high technology are an exaggerated representation of the modern office worker armed with powerful computers and smart phones. The dreamer and her workmates are like soldiers fighting battles against on onslaught of work and responsibilities. The weapons the soldiers fight with represent the tools the dreamer uses to do her job. The mantis-like creatures are the impersonal forces she and her workmates face everyday in their work. If they fail to win the battle, they could end up harming the organization or losing their jobs.

To understand what the APC represents, the keyword is personnel. What is something high-tech that helps manage personnel? Sounds like a smart phone to me.

I thought at first that the black-lady leader and the general could represent someone getting fired at her workplace, but then with more thought about what a general does, I realized that this detail could be related to delegating work responsibilities. Generals lead. They also delegate. The black lady could represent a part of the dreamer that wants to be tough-as-nails when it comes to delegating responsibility and work load.

So as you can see, everything in this dream relates back to the dreamer’s work life. The dream could easily be confused for some sort of apocalypse in the dreamer’s life, but instead it’s an exaggerated representation of the apocalyptic battles she fights at work every day. She says she loves her job so leaving it is not an option. It might be a good idea though to take a breather and delegate more responsible.

Precognition or just a dream: the difference between precognitive and ordinary dreams

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Difference between precognitive and ordinary dreams

As a dreams expert who does a lot of media interviews, I am asked fairly often how to distinguish ordinary dreams from precognitive ones. In fact, I was recently asked that question on the Christine Upchurch Show. (I was her guest on Aug. 1, 2014 show. Scroll down to her archive).

Short answer: look for personal symbolism and rule out other possibilities.

First rule out that a dream you suspect to be precognitive is actually about something personal to you. The majority of dreams for most people are entirely personal. Ask yourself if the dream is residue from the previous day. Or does it express your anxieties or wishes. Physicist Russ Targ, who has studied precognition as a scientist and written extensively about it, uses this example: You know you haven’t studied for a test, you dream you fail it then really do fail it. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and not precognition.

While everyone has the ability to precognitive dream because it’s an innate ability, in my experience only a small subset of the population does it regularly and remember when they do. Most people don’t remember their dreams well enough to know if they do it or not.

An example of how to separate an ordinary dream from the extraordinary can be found in my book Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams. I used the case of Sugar Ray Robinson’s dream about killing his opponent in the ring. Before his welterweight bout with Jimmy Doyle in 1947, Sugar Ray dreamed that he knocked out Doyle and he subsequently died. Sugar Ray was so unnerved that he tried to back out of the fight. The fight promoter brought in a priest to assure Robinson it was “only a dream.” The rest is history.

Sugar Ray knocked out Doyle in the 8th round. Doyle died that night.

Sugar Ray knocked out Doyle in the 8th round. Doyle died that night.

If I was the person brought in to counsel Robinson about his dream I’d begin by asking him if the details matched waking reality. In the dream, was the arena the same as the one he was scheduled to fight in? Were the people nearby, like his trainers and the ref, the same people he anticipated to be at the fight? Discrepancies between waking reality and dream reality are a sign of personal symbolism, though precognitive dreams are known to use symbolism and metaphor, too.

Next I’d explore the possibilities for symbolism. Killing someone in a dream can express personal hostility. Was there bad blood between him and Doyle, so that Robinson felt he “could kill that guy” in the figurative sense? If so, there would be a chance the dream expressed those feelings and was not precognition.

Then I’d explore if a subconscious fear was showing itself in the dream. Fighters die in the ring, rarely but it happens. Sugar Ray had no desire to actually kill someone – he was a great fighter with a vicious punch but was an honorable sportsman. I’d ask him if he feared he could kill Doyle because Doyle had taken too many hard blows to the head.

Some digging through historical accounts of the bout uncovered this possibility. Doyle was known to have head issues. He was a tenacious Irish fighter who publicly proclaimed he was fighting Robinson to earn the money to buy his mother a house. I think it’s possible Sugar Ray’s dream reflected a fear that Doyle should not be boxing anymore, then the fear came true. The dream might not have been precognitive in the strictest sense. Unfortunately, we can’t ask Robinson the questions needed to make that determination.

However, in his autobiography Robinson wrote, “I had knocked out guys before, dozens of them. But in those fights, I always had a good feeling, a conquering feeling when I saw them being counted out, maybe because I could see that they weren’t really hurt. But now, with Doyle stretched out and his eyes blank, I had that empty feeling you get when something in your life is really wrong, and all I could think of was the dream.”

Robinson added, “You warned me, God. You told me. Why did I let everyone talk me out of it.”

I think Robinson’s dream was precognitive, but it’s easier to judge after the fact.

A guy once asked me if a dream he’d had about a plane crash warned him he should not get on a flight he was scheduled to take the next day. I asked him if details from the dream matched waking reality. Was the airplane in the dream from the same airline he had booked? Was it the same type of plane? Were the airport and concourse the same? While precognitive dreams can use symbolism and metaphor, it’s not as likely to be used for details like these.

What I find is, if a dream is precognitive and metaphorical, the entire dream will be metaphor, not just pieces of it. I also asked the guy if something in his recent life could be symbolized as a plane crash. Planes take us to personal destinations. This dream theme often pops up when people are beginning something new and exciting like a romantic relationship or a business venture. The guy said yes, something with his job that he’d had high hopes for recently “crashed” in the figurative sense.

At the risk of being wrong I told him I did not think his dream was precognitive. I watched the news the next day with butterflies in my stomach, and fortunately there were no reports of plane crashes.

A piece of evidence used to support the existence of precognition comes from the fact that planes and trains that crash tend to have more empty seats than usual. An investigation of train crashes on the U.S. east coast during the 1950s showed that the trains that crashed or derailed had fewer passengers than the same trains on other days. The four passenger planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 had half their usual numbers of passengers.

There are many reports of people who did not take flights that crashed because they had a bad feeling. Sometimes though the reason why people miss those flights appears to be dumb luck. For example, Seth MacFarlane was booked on American Airlines Flight 11 on the morning of September 11, 2001, but he arrived ten minutes late because his travel agent gave him the wrong departure time and he was hungover, so he was running late anyway.

Which brings me around to the best way to tell a precognitive dream from an ordinary one: intuition. It’s a gut feeling. Some people who’ve had precognitive dreams report a buzzing sound during the dreams or a ringing in their ears when they wake up. The dreams have an unusual clarity. There can be a feeling like deja vu that accompanies them. For many people, trusting their gut feelings is a new experience. They don’t trust it and don’t know that precognition is a fact of life.

If you analyze a dream that you suspect is precognitive and it a). is not related to residue from the previous day, b). is not an expression of anxiety, c). does not express a wish, and d). is not personal symbolism, then consider that it’s precognitive. But most of all, trust your gut. The most important thing to remember is precognition is not prophecy. Precognition gives us the ability to act ahead of time, to change the possible outcome. In that way it’s more like a forecast. And forecasts can always change.

Visit my website Dreams 1-2-3.com to learn more about my system of dream interpretation. Or to hear more of my radio interviews, visit my media page.

Further information about precognition:

Researcher Ian Wilson’s theory about precognition. Well-researched and cited.

Essay: An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne, a seminal work about dream precognition.

Russ Targ’s TED Talk Not exactly about precognition but psi ability in general.



Dream interpretation: Bathroom doors symbolize privacy

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A dream interpretation: bathroom doors

The theme of bathroom doors comes up frequently in dreams related to privacy. The phrase “having a private moment” refers to using the bathroom. In Japan, public bathrooms are equipped with noisemakers so that you can drop a load and not bother your neighbor. Privacy and bathrooms are closely associated, and in the next dream the symbolism really shows itself:

I start out in a setting I like, a bookstore, office, etc. Then I have to use the bathroom. So I go find it and there’s not a soul in there but me, there’s dozens of amazing stalls, but no doors on them! The bathrooms are so lovely and I long to use one of them but I just can’t fathom the thought of using one of them without a door, in case someone walks in! Sometimes I’ll find a stall that has a door but it’s disgusting…. I’ve had these dreams since I was young.

dream interpretation: bathroom doors

Open or closed? The dream imagery gives away the meaning

The dreamer herself indicated that she thought the dream was related to privacy. It is a recurring dream theme, indicating an ongoing situation. The part that really gives away the meaning is the difference between the bathroom stalls. When there’s no door on the stall the bathrooms are “lovely.” When the stalls have doors the bathrooms are “disgusting.”

I conversed with the dreamer about the symbolism and she caught on quickly. Here is her reply:

I think the bathroom dreams might have something to do with my home life with my parents. Maybe because I feel like life is great with them but that I have no privacy, and when I do finally get the chance to shut them out and have my own life, it will not be as luxurious.

No shabby, insect-ridden hell hole apartments for this young lady. She prefers the luxury of living with her parents…at a price of not being able to shut them out. The door (or lack of it) on the stall symbolizes being able to shut people out of one’s private life. The same ideas applies to dreams about bathroom doors, not just stall doors. Case solved. Next dream.

Dream Interpretation: Acid thrown in face

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Dream Interpretation: Acid thrown in face

The face is the part of the body most closely associated with personal identity. Without a face a person is less identifiable. So when dreams refer to the face it’s often symbolic of something related to a person’s identity. With that in mind, take a look at this dream I interpreted at Reddit (link to original post):

I dreamt that I was walking into a Mcdonalds and it was packed so I decided to leave. As I was leaving these two girls were standing outside and had a water bottle in their hand, they were giggling. I kind of stopped to look at them because I felt like they were up to trouble. Both of them looked at me and one of them said “Hey, come here.” That’s when I started running and they chased me. I somehow climbed a pole and got onto this ledge thing, but I was pretty much trapped. When I looked down they were smiling and giggling, looked at each other, and then looked at me. Then a stranger passed by, he was looking at me and then looked down at them. One of the girls said “Hey!” and as he looked at her she squirted the liquid into his face. He started screaming and holding his face, I saw faint smoke coming from it. He ran away as the girls started laughing. The dream ended with them looking up at me, smiling.

Acid attacks like this really do happen and it’s possible to dream about it as a reflection of something heard about it on the news, but in this case I see symbolism at work. Two parts stick out. One, the attack itself, and two, the girls who do it. My first impression was, “I know that type of girl.” They huddle in little groups and disparage everyone else, making themselves feel better by putting other people down. So my guess was that this person’s character or reputation has been attacked recently, probably by a female or group of females.

To make a long story short, this interpretation hit the nail on the head. This is what the dreamer said in response:

Well my mother and I have never had a good relationship. Putting me down is pretty much her specialty. Two weeks ago we actually got into a really explosive argument because, to put it frankly, I was sick of her shit. We haven’t spoken since but I’m pretty much still completely angry. Usually by now we would’ve gotten over it, but this fight was different. She still talks behind my back to other family members and friend. I honestly can’t even stand to look at her.

I’m not sure why McDonald’s is the initial setting — it might have to do with a connection between cheap food and cheap shots, as in personal attacks — but the rest of the dream is pretty obvious in light of this comment. The dream uses substitute characters because I bet it’s hard for the dreamer to see the situation for what it really is. The dream portrays it almost poetically, but think about if you were the person constantly being attacked by your mom. It would probably be hard to admit to yourself that what she does is the symbolic equivalent of getting acid thrown in your face. Also, it’s not the dreamer but a stranger who gets attacked, yet the stranger is a substitute for the dreamer. Again, it’s to create some distance so that the dreamer can observe the situation and get the message without being too disturbed by the dream content before the dream runs its course.

The part about climbing the pole and getting stuck on a ledge is also a perfect metaphor for the situation the dreamer is in with his mom (and, by the way, with the rest of his family, as they follow her lead and tear into him too). Being up on a pole is a way of saying he is alone in this situation. He is trying to get away from it but can’t. Stuck on a ledge is also a variation of the same idea. It symbolizes being in a precarious situation.

Man, what a mother. Good luck, dreamer. I suggested that he get away from his family. His response: I’m trying.

For more about body symbolism in dreams, see this dream about a leg amputated,

this dream about a callous over the heart,

this dream about earwax,

this dream about false teeth,

and this dream about pulling a hair from a foot.

Dream Interpretation: Two lions in a dungeon

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Two lions can represent two sides of the same coin, expressing an internal power dynamic, but not in this dream.

Two lions can represent two sides of the same coin, expressing an internal power dynamic, but not in this dream.

Dream interpretation: two lions in a dungeon

When interpreting a dream, one of the first steps — if not THE first step — is to gage whether it’s an internal or external dream. Does it speak to something going on inside the dreamer, or outside the dreamer? Some dreams describe what is happening inside a person, some describe what’s happening externally in a person’s life. The difference isn’t always apparent at first, and there can be overlap, but it’s a great place to begin because the approaches to interpreting external and internal dreams are a little different, and knowing the difference narrows down the possibilities.

The dream I’m about to discuss looks like an internal dream at first glance because the imagery does not seem to be related to anything going on externally in the dreamer’s life. External dreams often have settings and characters from external life. If you dream about work or school, work or school will be the setting and it will be populated with characters from those areas of life. However, when a dream needs to express something that’s difficult for the dreamer to wrestle with or “see”, it will disguise the waking-life source. With that in mind, take a look (link to original post at Reddit):

I was having a normal dream with nothing weird when all of a sudden it stopped and I was in a dark dungeon with iron gates all around each side, each with a staircase leading up and out of there.

At the nearest staircase a lion fell down and hit the gate he was behind. He was terrified. He took a glance back up the stair then carefully climbed through the gate into the dungeon and stared at the far side of the dungeon.

There was a huge intricate gate in front of a grand staircase. The gate had the image of a lion’s left profile. The eye was hollow and dripping water as if it were crying. Slowly, the image of the lion started to speak, “I am blind in this eye, so I cannot see you” the image turned its face toward the real lion, revealing its second eye, “But with this eye, I can see right through you!”

The huge gate swung open and the real lion ran as fast as it could up the staircase.

Then my normal dreams returned as if nothing had happened except I was blind in my right eye.

The first detail from the dream that sticks out at me is the dichotomy of the two lions, one terrified, the other sort of omniscient. Pairings like this in a dream can be a way of expressing archetypal symbolism. Archetypes are powerful centers within the deep psyche that shape human energy, made up of a “positive side” and a “negative side.” Think of positive and negative as polarity like you get with protons and electrons. It’s an esoteric subject that I won’t get into now, point is that archetypes are solely internal for a dreamer. In dreams, the presence of archetypes is a dead giveaway that the dream is describing an internal power dynamic. Even though one of the lions is made of iron and the other of flesh, they can still be looked it as a pairing.

But not so fast, cowboy. I suggested to the dreamer that she look for internal power dynamics in the dream by examining the lions and looking for ways she related to them. What I suspected was two sides of the dreamer — one timid (negative) and the other assertive (positive) — were in conflict. Dynamic conflict is the essence of personal change and transformation. I had a hunch the dreamer was trying to change something about herself, perhaps trying to become less passive and more assertive.

Her response was lukewarm so I focused next on astrological symbolism in the lions. Dreams can create symbols for pe0ple based off their astrological signs, and Leo is the lion. Leos come into two basic flavors, one overtly aggressive, the other passive-aggressive. It’s like the difference between Mufasa and Scar in The Lion King movie. The dreamer replied that her husband is a Leo and she is a Capricorn. I wondered whether her husband didn’t really “see” her on the one hand, and saw right through her on the other. It could tie together the symbolism between two distinctive details of the dream. The dreamer didn’t make a connection so I moved on to the setting.

This is really where I should have begun hunting for the meaning of the dream. A dungeon is a helluva setting and the symbolism is very telling. It implies that the dreamer feels trapped in a situation. I wondered whether her husband the Leo had her trapped in an abusive relationship or something. In my system of dream interpretation, settings are one of the keys to analyzing a dream. So I suggested to the dreamer that the dungeon could symbolize that she feels trapped. Question was, by what? Relationships can be entrapping, but so can work situations, school situations, personal situations. With that one suggestion, the dreamer made a powerful connection. In her words:

I do feel trapped in my job –

And now that I think about it, I’m wondering if the iron lion represents corporate and higher management. The ones who make the decisions. The don’t see me, they see employee #538. The tears could be crocodile tears, from when they send memos down to us to say, “We ‘care’ about you, now work harder!”

I’m suddenly seeing a ton of ways this connects to how I feel about my job. The natural lion had no choice but to run up the iron lion’s stairs. The iron lion had control and knew it and it will bring the natural lion right back down to the dungeon again.

Maybe it wasn’t that the natural lion looked fearfully up the stairs he first fell down – maybe he was just longing to go back up the stairs but knew he couldn’t. He had to bow to the iron lion’s will before he moved on.

Corporate has been real shitty to us on the lowest rungs on the ladder here lately. Everything is our faults and they claim they want to just fire everyone and start over.

Wow. I guess my mind really wanted me to take a good look at where I was in life.

Wow indeed. What a way for a dream to express what’s going on in the dreamer’s work life! The dream is not about internal power dynamics of the dreamer, but external power dynamics at work.