Demo #5: Interpret Inner Life Dreams
Our next demo in RadOwl’s Crash Course on How to Interpret Dreams draws its illuminating example dream from my course Dreaming for Love and Relationships. It’s a snapshot of the dreamer’s inner life and aims at the heart of her last romantic relationship.
Title: Things Are Just Dandy — But They’re Not
I dream I’m living with my ex and his girlfriend and it’s all good. No problem. Then I remember, hey wait a minute, HE broke up with ME to be with HER. I scream at him “What is wrong with you! What is wrong with you!” Which is unlike me. Even when we broke up I stayed perfectly calm.Originally shared at Reddit
At first glance it’s natural to suspect this dream is based on outer life because it involves people from her outer life and an event — a breakup — that occurred in it, but the personal context is they broke up a few years ago. He broke up with her to be with his new girl, the same one in the dream. So the dream correlates with outer life, but it is better understood as an ongoing drama about her inner life.
She really did go through a bad breakup with her ex. He really did dump her to be with his new girl. That’s not fiction, but the rest of the story is. I establish these facts first when I help the person interpret her dream. It points me in the right direction.
Use D3 to get to the bottom of this dream
First, the setting. Living with her ex. What does that really mean? The place where they lived together is a long-ago memory that could be used to set the scene, but in this case living with him means her mind is on him. Perhaps not directly, but the breakup never really left her mind and, just like the dream, she can be OK as long as she doesn’t think too deeply. She lives there in the sense that she’s still in that personal space, living with an unanswered and very personal lingering question that’s asked during the dream:
What is wrong with her?
In her dream she directs the question at the image of her ex — the actor playing the role of him — but when she asks what is wrong with you (him), she really means herself. What’s wrong with her to make him break up with her? What’s the other girl got that she don’t?
Most questions and statements in dreams point inward at the dreamer, even when they’re apparently directed outward. She might wonder superficially what’s wrong with him, but the dream creates a contrast between her and the girlfriend character and, by knowing it is purposeful, we reverse engineer. The dream didn’t have to put the girlfriend character in the scene to tell the basic story about the breakup, so why do it? Answering the question leads to viewing it as directed inward, not outward.
Step 2: Interpret and Analyze
The strong emotions in the dream belie the dreamer’s calm front. Behind it she’s anything but calm. The dream is helping her see how she really feels and the roots of it in the self-doubts that filled the cracks in her self-image after the trauma of the breakup.
“Amplify” is the dream interpretation technique for drilling to the heart of that scene, part of Step 2, Interpret Symbolism. Dreams amplify so you can see or hear what you’re not seeing or hearing and know what you don’t know — or don’t want to know. They amplify so you can hear the little voices in your head that are ignored or drowned out.
Amplifying also helps you analyze the story, the other half of Step 2. Dreams have reasons for amplifying, and knowing those reasons helps you to reverse engineer. Use the link at the bottom of this section to receive my lesson on Amplify.
We already used the comparison-contrast tool for story analysis to help us see how the dream creates a contrast between the dreamer and the new girlfriend. That’s what helps us to know that the question asked during the dream is directed inward, not outward.
Interpret Symbolism: Associate, Simplify, Amplify
Associate: What thoughts come to mind for the dreamer when she thinks about the time of life when she lived her ex and when they broke up? Associate with the new girl. Associate with the difference between then and now, knowing that dreams always speak to the present when they refer to the past. The spontaneous thoughts that come to mind can rise out of her subconscious knowledge of what everything in the dream really means, simple fact #1.
Simplify: What’s wrong? Direct the question toward finding the personal context. And ask the question within the story context — it’s related somehow to the breakup. That’s the scenario outlined in the opening scene, and we know that the scene is likely to be based around the dream’s central idea.
Inner life? Yeah, entirely. The dream isn’t really about the breakup, it’s about the lingering questions behind it and damage it caused.
Your dream is virtual reality… created by you for you
Inner life dreams are interpreted mainly by seeing yourself in them. The dreamscape is your inner world projected out for you to interact with. It’s presented to you as symbolism and as story, and generally it gets “deeper” as the night goes on and your dreams can focus on inner life after first prioritizing the needs of the body including the brain. In the dream, her ex boyfriend is her internalized image of him, and his girlfriend is there to both set up the scenario and represent the other side of the dreamer’s split self-perception.
The girlfriend is her inner opposite, the other side of the split, the side of her with no reason for self-doubt — the way she was before the breakup. She might have had some cracks prior to the breakup, but that experience creates fissures. As a rule of hand, splits inside a person appear in dreams as opposites or contrasts.
The girlfriend is brought into the story for a reason because dreams always have a reason. All splits want to heal. It begins by seeing this one and knowing the main reason for it, and the dream does that by setting up the contrast between the dreamer and the girlfriend. Ultimately, the part of the mind that creates dreams, the unconscious mind, wants to bring the two of them back together as one.
Heal the split.
Your Dreams: It’s All You
Everything you see in your dreams is you. It’s your inner world. The dream is your creation and it’s entirely subjective. That’s a rule of some schools of dream interpretation. I mostly agree with the premise and the approach of focusing inward while interpreting dreams. But I keep my eye open for dreams that closely parallel events of outer life, too. Every rule of interpretation has exceptions — it’s a very fluid process.
And I know dreams can be objective and direct in ways that cross into territory of the nature of consciousness and how it interacts with the invisible layers of reality. Some dreams originate outside of ourselves and require a different set of tools and knowledge to interpret.
Dream: Creatures outside her bedroom window
They Come at Night
I dream it’s nighttime and I’m in my bedroom when I see creepy creatures floating outside my bedroom window. They want to come in but I won’t let them.A dream shared at Reddit Dreams: dreams.reddit.com
What’s trying to get into her most personal space? That’s the question to kick off the interpretation process. Her bedroom is her most personal space and it’s where the creatures floating outside her window are trying to get. She reacts by keeping them out and that helps narrow down the possibilities for what that imagery symbolizes because it’s a reaction based on subconscious knowledge of what she’s really trying to keep out. The creatures are symbols, and the story involving them defines their meaning.
Her external life could be the source and the creatures could symbolize people who intrude in her bedroom or her privacy. If the source was a single person such as a parent, sibling or roommate who is the external intrusion, the dream would be more likely to show it as one creature, though. And besides, the personal context doesn’t fit. We ruled out that possibility first thing while interpreting the dream.
Hello, inner life
Now we have a question to ask and it aims at her inner life. What’s trying to bother her or get into her thoughts while she’s in her bedroom at night? The window is an entry into that space, and in the dream the space represents her thoughts.
Her answer: she’s been keeping out thoughts related to her ex-boyfriend and their recent break up. The challenge comes when her busy day is over and she’s alone in her bedroom with nothing else to think about. The thoughts are like creatures floating outside her window waiting for the chance to get in. She won’t allow it, so the creatures stay out.
Step 3: Connect and Reflect
That personal context ties together every detail of the dream. It tells us what the creatures and window symbolize and explains the action of the creatures just waiting for the chance to get in. It explains why the dream’s setting is her bedroom. In this case, it’s used to define what part of the inner world of the dreamer is shown in the dream (her closest, most personal space) and it’s a set piece sourced from her external reality that’s used in the story because it’s the actual location where the inner drama occurs.
Now imagine someone in a similar situation who can’t keep out intrusive thoughts. Who, when alone at night, allows them into their personal space. How would it change the story?
More story analysis
A person or people who intrude externally would be more likely to use a door as characters or symbols in a dream, and I’d expect to see the creatures at her door because it’s the regular way of entering a bedroom. Story analysis points me toward the idea that the creatures aren’t something external but internal. It’s not always the case, just a tendency.
As metaphors, windows are more commonly used to view into the inner person, like in the phrase “the eyes are windows to the soul.” Searching a dream for use of metaphorical symbolism is part of story analysis. I’ve seen this use of window symbolism many times in dreams to speak to what’s trying to slip into the inner world of the dreamer: thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions. Even eye infections! An infection originates externally of the body then enters it, and if a home in a dream symbolizes the person’s body, anything that enters or tries to enter can symbolize something trying to enter the body.
Notice how much the dream packs into one scene. It mirrors a minor but important fact about the dreamer’s life and can say a lot in a simple scene that impacted the dreamer enough to come to reddit seeking help for understanding it.
“Big Dreams” tend to have three scenes or more and follow a structure of giving background in the opening scene, showing present conditions in the next scene, then point toward likely future or best-case outcomes in scene three.
Dream: My (deceased) mom told me I’ll join her in a few years
My mom passed away 15 months ago, but only recently has she been appearing in my dreams. I’ve had three of these dreams, they’re all pretty dull, but it’s helping me heal. We usually just chat, and she always looks very tired. The last dream was a few nights ago. In it I told her I missed her and she said, while casually drinking tea, “I know, but you can’t join me yet, when you’re about 33, er maybe 34, yeah.” This terrified me so much that I woke up soon after and I haven’t seen her since… do I have a reason to be afraid here?Shared at reddit
Right away I know where to go with this dream because I’ve seen its type at Reddit Dreams over and over. Oftentimes, what people see in their deceased loved one in a dream is something they see or fear seeing in themselves. The loved one is dead. Who better for a dream to choose to tell a story about following in their footsteps? It’s not a prophecy though.
Mom in the dream looks tired, worn out before her time. She died that way. Now the dreamer — her daughter — fears it happening to her. What she sees in mom in the dream she sees in herself — tired, worn, health failing — or could see in herself if she continues wearing herself out like mom did.
It’s not too late for this person. Dreams are timely. The part of your mind that creates your dreams know what’s up and has a good idea what’s coming up in your life, and it provides updates nightly. Another reason to pay attention!
A common mistake is to presume that the loved one in a dream is their spirit visiting. That’s the exception. It’s a dream — interpret it that way.
Dreams can be precognitive. They can show what will happen in the future. Here’s how to ID them.
Dream: My best friend back from the dead
Losing You Again
In my dream I’m driving along in my car like normal when suddenly my best friend who died six months ago appears in the back seat. I’m so happy she’s back and want to know how it happened. But then she fades away and I cry, “I don’t want to lose you again!”Shared at Reddit
The people in our lives imprint on us, and often it’s that imprint you see as them in your dreams. Doesn’t matter when or how long it’s been since they were in your life.
People from the past will appear in your dreams, and unless they’re somehow involved in your recent life or they’ve been on your mind consciously or subconsciously, you aren’t processing recent memories. In this example the friend died six months prior to the dream, and in the last example the mom died more than a year prior. Context points us toward inner life — that’s the likely source of the dream.
The dream is a view of something happening inside you. A development in your personality? An emotion, thought, perception? Movement in your psyche? These are all possibilities, but I look first toward the body and brain and processes that run while dreaming — and in some cases, processes that run only while dreaming — because these dreams are the most common type. And when they touch on emotional subjects, they stand out from the many dreams you can have in a night and easily forget
The friend is a memory fading away
A memory process called neuroplasticity runs only while dreaming, and you can expect to have dreams that symbolically play out what’s happening inside your skull, though usually this type of dream isn’t very memorable — unless it involves an emotional or otherwise personally important subject. Neuroplasticity means that the neural pathways heat up in a sense and become receptive to changes. They become “plastic.” The brain creates new pathways, strengthens others, and gets rid of some, known as “pruning” like trimming a vine.
My best guess is that’s what we see happening in the dream where the deceased friend appears then fades out. When the neural pathways connected to memories of the deceased friend heat up, the friend appears in the dream. The image of the friend is associated with the memories, so naturally the dreaming mind shows the friend. Then what happens when the related neural pathways change?
First, look at how the scene opens with the dreamer driving along like usual when her friend appears. If the dreamer was struggling with the loss of her friend and it was the sort of thing to interrupt her daily routine — personal context — I’d wonder if the dream shows her struggle, but that’s not the case. If the friend’s death was recent I’d wonder if the dreamer is digesting it, but again not the case.
Instead, I see neuroplasticity. I see the brain running a process and saying hey, we can reconfigure and free up resources. What do you say? Then I see the dreamer reacting to that process. As memories “fade” they can feel like losing something associated with them. The friend fades away in the dream, and what better way of explaining it in this context than fading memory. The dreamer cries that she doesn’t want to lose her friend again, and I think she reacts that way because she subconsciously knows what’s happening and feels the loss.
What does she fear losing and how is it associated with her friend? That’s the question that leads to the answer. Without knowing that the dream is a view into a memory process, the dreamer may answer that she fears forgetting about her friend. That could be what the dream is really showing her. It’s showing her too that she doesn’t want that to happen, judging by her strong reaction. This dream, like all dreams, has layers of meaning, so in some way everything I’ve suggested could apply.
I used to think that all dreams about the deceased were entirely subjective. So-called visitation dreams are actually a view into memory processes or psychological digestion. They hit hard because maybe there’s a hard lesson or realization in them, or the emotions are strong, the wound’s raw. But I’ve learned that some of them are real visitations. Below, I explain how to distinguish them.
Next, a review of RadOwl’s Crash Course on How to Interpret Dreams. We have leveled up through all the intro material Dream School offers. But you can learn and know much more. The next levels are waiting for you at DreamSchol.net.