The roles you play in dreams are important for understanding what they mean. There you are in a dream and dropped into a scenario like an actor. You are a politician or police officer. You are a hero or villain. You play the role and follow along with the story. Somewhere deep inside, you know it’s all meaningful. Then you wake up and say to yourself, “what was that all about?”
Dreams have a reason or reasons for every detail, including the roles you play, and I’m going to show you how to make sense of it. This is advanced dream interpretation, but if you follow my work you know I stress that anyone can interpret their dreams. Dreams are stories. Anyone can analyze a story, right? Well, nothing’s more important to a story, generally, than the roles the characters play, including the main character’s role, which, in dreams, is usually you, the dreamer.
You might want to first review my lesson about roles played by dream characters.
In my dream life I watch closely to identify the roles I play, whether it’s a formal role or informal role. Focusing on the role helps to reveal the meaning and intent of the dream. Let’s get into examples.
A favorite example I like to use is the dream where I play the role of Vladimir Putin’s political strategist. Funny thing is, I never see Putin in the dream; I just know I’m his strategist. The dream has no actions or significant details other than I’m in a Kremlin office and thinking about how I have no experience as a political strategist but feel capable of doing the job.
Bingo. Right there. Notice my reaction. [Learn more about analyzing reactions in dreams.]
In the dream, I think over the situation and decide, yeah, I have a knack for strategizing, though I’ve never held a formal job as a strategist. This is a clue to investigate. I look to my life for ways I’m strategizing. Could be anything from learning to play chess to convincing my girlfriend to marry me. Viewing the dream this way reveals an obvious connection. I was putting together a business plan and researching how to form a company when I had the dream. It involves strategic thinking. I am playing the role of strategist, in a sense.
But why Putin’s strategist? Notice that he’s never pictured in the dream. In dream-speak, it’s a way of saying that something I associate with Putin is important to the story. I think about Mr. Putin and what I associate with him, and the answer pops to mind: brilliant strategist. The man is brilliant at forming and implementing strategy. I’m nowhere near his league as a strategist, but that’s not the point. The dream is simply layering the symbolism on top of the role I play as strategist.
And hey, I’m no slouch either. I can analyze and plan. The dream not only summarizes something important happening in my life at the time, it tells me that I have what it takes to do it well. That observation is important because dreams create scenarios to help us think through what’s happening in our lives and make decisions.
Dream Role: Chiropractor for a Day
Another favorite example is a dream I had about playing the role of chiropractor. The dream drops me into a scenario where I’m a chiropractor in an office. I question why I’m there — I’m no chiropractor. And you know how dreams can respond to answer questions on the fly. The dream says I’m a fill-in chiropractor, only there for the day. I decide I’ll play along.
Now the story can proceed. A man is brought to me. He has low back pain. Without even examining him I know that one of his legs is shorter than the other. I prescribe for him to use an insert in the shoe of the short leg.
After waking up and remembering the dream, I zero in on the role I play as chiropractor and the advice I give the man. I know that most dreams are messages we send to ourselves, and that whatever I tell a dream character is highly likely to apply to me.
Thinking of the dream this way makes interpreting it easy. At the time, I’d been having issues with my lower back. I’d stand as I work and write, and sometimes after only a few minutes of standing, my back would bark at me. Then it would seize up. A chiropractor had told me months earlier that one of my legs is shorter than the other, but I didn’t connect that information with back issues related to standing. I had the idea that it would only affect me when I move. I decided to apply the advice I gave to the man in the dream — who is actually “me” — and, while not a perfect solution, using an insert in the shoe of my shorter leg helps enough that I can stand in place long enough to get some work done.
In the dream I diagnose my condition like a chiropractor and recommend a fix.
Dream Role: Fitness Trainer
I’ve had similar dreams where I play the role of fitness trainer in a gym and give advice. I used to be a trainer, but the settings in these dreams are never places where I’ve worked or even worked out. They are always imaginary places. This is a clue. The dreams aren’t related to the job I used to do (not directly) or places I used to work. Instead, the settings identify the subjects of the dreams. At the outset, I surmise that the gym setting relates to fitness because I also play the role of fitness trainer. I know I’m trying to tell myself something and it’s found in details of the dreams.
In one dream, I notice an old friend I haven’t seen in years using a leg press machine. I recommend to her that she instead do wall sits and planks. That dream occurs during a time when I was told to avoid my usual exercises. I’d thrown my back out and my chiropractor wanted me to avoid movements that involve the back. Leg presses work the glutes, and glutes are important support muscles for the low back. But avoiding exercises that work the glutes and other core muscles creates a snowball effect because the muscles will weaken, and it will potentially cause more back issues. The dream draws on my knowledge of other exercises that don’t involve movement: wall sits and planks. I apply the advice and it helps.
The old friend in the dream is another clue that points the same direction. She’s a physical therapist. The dream chooses her to play the role of the person I give advice to because, in a way, I was being my own physical therapist.
In another dream, I’m supposed to teach an exercise class at 6:00 PM and know I’m going to be late. It distresses me. Most of the dream involves me trying to figure out how I will get to the place on time to teach the class, and if not, to reschedule the class. Once again, to understand the dream I analyze the role I play. I have a hunch it has something to do with exercise. I zero in on the detail about the class being at 6:00. When dreams give specific details like that one it’s purposeful.
At that time, I used an alarm on my phone to go off at 6PM every day to remind me to take a walk, but during the week before the dream, circumstances prevented me from keeping this commitment to myself. The dream summarizes the situation as being unable to teach the class at that time. I used the dream as motivation to make sure I’d be free at 6PM to take a walk, and if not, to find another time that works. The dream reminds me how important keeping this commitment is.
Dream Role: Defense Attorney
Recently I had a dream where I played a role that really threw me for a loop: criminal defense attorney. Most of the dream involves me waiting with my client, a young man, in the hallway outside of a courtroom. Like in previous dreams of this type, I spend a lot of time thinking through the role assigned to me. I have some education in law and experience in courtrooms. It’s enough for me to say to myself, I can defend this young man. In the dream we don’t know what the charges are or whether he’s innocent or guilty. I don’t even get a good look at him. Instead, the dream creates a scenario that makes me decide whether I think I can play the role of his defense attorney.
I will show you how I analyze this dream so you can do the same with your dreams.
- First, does the dream connect with an event or circumstance in my life? After a dream like this, the obvious question is, are you in legal trouble or at risk of it? No, I’m not, and can tell by the lack of anxiety or other sorts of negative feelings in this dream that there’s nothing literal about it. I know of a dream that referred to a courtroom as a way of saying that’s where the dreamer’s marriage was headed (divorce). And when a person is in legal trouble or doing something that can lead to it, dreams can respond by creating scenarios involving attorneys. But in my case, there’s no possibility of literally ending up in court — that I know of!
- Second, does the dream connect with feeling persecuted? Dreams love to make comparisons to create symbolism and tie in with situations and circumstances in life – especially inner life. When a person feels persecuted, naturally they want to defend themselves. But no, I don’t feel persecuted. We get closer to the truth if we rephrase the question as, do I feel the need to defend myself? I’ll expand more on that idea in a moment.
- Third, have I had other dreams with the same theme? I could get clues from other dreams where I play the role of defense attorney or that involve references to attorneys or courtrooms, but this dream really stands out as unrelated to anything I’ve dreamed in the last few years. I don’t remember ever playing the role of defense attorney.
- Fourth, do I associate anything with defense attorneys that could apply in this case? See the next paragraph. [Learn more about dream association method.]
- Fifth, am I thinking about a change in career? Hey, it’s possible. I majored in government and journalism in college and considered going to law school. The book business doesn’t pay authors as well as it used to, and interpreting dreams is a volunteer service for me. If I ever change careers and go back to school to make it happen, I’d probably study law. The thought has crossed my mind. Criminal law has an appeal to me. But no, it doesn’t fit the dream or the circumstances of my life.
So now I’m left with the most likely possibility that this dream is a window into my inner life. If we “go there” we find that yes, I feel a strong need to defend myself. I sacrificed a standard adult life to pursue my passion, and it has consequences. Some people view me as a slacker, who never grew up and took on the daily grind that other adults my age are well acquainted with. I’ve been told it’s unrealistic to expect to get to do in life what I love most and I should just find a tolerable occupation and suck it up like the rest of the folks who earn their living in more traditional ways.
There’s truth to this. As a friend of mine says, my job isn’t who I am. It’s a means to an end.
Now, let’s search the dream for clues. Other than the defense attorney role I play, we have a clue in the fact that the dream does not take place in a courtroom and we don’t even know what charges my “client” faces. When dreams are non-specific like that, it’s a clue that the subject of the dream is non-specific, too, in the sense that it isn’t tied to a specific event. If we apply that observation to the dream, we could say we’re looking for a general feeling of persecution or accusation, not a specific circumstance. And yes, I generally feel like I’m accused of being unrealistic about my work life.
Next, why am I in the role of defense attorney? That’s obvious now that we’ve dug into the circumstances of my life. And why is my client — who’s really me — a young man? Because when I was that age I formed the desire to write books that make an impact. I’ve written three books, and because of the internet my work has reached millions of people through my websites and online presence. See, I’m already defending myself by pointing out the good I’m doing.
See how it works? The dream creates a scenario where I’m a defense attorney and decide whether I can play the role. I actually decide whether I want to continue on the path I’ve chosen and defend myself from accusations of being less than a full adult and the feeling of being judged by some people for pursuing my passion despite the hardship that sometimes ensues. I’ve internalized these voices and hear them sometimes as my own voice. But my reaction in the dream reveals how I really feel. I can defend myself. I will continue on this path.
Finally, reverse the scenario. What if I’d decided I can’t play the role of defense attorney for the young man? It would mean I can no longer continue on this path. Consequently, I’d probably look for another career.
The roles you play in dreams reveal what driving force or idea is behind them. Roles can be formal, such as strategist or defense attorney. Roles can be informal, too, such as friend, parent, or spouse. These dreams are especially fascinating when a role is completely imaginary, such as in the dream where a man dreams his daughter runs away from him while on a walk. In waking reality, he doesn’t have children. That’s a big discrepancy with reality to focus on while interpreting the dream. We know the dream has nothing to do with having children unless it involves the desire to have them. Instead, the role of parent connects symbolically with the dreamer’s role as a moviemaker. One of his movie projects — his “children” — is getting away from him in the figurative sense.
A woman dreams that she’s an actor on stage and forgets her lines. It connects with her tendency to forget what she wants to say when the time comes to say it. She rehearses it, then freezes up when the curtain opens and it’s her turn to speak.
Next time you dream about playing a role, focus on the role. It will help you understand the meaning and significance of the dream.