Recurring Dreams: How to Understand and Interpret Dreams that Recur
Recurring dreams are the low-hanging fruit on the dream interpretation tree. The meaning is within your reach, and the fruit of your effort is your new understanding of yourself and your life gained by analyzing these dreams. Now, let’s explore how I understand and interpret dreams that recur.
I begin by assuming that recurring dreams connect closely with what’s going on right now in inner and outer life, making the interpretation of these dreams a little easier than other types of dreams. The information you need to interpret recurring dreams is readily available by reflecting on your recent life and searching for what recurs such as events and situations as well as thoughts and feelings. Recurring dreams provide more details to connect together, and a trail of clues to follow over time. Patterns emerge with recurring dreams that aren’t as readily noticed with other types of dreams.
If dream interpretation is like solving puzzle, recurring dreams put more pieces into place for you.
Also, recurring dreams are easier to remember. And they speak to major areas and themes of life such as family, work, school, friends, love, sex, values, desires, goals, health, aging — you name it.
I assume that recurring dreams carry important messages and lessons to be learned. That’s usually the case, though as you’ll see in a moment, “day residue” recurring dreams are a type that tends to be less important in the big scheme of things. However, all dreams are important for at least clearing memory banks and digesting the daily experience of life.
Since recurring dreams tie together with recurring and ongoing situations and circumstances in life, a simple question to ask yourself is, what recurs in my life? Expand the idea to consider what recurs in your thoughts and emotions. Answers likely to be found there. Most dreams are about you and your life — especially your inner life. When interpreting a dream of any type, I begin there and work outward.
Your recurring dreams are likely to connect with something ongoing in your life, something within easy reach to grasp mentally and emotionally if you step back and observe. In my D3 Dream Interpretation System, I call this step “Connect and Reflect.” Connect the details of a recurring dream to what’s happening in your life, and reflect on where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re headed. Simply reflecting on your life and thinking of your dream work as similar to writing in a diary can spontaneously bring answers and insights to mind, or at least give you clues to follow to the meaning and significance.
Recurring dreams can give you a lot of details to work with as you investigate their meaning, but the tricky part can be how to decode dream symbolism. Dreams present just about everything to you as symbolism. Decode the symbolism of a recurring dream detail and it’s like finding a master key that unlocks other doors in your dream world. This advantage works two ways.
One, when you figure out a symbol or some symbolism from a dream, you know how it could be used in other dreams, too. It’s not an automatic answer (the meaning of dream symbols can vary widely and differ from dream to dream), but it’s the first place you go in your thought processes.
Two, recurring dreams lead you toward ripe areas of life with potential for growth. They point toward where your energy and effort are likely to bear fruit, and toward any obstacles that need to be overcome in yourself and your life. Sometimes just one piece of the puzzle, one piece of knowledge or information about a recurring dream, brings together other pieces so that you see the big picture. I will go into depth about one of my recurring dreams that brings together important pieces of my life (link at bottom), but first, let’s explore some common recurring dream themes:
Recurring Dream Themes
- Exploring a home. Just today I ran across a recurring dream about finding and exploring a mansion. Think of a home in a dream as your life. This analogy uses the inside of the home to represent your inner life, and outside the home is your outer life. Dreaming about exploring the inside of a home can symbolize the idea of “finding out what you’re made of.” A mansion is roomy home, implying the idea that there’s lots to know and discover about yourself, and room to expand. It’s how life looks to people who are young and brimming with the energy of ideas and possibilities.
- Teeth cracking and/or falling out. This is a common theme that often points toward symbolism such as feeling the effects of anxiety (you are “cracking up” or “under pressure”), having difficulty with articulation (teeth are used to form certain sounds), or fearing that something is harming your image (missing teeth can create a bad impression). Other possibilities for symbolism include a gap of some kind such as in your knowledge; a decline in health; a transition to a new phase of life; or a loss of something important, among other things. My recurring dreams about my teeth stemmed from anxiety and stress. I discovered that I was clenching my jaw while asleep and grinding my teeth, and dreamed about it as my teeth cracking and breaking. I bought a mouthguard to use in the short-term, and in the long-term I addressed the anxiety and stress.
- Meeting the love of your life. Holy smokes, this sort of recurring dream can send the people scrambling for answers, but the dream is usually not what it appears to be on the surface. It’s all-too-easy to think of the dream character as a person who’s about the enter your life or someone already in it and wonder if you are missing out on the potential for love. That’s possibly the meaning, but not probable in the straightforward sense. The more likely meaning is you are learning to love something about yourself. The dream character presented to you as the love of your life represents you or something about you such as your compassion, sense of humor, creativity, individuality, intelligence, prowess, ability to love and so forth. The character is an actor in a story and the point of the story is to learn to love yourself or see what you love most — or could love — about yourself. It’s the first step to loving someone else. Otherwise, you project yourself onto a love object (a person, usually) and love yourself through loving that person, a risky and less desirable proposition.
- Running or hiding from someone or something. This recurring dream theme can show that you are avoiding something such as a confrontation or difficulty, but the other side of the coin is there could be something — or many “somethings” — you don’t want to know about yourself. And it’s not automatically “bad.” Sometimes we’re just as leery of finding and knowing the goodness and potential in ourselves because it goes against our self-image or -conception, or it asks us to use and embody that goodness and potential. At the root of this recurring dream theme, in some cases, I find that the person is running from something they want to do with their life, a “dream” they’d like to see come true, and they think it can’t happen. But facing that fact is difficult, so they run from or avoid it. It chases them in their dreams.
- Back in school. My “back in school” dreams are a permanent recurring feature of my dream life. The theme plays out a variety of ways: I have a test to take, a class or classes to take to graduate, a room to find, a locker combination to remember. The further I get in time from my college days, the less my dream life features school themes, but they still show up once in a while and the story is always different yet in some ways the same. The test I have to take connects symbolically with a feeling of being tested. The class I need to graduate represents skill or knowledge needed to face a challenge or expand my mind. The room I need to find in these recurring dreams symbolizes a capacity within myself, something that I used to have (for example, finding my old math classroom means finding the capacity to apply myself to the subject like I did while in school), or that I could have if I work at it. In which case, the dream is likely to say that the classroom is a new place, as opposed to a place I’ve been. The locker combination is the right combination of education, experience, desire and skill to meet a task or “unlock” something within myself, in my mind, psyche, feelings or emotions.
Those are what those themes mean in my recurring dreams. They can mean something different in your dreams.
More dream themes:
Four Recurring Dream Types
Your approach to decoding the symbolism, meaning and significance of a recurring dream can depend on what type of recurring dream it is. I classify recurring dreams in three broad categories, plus a fourth category which can include elements of the first three:
Day residue: People, places, and situations can recur daily in our lives, and dreams process memories so naturally some of the familiar imagery that recurs in your dreams stems from memory processing. These dreams tend to fade easily into the background and are forgotten. However, if you react strongly to recurring imagery in dreams or recurring situations or events, or if the dreams stand out as more important or memorable than most, it’s a clue that more is going on than just day residue.
Serial dreams: By serial I mean “the continuation of a story as episodes.” These dreams are also known as “episodic dreams.” A television drama that continues a story from episode to episode is known as a “serial drama.” Recurring serial dreams continue a story. They dramatize your life. You dream about the same places, people and situations and the story advances over time. Day residue memories can enter into serial dreams, but that’s not to say it makes them “just day residue.” Serial dreams tend to be more “imaginary,” with deep and complex stories. You might not see readily how the dreams continue a story, but you can easily see the recurring imagery and situations. Next, your job is to focus on the story and what it really says about you and your life. See how the stories connect together, evolve, and play out over time. These dreams are especially likely to connect with major areas and themes of life.
By the way, as I updated this article I found a post at reddit.com where someone shares their experience of serial recurring dreams. It’s fascinating. Check out the discussion, too.
“Groundhog Day dreams:” Instead of the dream-story continuing or progressing like in serial dreams, it loops back to the beginning like in the movie “Groundhog Day.” In that movie, the main character played by actor Bill Murray wakes up each morning back at where he began the previous day and everything proceeds the same: the same people say and do the same things; the same events and situations; Murray’s character reacts the same way.
He wakes up one morning determined to break the pattern and do everything differently. It’s how he discovers hidden potential for more goodness in himself and his life that isn’t actualized until he changes — until he does things differently. Your Groundhog Day recurring dreams probably have the same message at heart. Breaking patterns and routines invites invigorating changes into your life. When you break out of a Groundhog Day dream, it means you figure out what you need to get unstuck in some way.
Here’s a fantastic example.
A man dreams that he robs a bank with a group of friends then ditches them when the police arrive. They’re arrested, and he gets away with the money. The next scene shows him counting his money in his mansion when he slips, falls, and dies. Now he’s in the afterlife, in Purgatory, and the voice of God tells him he can’t go to Heaven until he passes a test. He’s in an arena and a train appears on the other side, barreling straight toward him. He must stop the train. He tries, fails, and the test starts over. The train appears, barrels toward him. He can’t stop it.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Decades of time pass. He’s now old and gray and still can’t stop the train. Then he gets an idea. Instead of trying to use brute force or diversion as he’s tried previously, he leaps over the front of the train and into the control cabin. He finds the brake and uses it. Train stops. He passes the test. Dream-story proceeds to the next scene where he’s in Heaven and his friends await him. They forgive him for ditching them after robbing the bank and they go off together on a new adventure.
What does it all mean? Begin with the opening scene, where the subject or main idea of a dream is often found. Robbing the bank in the opening scene shows the dreamer’s approach to getting what he wants in life. He’s myopic about it and there’s no telling him otherwise. He’s set in his ways and continues doing things the way he wants to even when it causes harm to himself and his relationships. These personal facts are shown in the dream details about robbing the bank, ditching his friends, and, in a later scene, being unable to stop the train.
The next scene where he’s counting the money from the robbery shows his attitude that at least he gets what he wants, even though he knows his approach is wrong. And what happens when you continue doing something you know is wrong? Eventually, you slip up, take a fall, pay a high price. In the dream it’s shown as dying after he slips and falls. That’s satire and dreams use it when to convey the idea of lying in the bed you make for yourself. You get what you deserve, and dreams will poke at you, though it’s not malicious, it’s just good storytelling.
You could say that the dreamer is like the train that barrels ahead full speed, and the lesson of the dream is to learn how to control himself, to apply the brakes when he sees what he wants and goes after it heedless of the consequences to himself and other people. He needs to place more value on the important relationships and people in his life. By doing so he ensures that he will have forgiving friends to share in life’s adventures. The dreamer himself came to these conclusions after we decoded the meaning of his Groundhog Day dream and considered the implications.
Dreams are like parables. They teach about life. The dreamer learns something very valuable about life from this dream. Groundhog Day dreams tend to be urgent. They teach you what you really need to know. The dreaming mind chooses this type of story because it really gets your attention!
Before moving on, I’ll leave you with a question to ponder. Is it really God talking to him in the dream, or a part of himself that talks to him like God so he heeds the message? Dreams choose imagery and characters that best act out the story, so that’s a clue to my answer. It’s also an insight into why some dreams recur. Your dreaming mind finds an effective way of telling you a story and keeps telling it to you the same way until you’re ready to move on. If you don’t learn the lesson, the dreaming mind will find other ways of telling the story until you do. The point of the dream is its message and how to get it across. If one way doesn’t work, your dreams will try another way, and another and another if necessary.
Daily business dreams: The fourth type of recurring dream can incorporate imagery from your daily life — day residue — and use it to tell you stories that progress (serial dreams) or that loop (Groundhog Day dreams). Or they can skip the day residue and draw instead from your dream life’s familiar imagery and themes. “Theme” is most important here because a dream could tell the same basic story a hundred different ways. The details change but the theme is the same. These dreams tend to address major areas of life and feel more like “going about daily business.” They feel familiar, places we go to frequently in our dream world.
Daily business dreams tend to be less emotional in my experience, and a little less impactful than other types. I’ve also noticed a roughly 90-day pattern to my dream life where the same imagery and themes pop up mostly in this type of dream and serial dreams, and I think the main reason is life has rhythms and patterns. Also, certain ways of telling stories resonate with you so your dreaming mind chooses the best ways to tell them about you, your life, and areas of it.
Let’s examine a few areas:
Areas of life as subjects for recurring dreams
Love life: Hmm, does that explain why your ex appears in your dreams every so often, or a mysterious figure such as anima, the woman of your dreams, or animus, the man of your dreams, appears? For some people, love life is the most popular subject of their dreams, with many different ways of telling the story.
Financial life: Maybe it explains why you dream periodically about going to the bank, thinking about your investments, or finding stashes of money or treasure. You’ll find references to finances and money in dreams about financial life, though dreams are very clever about avoiding being too obvious, and instead of addressing the straightforward issues of money and finances, they tend to instead address related beliefs, values, thoughts and emotions. For homeowners, recurring dreams about their home can tie in with financial life, but be careful when interpreting dreams about your home because they’re more likely to represent intangible ideas such as the life you build for yourself and live within. Dreaming about finding money or treasure can mean you’re finding value in yourself and discovering personal qualities.
Health: Have you dreamed lately about visiting a doctor, specialist, or medical office, or do you periodically dream about doing healthy activities such as exercising or buying fresh produce? Or, here’s a twist. Do you find yourself playing health-related roles in dreams: doctor, nurse, dietician, physical therapist, psychiatrist? You could be diagnosing yourself and accessing information about your health.
When I see a subject such as love, finance, or health appear in a dream, it provides an avenue to explore during the interpretation. Usually, I end up somewhere different than where I begin and am pleasantly surprised by dreams’ clever storytelling. In other words, just because a dream refers to love, finances or health doesn’t mean that’s the bottom line, instead it’s the starting line. Get it?
We could continue by examining work life, school life, family life, and social life, but for sake of time let’s just summarize the big idea here. Your dreams point symbolically toward subjects and ideas and can use recurring imagery and themes to tell stories about you and your life. You interpret these dreams the same as other dreams, except you know that recurring dreams arise from recurring events and situations in your outer and inner life, and the more urgently the dream presents the story, the more urgently it wants you to get the message. The spectrum runs from “this would be good for you to know,” to “your life is at stake and time is running out.”
Recurring nightmares deliver the most urgent messages.
Track the patterns in your dreams and connect them with what’s happening in your life at the time. If you have a recurring dream theme that spans years of time, think broadly about the biggest themes in your life. By keeping a dream journal and reviewing it, you are likely to see patterns emerge. That’s the low-hanging fruit I refer to in the opening of this lesson. The meaning of these dreams is within easy reach after you lay the groundwork of tracking and examining your dreams.
Keep in mind, nothing is automatic about dreams. The best we can hope for are rules of thumb. Dreaming is a very personal process. Your dream life is likely to have commonalities with the dream lives of other people and with separate periods of your life, but we must carefully examine that overlap and be careful about what we assume from it.
Now for a thorough exploration of a recurring dream from my dream life and how to interpret it. Use the link below.