My dreams are my therapist

I don’t think it’s any secret that our dreams can be manifestations of our subconscious thoughts, fears, desires, etc. Sure, sometimes they’re just wild and meaningless, but often our dreams can be a window into our souls, revealing the root of our waking insecurities and cause of our stresses and anxieties. Recording and analyzing your dreams will give you insight into those deep rooted beliefs that stir up and confuse your emotions. Recognizing the reason for your emotions allows you to begin working through them, and improving your quality of life.

Interpreting dreams isn’t a new science –in fact it’s an ancient practice. References to dream interpretations are even made in the Bible (Joseph son of Jacob and Daniel).

Interpreting dreams doesn’t involve astrology or palm reading or anything like that –maybe you believe in that stuff, and that’s great! But personally I don’t, so I’m not going to address them. I’m going to talk about what the field of psychology has discovered.

Now psychology is known as a “soft science,” which people say when they mean it’s not hard fact. But to me, I see soft as meaning it’s fluid –it can change based on the patient. Not every patient will respond in the same way to treatment. Some respond better to talk therapy, and others to CBT. Similarly, symbols in dreams won’t always mean the same thing for one person as they do for another. Because we grow up with our own perspectives, symbols are individual. However, many dreams have common symbols, and the human brain is a master at finding significance in everyday objects we’re all familiar with.

For example, a common dream that is fairly universal is the teeth falling out dream. Generally, teeth are seen as symbols of self image. Teeth falling out, rotting, or crumbling symbolize insecurities in your appearance, or embarrassment. However, let’s say you had a traumatic experience of losing multiple teeth at once in real waking life, and now often dream of your teeth falling out. In this case, it’s likely your dream isn’t a symbol, but your mind is trying to work through that trauma.

I’ve been interpreting symbols in my dreams since I was a teenager. And I’ve actually helped others interpret their dreams as well. The first dreams I interpreted on my own (I had sorted through others with help from a therapist), were my recurring nightmares about spiders.

It’s no secret that I had pretty severe arachnophobia as a child, and still very much dislike spiders now. But I dreamt about spiders A LOT, and they didn’t coincide with actual encounters with spiders. I always passed these dreams off as a result of my phobia, until I had one that stood out to me. I don’t remember it, I just remember that it felt significant to me. So I decided to look up the symbol of spiders in dreams, to see if it was a common theme. I discovered that it was. Spiders are symbols of feminine power, and can often be linked to your relationship with your mother. Especially if the spider bites you in your dream, it can symbolize conflict with a mother figure. Perhaps some of my dreams were simply manifestations of my fears, but I soon discovered that almost every single time I had a fight with my mom, I dreamt about spiders that night.

It was around this time that my mom and I really started to work on our relationship. The better we became at communicating, the less I dreamt of spiders. She went to therapy with me, she learned how to help me during panic attacks, and how to talk to me when I was depressed, and I learned to confide in her, and to let her in. Eventually, I stopped having the spider dreams, even though I hadn’t worked through my arachnophobia yet.

Since my teenage years, I’ve always analyzed my dreams that felt significant to me. Sometimes I look up the symbols online to see if psychologists have analyzed them. And sometimes I don’t need to.

Not long after I recalled being assaulted, I had a dream that really bothered me. In the dream, I stood on a street. The buildings on this street were old and run-down, at one point I found myself desperate for a bathroom, only to find the only ones available had no stalls. And when I tried to wash my hands in the sink, dirty water came out. I stood on the street and looked out across to the other side. On the other side, light glistened off white and gold buildings of grand architecture. They were beautiful, and well kept. As I looked at those buildings, I had the distinct impression that I had been there before, and I felt a longing, like homesickness.

I already knew the bathroom symbol. It’s a dream I had before and one I had looked up. Going to the bathroom with no stall or in front of people symbolizes vulnerability. Same with those dreams where you’re suddenly naked or went to school in your underwear.

But the buildings. The buildings really stuck out to me.

After recounting my dream to people I trusted, and a great deal introspection, I figured out the buildings represented me. Who I felt I once was, and who I felt I had become. I wanted desperately to be the person I was before I was assaulted. Innocent, untouched, not dirtied. Bathed in light. Not in darkness, broken and an eye sore.

Of course, I learned that I couldn’t go back. Nor was I really broken down or dirty. I realized that I may have received some scratches, but I could repaint. I couldn’t go back to what I was, but I could become new, and better. But that dream really helped me sort through my feelings about my self worth. It helped me articulate things I couldn’t quite understand –the feeling like you lost something, and the desperate desire for it back. And the realization that I had put my teenaged self on a pedestal, and perhaps it’s only right that I’m not that same girl anymore.

It’s been awhile since I’ve interpreted a dream –my dreams now are scattered and difficult to hold onto (likely a side effect of medication), but I still strongly believe in the insights our dreams can bring to us. If you’re stuck in pit of emotion you can’t understand, think on your dreams –they may be the key.

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