The different types of dreams and what they mean
Dreams hold up a mirror to everyday attitudes and actions, sometimes in a surprising or funny way, and help you to see yourself from a new perspective.
Compensatory dreams are about seeking to balance what is denied through healthy expression. Thoughts, viewpoints and feelings you experience in your waking life are secretly stored in the unconscious mind, eventually surfacing in your dreams. Perhaps you are normally a serious person who plays the role of a clown in your dream. It may be that a part of you feels unloved and in your dream you are surrounded by affection and comfort. You could live in a cramped city apartment with little ventilation and in the dream you’re galloping through rolling hills in the countryside.
It is easy to become unbalanced in life and focus too much on one thing, and many of us are very good at wearing figurative masks when operating in working life. If you spend too much time on the masked part of yourself whereby you play a role the psyche rebels, which will result in dreams that pull your attention towards those things you’ve been neglecting or avoiding in order to create balance in the psyche. Not enough balance between work and family? A holiday is long overdue and you’re avoiding taking time off because you think you’re indispensable? You could end up having a compensatory dream that forces you to adopt a more middle ground approach to life.
Wish fulfilment dreams express hidden literal or symbolic wishes, or see you trying on possible futures. What would it be like to be rich and famous when you are scraping by with the most basic lifestyle? What would it be like to win a Nobel Prize for medicine? It’s fantasy but a useful fantasy in that you are able to recognise what it is your heart desires and perhaps find a way to realise it in waking life – or at least the emotion associated with it such as popularity, acceptance, esteem or desirability.
Precognitive dreaming is not working out future events from an existing situation but is rather dreaming something before it happens, such as riots, wars and natural catastrophes. This can also apply to personal events.
Creative dreams inspire inventions and masterpieces. The hypnagogic state, or the transitional period between wakefulness and sleeping (see also further on in this chapter), is where the genius or visionary muses reveal themselves. Will you give the muse a chance in your dream to reveal your next masterpiece?
Archetypal or collective dreams relate mostly to working out questions that are universal; it’s not all about you. These dreams deal with patterns of behaviour or belief systems that are universally shared. Archetypes are universal dreams, experiences, images, patterns and symbols that reside within us all. They represent models of universal behaviours or personality traits. They emerge in symbolic form in dreams, mythology, fairy tales and ancient traditions. Some common archetype characters we see in dreams are the divine child or inner child, the great mother, the wise old man or woman, the trickster, the princess or damsel in distress and the hero and heroine.
They are known as ‘big dreams’ and have a clear message to the psyche. These significant dreams are often vivid and can be strange and confusing. To understand them you need to know the mythological background and the symbols and motifs of different cultures at different times. Unconsciously we still think as our distant ancestors did, and to recognise this is to deepen your experience and open up new possibilities.
A collective dream will present ‘archetypes’ from the ‘collective unconscious’ and have special meaning for others as well as the dreamer. Our shared dream experiences serve to connect us as a human race. In times of crisis, our dreams unite us.
Warning dreams: occasionally dreams seem to be clear warnings of danger. If you dream of falling off a ladder, crashing your car, your house catching on fire or you are falling off a cliff, do take the dream seriously. You may have missed cues from your subconscious mind that the car brakes were not depressing hard enough or the heater was making a strange clicking noise, that you are in danger from something happening, and this is manifested in your dreams. Note that, however, dreaming of death does not necessarily indicate a fatal accident; there could be either a symbolic death or an actual physical death.
Numinous dreams: numinous dreams are strongly religious or spiritual. Ancient cultures were aware that dreams gave access to sources of wisdom beyond the ordinary, offering glimpses into the future and providing possible alternatives.
Parapsychological dreams include the telepathic, afterlife, past or future life, meeting guides, angels or dead ancestors, parallel lives and all phenomena that can’t be easily explained.
Hypnagogic dreams: if you find you can’t remember your dreams you can explore the borderland sleep state, known as the liminal space or threshold. It is an altered state of consciousness between being awake and asleep, a sacred space that takes place in a four-dimensional state in which your senses are highly attuned to the spiritual world.
Shamonic dreams involve elements of initiation, ritual, healing for others and guidance and are passed down from shamanic traditions by indigenous cultures. If we lose contact with our dreams the North American Iroquois believe we lose a vital part of our souls. Indigenous communities worldwide regard dreaming as an essential part of living a fully awakened life.
Healing dreams: metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that concerns abstract concepts such as being, knowing, identity, time and space. Metaphysicists believe the body receives images as physical events (what you should do or look for in response to physical ailments) and responds accordingly. For example, if you dream you are digging a garden and you come across a disfigured tree root it may mean you have an illness or condition that needs to be addressed and is related to an abnormality. Images that persuade the body to self-heal are delivered to you through your dreams, while emotional healing dreams put you in touch with multiple aspects of yourself including the shadow side you may have repressed or denied.
Lucid dreams: in a lucid dream you’re aware you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. In some cases you can direct the events and outcome of the dream, that is, you can manipulate the dream and make it go in whatever direction you want.
Dream sharing: one curious feature of dreaming is the way that close friends or members of the same family, particularly a husband and wife or parents and children, dream the same dream without previously having related it to each other. Still more curious is the way children dream about their parents’ problems even if these have been carefully hidden from them. The dream will not usually be a straightforward statement but will be symbolic and often picturesque.
Recurring dreams are dreams that repeat themselves. Sometimes they are exactly the same each time they are dreamed; other times the emotion will be the same but the details or ending will change. For example, you are being chased by an aggressive figure and always end up in the same place you can’t escape from. You want to get out of the situation but you know it’s going to end the same way. At this point you wake up feeling fearful, angry, annoyed and frustrated, or other negative feelings that have come to the surface. Recurring dreams can also be humorous and you’re not too concerned about the inevitable ending.
Recurring dreams indicate a real-life issue that hasn’t been confronted or resolved so your anxiety forces you to keep dreaming about it. These dreams call your attention to something you need to change, and will repeat until you acknowledge the problem and resolve the issue. Check with your daily diary to see what anniversary, event or emotion could have triggered the recurring dream and work to deal with it. When you do so, the recurring dream will stop.
Nightmares: nightmares can be experienced by both children and adults. They are vividly realistic and disturbing, will often awaken us and leave us feeling terrified. They may be caused by a number of factors such as watching a scary movie or the news before bed time, late-night snacks, certain medications such as anti-depressants and narcotics, sleep deprivation and psychological triggers such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. At the heart of nightmares is a fear of not surviving.
This is an edited extract from Inside Your Dreams: An Advanced Guide to Your Night Visions by Rose Inserra (Rockpool Publishing $29.99), available where good books are sold.