How to Interpret Your Own Dreams
[With reference to Jungian Psychology]
Trying to paint such a broad canvas as the title suggests is difficult enough
without having to write a book on it. Instead, I hope to offer some
encouragement and some essential tips, and if I enthuse you with the desire to
read up some more, then I have indeed done well. If you become serious about
yourself, then you might get some of your own power back and be less dependent
on others, and sure , that's no bad thing.
Jung himself used the dreams his patients had to gain insight as it helped
him understand what was going on for the patient in the unconscious. He studied
his own dream world too. Most of my understanding comes from C.G. Jung's
psychology. However he is not easy to read so I would advise a newcomer to start
by reading either _Dreams and Reflections_ or _Man and his Symbols._ It makes
quite exciting reading anyway.
What are dreams and where do dreams come from?
The dream acts as the interplay between the unconscious and the conscious.
It's a kind of video, who's language relies on symbol and metaphor.
As Jung said 'Where and when does anything take place to remind us even remotely
of phenomena like angels, miraculous feelings, beatitudes and resurrection of
the dead etc,? ..... during the unconscious state of sleep, intervals occur,
called 'dreams,' which contain scenes (of) the motifs of mythology. For myths
are miracle tales ...'*1a.
The conscious is that part of you that is aware, a constant knowing .
Consciousness is the unique quality of the Ego and seems to distinguish us from
other animals. The Ego simply means 'that part of you (which is reading this
line now,) or looking now, or listening now' and don't let anyone tell you
differently. The Ego is 'the story writer' in you, and not the story itself,
that's history. Sure, we all have our own story, and very real it is too. The
Ego is the story teller, the one who experienced the happenings and is still
here to tell the tale. Things can go on unnoticed by the Ego, for instance,
while you are reading this, your heart is beating away and your little toe is
either hot or cold or just right. If heart and toe and everything else for that
matter, are all as they should be, nice and comfortable, then you will soon
'just forget about them.' There are numerous things going on about us that we
take no notice of either unless they reach our attention.
This being so, it doesn't take long to realise that there are some 'memories'
outside the Ego's knowledge, that is, things recently and long forgotten. These
are personal memories now forgotten. Sometimes they come back via a piece of
music or some smell. These can also return via dreams. This is referred to as
the 'personal unconscious.' What lies beyond the personal unconscious is also
the stuff dreams are made of.
So far everything is fairly straightforward. Now this is the interesting bit,
it seems the further away one gets from the conscious Ego the less we can know
about what goes on. From what we do know, it seems that in spite of the unique
differences between each person we are much alike. Like one of my children
stated when quite young, 'Underneath we are all blood and food.'
Behind our differing personalities we share similar patterns of thinking and
experience and value the same things.
It seems the further away we travel from that conscious part of us, the
'bigger' become the images that come up from the deep to haunt us in our dreams.
We are quite sure that some of these big images like, say, the jester, or the
'wicked witch' actually have no separate existence outside of us. We think they
are, as it were, only imaginings of dreams and story. We seem to have more doubt
about such 'spiritual' beings such as Jesus and all the Saints. Lots of us
people see them as 'separate beings from ourselves' capable of revisiting us in
I have my own answer for this one and you must find yours. It is up to you to
determine which figures in the dreams (and visions) come from inside or from
outside of yourself, say, from somewhere in space, or you may decide they come
from deep inside, but come they do, and that is a psychological fact.
Jung calls the place where all destructive and creative forces come from the
'Collective Unconscious' as it seems we are all common or have a sameness when
it comes to this type of image. He calls them archetypes. My attitude to
Archetypes is simple, I don't care if they come from the inside of us or if they
come from the out side of us, I respect the 'presence' they bring with them.
I don't mess about foolishly here!
Now we hit a second problem. From where do dreams come ?
I argue from the standpoint of facts ,. what do we know. The fact that all these
images come from either the personal unconscious or further away from awareness
where things become less conscious and 'more common,' or as Jung called it, from
the 'collective unconscious.' (As we all know some images mean much the same for
Jung argues that both the Ego and the dream rest on a sea of unconsciousness.
If we accept this statement as fact, then the whole dream happens in the head.
This helps us to interpret the dream as either a personal one emerging from our
distant or recently forgotten past, or one emerging from deep within, The point
I am making is that In any event the whole dream comes from within the dreamer!
The third thing to grasp is that dreams are an actual message from one part
of you to another. If you misunderstand this then the dream will remain of
limited use. We all have had bad dreams or nightmares. Some people even think
dreams are dangerous, and yet if you think about it, people are most dangerous
when they are awake! But consider the idea that some of the images and people in
our dreams are actual creations within our own head. That cannot be true, you
might say, as you dreamed about such and such a person the other night, and they
are real people out there. My reply to you is that the person you refer to is
your impression of that person, not mine, or anybody else's. The same people or
person will be someone else daughter or son, brother, sister, lover, father or
mother. So your impression of them is unique to you. Own that impression of the
person/s in your dreams and what they mean to you. This way we can move onto the
content of the dream and its interpretation in a personal and more useful way.
Consider the dream as a message from something huge inside you wanting to
tell you something. We all know if this were true then whatever it is or whoever
it is giving the messages doesn't seem to do a very good job when it comes to
dreams, because the messages, comes in a kind of Video containing symbols and
metaphor or some code not easy to break. The biggest problem today, it seems, is
that we need first to appreciate that dreams offer the Ego balance. The dream
tries to help the Ego understand that we may have taken a wrong turn or are
heading for trouble if we continue to follow a certain way . I am suggesting
dreams also offer guidance.
Developing the right attitude to the unconscious is very important. I also
suggest you don't 'play' with it. This would be like playing Water polo in mid
Atlantic. Neither can you 'ignore' the unconscious because it will come back on
you in a less helpful way, a bit like trying to block up a stream without
letting any water out. It will just come over the top, round the sides or find
its way underneath.
As I have said, the more sensible way is to acknowledge the unconscious is
there and respect its presence.. It is worth lingering on this idea of
respecting the unconscious as it is key to making further progress within
If you consider the word 'respect' it implies giving someone or something its
full value. Not overinflating it, not disregarding it either, but to give it
full weight and have regard. Dreams are no less and no more important than the
You are left to choose either to ignore or to follow its promptings.
There are three ways of interpreting the dream
The old way of superstition.
There is the old wives tales or superstition as way of gaining knowledge. 'If
you dream of water, that means feelings, if you dream of a fish that means a
quality, if it talks to you, that means you have been given a gift, and so
This method of interpreting a dream is limited and does not allow for the
personal unconscious part of ourselves to have any room in the dream. There is
no choice as it is all done for you, this means this and that means that. There
is an element of truth in this approach too.. I'm not sure what the 'old wife '
would make of me dreaming about my big toe nail. Before the old wife tells me
that dreaming of a big toe nail means I will meet an old friend or something, I
want to state that my toe nail is the ingrowing type and gives me a lot of pain
at times, and that I thought I would have to go into hospital at one point. So
my big toe nail might have significance to me that others cannot know about.
Superstition does not take account of the personal unconscious in the awake
state or via dreams.
The second way is called 'The Theory method.'
This type of dream interpretation starts with a belief, system or theory. The
theory method is employed by Freudians, among others, where the dream fits the
belief. So if the theory has a sexual base, then there is bound to be some truth
in it, isn't there! This approach will touch on the collective unconsciousness
of sexuality and also on the personal unconsciousness level too. Such an
approach can raise personal anxieties that are not in the dream.
I suggest the theory method raises anxieties not in the dream. But sure, you
don't need dreams to raise anxieties, they can easily be found. No! A general
theory misses the specific point of the dream and can at best be like looking
through binoculars and seeing all the issues through the same lenses, you miss
the overall picture and things are too close will be 'out of focus.'
The third way'The Dreamers Own Interpretation.'
I think Jung would argue from the facts. For instance, is there any deep
meaning in the dream for the dreamer? What is going on in the life of the
dreamer? What is the significance of the dream for the dreamer. *2.
You could say the first dream interpretation is based upon superstition., and
yet has some truth to it. The second method demands fitting a dream into a fixed
theory no matter what is dreamed. The third method is Jungian and he advises
that it is not what is dreamed but what the dreamer makes of these deep impulses
Jung gives us a bit more information saying that the main reasons for dreams
are to balance or counter balance the dreamers life when awake. In other words
they are messages asking you to cop - on! They compensate, as it were, or try to
remedy what is going wrong through the day time , or the dream might even try to
prepare you for a gentle let-down if things are going real well. So dreams can
also tell you what is going to happen. It seems the dream can borrow from future
events things that might help you now! Why not? The day time 'I' can borrow from
the past (experience) to help sort out the present, why can't the 'I' of the
dream go to future events to do the same thing? There is certainly enough
evidence of this around, prophetic as it were, and there is enough evidence of
warning dreams in the Bible. I myself have had 'warning' dreams, which I respect
Dreams self regulate. This point is so crucial to the understanding of dream
interpretation. It seems that if we 'our Ego' becomes 'one sided' in what we
chose to do, hear and listen to, then the unconscious part of us builds up an
equal 'other' or opposite stance. There is always the exception, but normally
the compensation coming up from the unconscious does not go against
consciousness. *2 I have found both through my work and in myself, that harmony
between the unconscious and conscious parts leads to good mental health. So
developing a respect for the unconscious is good for us!
How to develop a more healthy attitude to the unconscious.
The first point
Accept the fact that the whole of the dream belongs to you. Its all in your
head, even if its someone you know, it is your impression of them not the person
The Second Point
Developing the right attitude is important which means be a little more
serious about yourselves. Write down or record (dreams) as soon as possible in a
special book kept for that purpose. The dream is about transformation, and
overcoming, a moving towards a state of being more integrated and content within
yourself. This is about healing yourself too, if you think about it.
The Third Point
Once you have recorded your dream there is a powerful method called 'active
imagination.' It works like this
Sit quietly and go back into the dream using your imagination.
If there were another person in the dream, then become the other person, and as
if you were them , say why you are there.
If there is some significant 'thing' in the dream become this and state what
your purpose is as if you were the thing in the dream .
Then return to yourself and reflect on what was said, and push it a bit
further by asking questions and return to the role of the other, and answer the
questions. Thus you can switch back and forth until you are sufficiently
satisfied you cannot get any more from whatever appeared in the dream.
So you amplify or exaggerate what came up in the dream, and begin to
The fourth point
Is there any mythical background either in fairy tale, legends or even
religion, to the things or people who came up in the dream. Think about it and
see it there is anything that could help you connected to the deeper collective
part of you.
The fifth point
Also look at your dream in a dead simple way too! Was there anything 'stupid'
in it and what might this show you.
Other tips on dreams are
1. There are 'little' dreams and 'big' dreams.
Big dreams you remember longer and they continue to be important as long as you
continue to remember them. Some stay with you for life.
2. Within the average dream itself, there is generally a structure
The first stage concerns the STATEMENT OF PLACE .
(a street or a hotel etc,.)
The statements of TIME are rarer.
The statement of the PROTAGONIST (dream Ego) 'I was walking etc,.
The second phase is the development of the PLOT
The third phase is the CULMINATION where something decisive happens or something
The fourth and last is the SOLUTION OR RESULT. *1d.
This structure of four phases generally indicates that dreams are dramatic,
story like and unfolding.
An example using the 'The Dreamers Own Interpretation.' way.
I had a 'big' dream myself some years ago. I will use the above stages to
help you see the dreams structure and how to use the points of interpretation.
Phase 1. STATEMENT OF PLACE. I was in in the basement of a bus depot or
station where the road spiralled down into what looked like a dark car park..
The only sense of TIME was that it was daylight above. THE PROTAGONIST
I was surrounded by young black Afro' warriors all dressed in war paint with
spears, clubs etc,. I was taller than any one else there , white and older, and
dressed in a whit e robe. I could see my three sons, The two younger were in
among the black tribe. They had oiled their skin and looked every bit as black
as the others who were Negro. My oldest son stood half way up the winding road.
He half wanted to join me.
The development of the PLOT
I tried to make contact with my younger sons, but some irritating youth kept
jumping up and down in front of me, distracting my attention.
I took his club off him and 'bopped' him on the head. Not too hard, but just
to express my frustration and annoyance at his rather childish antiques.
The third phase of CULMINATION
While I was doing this the whole lot of them suddenly surged forward and ran
passed me up the spiraling road and out into the world, leaving me alone in the
dark, now silent space.
The fourth phase of SOLUTION OR RESULT
I knew I could not follow. These were young men doing their thing, something
like some hunting party. I was too old and past it. Wrong kind of energy, kind
I woke up to the empty house, alone, and wept bitterly at my loss. My wife was
away in England at the time too.
The dream had brought home to me what I hadn't noticed before, my pain, my loss.
The boys were doing their own thing over in England and I was happy for them. It
was a time when my youngest had reached manhood. My role as a father had
'officially' come to an end., and I hadn't acknowledged it before. I had been
too delighted for them as they were all at college in England or doing their own
thing. I remember thinking at the time-
'No one had warned me it would be painful to let them go!'
Some observations I made to interpret my dream
The feelings in the dream began to emerge as I thought about what had
This was a 'big' dream as I still remember it as if it were last night, so it is
still important to me.
The self is often represented as the city in ancient myth
This pre Christian Celtic symbol above is also the sign of the city divided
into for quarters and having a wall round it, and like all symbols it has other
meanings too. It is the symbol of the 'self' too. This is a collective
unconscious symbol, which still has meaning today and, as in every modern City
there is the 'bus depot' a terminus. (The End of the growing family.)
The underground of the bus depot, in my city , (in my self) I could see meant
the unconscious part, the lower part, like the underworld of early Christianity
below in Rome. It was the birth of a new way of life in that city, perhaps this
might be so for me. It was the part of the city involving 'transport.' the part
I chose to ignore with the conscious ego. So this 'place' is very important. It
was the going away from me, I had up 'till the dream, failed to notice.
Taking the line that everything in the dream is part of my own nature, these
youths were black, in a gang and in a hunting party consistent with African
jungle surroundings, but we are smack in the middle of a modern city. This is
the 'stupid' bit, there is a source of serious conflict here. This unconscious
part of me was still undeveloped, as one would expect, it had not caught up with
modern times. I hadn't thought about it, therefore, these youths who represented
my attitude to my children remained undeveloped. My whole primitive nature was
being observed by the 'dream ego' which needed to act in a collective mindless
group who ran up and out to the light to work out their primitive instincts.
This emerging 'in the light,' into my own awareness, will update their
activities and change their behaviour even as modern young people do now-a-days,
acting out their basic desires in pop music , parties, gigs and the buzz of
campus life. Seeing that it is all me anyway, some of my own base nature will be
released from past ignorance, and thereby, my attitude will be transform to
accepting my loss and moving on to what I want to do in life. (There was more,
but you get the general idea.)
When you think about it, the ideas of African style natives going hunting for
wild animals with spears from a bus depot, in a large city through the city
streets is stupid. I myself, was naive in my relationship with the annoying
youthful vigor of youth, so as to 'forget' to communicate or catch up with the
The implications for me, the awake ego, shocked me . I also realized I
couldn't understand my sons, because of my own prejudice.
A final word
When all is said and done about learning to interpret your own dreams,
sometimes you need the help of another, as things are so close to you they
cannot be recognized for what they are. It is like facing a tree three inches
away, it is impossible to know if you are in a forest or what!
So remember to treat your unconscious with respect and be more serious about
your dreams, they are your friends, but they are never more important than your
awake state. Your own experience in life is your main teacher., not the dream,
or worse still, someone else's experiences!
*1a. C.G.Jung The Collected Works. Vol' ' 9. pt 11. Aion' 81. paragraph 67.
*1b. ibid, paragraphs 315. to 320.
*1c. ibid paragraph 350/1.
*2 C.G.Jung Vol' '6 pt XI. Psychological Types '71 paragraph 693 to 694.
*2a P.W. Martin Experiment in Depth '1956 pp38/42.
Dr. Carl Gustav Jung was the son of a Minister, born in Switzerland in 1897
and died in 1961. He was a well known Psychiatrist and philosopher. His writings
were put together to form 'The Collected Works ' comprising of eighteen volumes.
Terms like 'complex' 'psychological types' and 'introvert and extrovert,' have
become part of everyday speech resulting from his work..
He founded the school of analytical psychotherapy using the concept of the
unconscious to instruct his psychiatric practice.
I was fortunate enough to have 3/4 years analytical therapy from a man taught
by Hillman in Zurich. And having read most of Jung's collective works for the
past 16 years I now focus all my energy into my practice as (it appears) the
only state employed, permanent and full time psychotherapist in Ireland.
How come I am the only one?
'Cause I'm b**** good!
Well......there should be more employed as well, to be sure!
Thanks to Stephen Flynn for allowing Electric Dreams to re-publish this
article. Some font and emphasis marks changed to fit the Electric Dreams format.