To dream of yourself or someone else dying in your dreams can be disturbing. But dying in a dream is often, meant metaphorically, not literally.
Sandy, a mom with two children, was thinking about going back to work. Growing up, her mother when back to work when she was 10. She was the eldest of 5 children and had to be responsible for her siblings when mom was not there. It was too much for her. As a mom, she was determined not to do that to her own children.
When her youngest daughter entered school full time, Sandy’s life changed. She had much more time. She thought about going back to work. She’d loved her job as a elementary school teacher. Yet she was concerned about how her going back to work would impact each of her children, especially her eldest child. She struggled with the decision.
One night she had a nightmare that her youngest child died. She woke up in distress. While thinking about the dream she realized that the dream was not about her daughter, but an aspect of herself. Her youngest daughter had been so excited to go to school and was enjoying it immensely. Sandy wanted to get back to school again and the nightmare was telling her if she did not go back to work, a part of her would ‘die’. Her youngest daughter represented that part of herself (a daughter is related to a mother) that was keen to go to school, that is, get back to work. Sandy solved her dilemma by taking a position of Teacher-on-Call so she could work if she was called in, yet decline if she needed to stay at home with her children.
Years ago I wanted a better relationship with one of my brothers. We were adults and I wanted more of a connection with him. For many years, I kept trying to make that happen between us whenever we were together. One evening we went out to dinner. As usual I was trying to get more of a connection with him. That night I dreamed that he died.
That was years ago and my brother is still very much alive today. What died in the dream was my belief that we could have a more connected relationship. My dream was telling me to give up; it was not going to happen. So I stopped trying. We have had a relationship all these years, it is not the relationship I longed for, but it’s OK. I accept it as it is.
In my 30’s I did major work on myself through intensive therapy. Much of the therapy centered on my dreams. I kept a dream log during this time. One time I read through a series of dreams and identified a recurring symbol in them. As dreams can have recurring themes they can also have recurring symbols.
The symbol I notice was a retaining wall. Sometimes the retaining wall was made of wood, sometimes stone, sometimes high, sometimes low etc. When I talk about this dream I always put my hand on my chest, just over my heart.
Here are the last two dreams I remember having about a retaining wall.
I dream I’m in the ocean. I’m at the base of a sheer rock cliff. The waves are dashing me against the cliff. I say, “If this continues, I’m going to die.” Suddenly, there are metal rungs on the cliff wall forming a ladder. I climb up out of the water to the top of the cliff. The dream ends with me chatting to a woman who is sun tanning on a lawn chair.
In this dream, the retaining wall has water on both sides of it. I’m in a powerboat and I’m travelling toward the retaining wall. I’m trying to go over it in the boat. Why? I don’t know. I’m just going to do it. As I approach the wall, the boat goes up, in my mind’s eye there is a big wall of green water, and in my chest there is terror. My boat crashes on the wall and I die. But I do not wake up. I say to myself, “No. No. It’s not supposed to be like this.”
I start to do a replay. I’m in the powerboat again. I’m heading toward the retaining wall again. I’m determined to get over it. As I approach the wall, my boat goes up, the same wall of green water in my mind’s eye, and same terror in my chest. This time I make it over. The dream ends with me driving my boat slowly on a peaceful ocean; there are other boats around me. In my chest, where the terror was, I felt a deep sense of peace. The next day, I found myself doing things without thinking about them and saying things without thinking about them. I became more spontaneous in a positive way. That has never stopped.
The retaining wall represented the part of me that held myself back. Growing up, I learned to keep myself safe by holding myself back. In order to come fully into myself, that part of me needed to die. With all the therapy I had had up to this point I had arrived at the place where I could risk letting that part of me go. It was difficult to let go of a way of being that helped me survive childhood, and some of my adulthood, but it was time and I was ready for it. I know that I would never have done the things I have done if that part of me had not died. I would never have gotten a Master’s degree, Doctorate, become a psychologist, written a book and other things, if that part of me had not died.
It was like a death and rebirth. I had to let go of one way of being in the world so I could develop another way, a healthier way of being in the world. I have never forgotten this dream and how it changed my life for the better.
When trying to understand your dreams, remember – they are often metaphorical.
With care and concern,
Dr. Bea Mackay
It is possible to help yourself by working with your dreams without needing to know what they mean. People often think of their dreams as something that happens to them rather than something that they do while sleeping. Your dreams are a resource to you and you can use them to your benefit.
Since your brain created them, you are the producer of these movies. Not only are you the producer, but the director and actors too. Since it’s your movie, you can edit it and change it in any way you like. You have all the rights to this movie. You can change the storyline, furniture, vehicles, colours, sounds, space, dialogue, and action. Your brain created it, which means you can change it any way you want. You can keep what you like and want and change what you don’t like and don’t want.
The hardest part of this is letting go of logic because while awake you are in your left brain which uses logic. With practice you will get better at letting go of logic and being more creative. It can be fun.
The reason you create at least three different endings is to give your dreaming brain the idea that there is no right ending. If you have only one ending, then you think that’s the only other possible ending. If you have two, then you think it’s either this or that. But if you have three or more, your brain realizes there are millions of possibilities. This frees up your dreaming brain to come up with endings that are tailor made for you.
I’m a passenger in the back seat of a car. I don’t know who is driving but the car is going too fast. We skid around one corner nearly hitting a pedestrian. The car swerves from side to side. Then we almost hit a truck that is crossing the road at an intersection. The car comes to a halt by ramming into a lamppost. I wake up with a start. I’m not hurt.
Outcome: accident but not hurt.
Feeling tone: scared, out of control.
I’m a passenger in the back seat of a car. I don’t know who is driving but I don’t like how he or she is driving. Suddenly, I’m in the driver’s seat and driving the car. Even though I do not know how to drive, I somehow able to do it. I slow down the car and drive the speed I want to drive. The scene changes and I’m now in the country. It’s a beautiful day and I’m enjoying the ride.
Outcome: no accident, pleasant trip
Feeling tone: safe, in control, happy
I’m in the back seat of the car. It’s a limo and there is a driver. I tell him to drive more slowly. He follows my directions. We pull over to a store and I get out to go shopping and he waits by the car for me.
Outcome: no accident, go where I want
Feeling tone: safe, in control, in charge
I’m in the back seat of the car. I don’t know who is driving but the car is going too fast. Suddenly I’m driving the car, finding it hard to control. Then I realize it is actually a plane. I pull on the wheel and the plane goes up and I’m flying. I fly around the city looking down at everything. Then I see a road and I bring the plane safely down. Now the plane is a car again. I continue to drive happily along the road. It’s as if all this is normal and ordinary.
Outcome: no accident, new adventure, new skills
Feeling tone: safe, in control, excitement, stimulated.
Once your brain gets the idea that dreams can be changed, you will start to do it while you are dreaming. Your dreaming brain will come up with just the right positive ending for you.
When my children were young and I put them to bed at night I wanted to say something positive to them when I said good night. So I would say to them –
Have all your dreams turn out well.
With care and concern,
Once I bought a new clothes dryer. About a week after I bought it, I dreamed that it burst into flames. I woke up with a start. I instantly knew what the dream was about. The filter on the new dryer was in a different place and I had forgotten to clean it. “Bursting into flames” was my fear of what I believed could happen. The dream was simply my mind’s way of reminding me to clean the filter.
In many cases of interpreting dreams you need to consider several factors.
It is possible to detect malfunctions in machines and vehicles through your senses, such as sight, hearing, smell, and touch. Because we live busy lives we may not be aware consciously that we picked up information, yet our dreams may let us know while we sleep.
When I woke up, I remembered sitting in my car the night before, waiting for my son to come out of his karate class. While waiting, I was off in my mind thinking about lots of things. The weather was cold and I remember seeing steam rising up from the hood of the car. So when I next drove my car, I looked at the engine gauge. The engine was getting too hot too fast. I took it to the garage and learned there was a hole in a hose.
During work, Marlene had detected something was going on between two of her co-workers but she did not register it consciously. Their connection with each other came to her at night in her dream.
Their being in bed together could mean they are sexually involved with each other and keeping it secret, or it could mean they are conspiring with each other about work and it has nothing to do with sex. Being in bed together can be a metaphor for secretly allying with each other in the work (or other) situation.
Now that this has been brought to Marlene’s attention, she can figure out consciously whether their alliance is sexual or conspiratorial.
Many years ago, before I had children, I had this dream. Curious, I decided to phone her and catch up with her. It turns out she was, in fact, pregnant. I could not have known about it, as I had not had any contact with her for several years. She lived in Eastern Canada and I lived on the West Coast.
When we dream about people from the past what it means depends on whether that person is in our life currently or not. If they are, the meaning may be about the real person. When they are not in your current life, it means they represent something to you.
My friend was married in university, had had one child and got pregnant with her second child when I knew her. While the dream was about her, I believe the dream stemmed more from my own strong desire at the time to have children of my own. Dreaming that she was pregnant, and it turning out to be true, was probably more a coincidence than intuition. She represented fertility and family to me, which I longed for myself at the time.
People too often take dreams literally when they are metaphors for what is going on in one’s current life. While they may be literal, consider the possibility they may be metaphorical or symbolic when interpreting your dreams.
With care and concern,
Dr. Bea Mackay