Dreams Part 3: Learning to Interpret Your Dreams.

Dreams have meaning even if we cannot figure out what the meaning is.  Interpreting our own dreams is difficult because we are so close to ourselves it’s hard to get perspective.  Yet it can be done.

Dreams deal with our current life and what is going on in it.

If you dream of someone from our past, whom you have not seen in years, it means that person represents something for you and relates to your current life.  For example, you dream of the girl in high school who was considered a sexpot (she is not in your current life); it means she symbolizes something about sex for you which somehow does relate to your current life.  If she is also in your current life, it may mean something about the real person and your relationship to her or someone else that relates to sex.

If you dream of something in the future, such as becoming rich, it relates to the present and what is motivating your current behaviors.

Meaning is based in context.

We all have shared meaning of words and expressions.  But we also have idiosyncratic or personal meanings, which are significant when interpreting dreams. For instance, we all have a common meaning for the word ‘bridge’.   However, a person, whose brother attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge, will have an additional high-charged meaning to the word ‘bridge’.


Roberta and Stan each dream of a woman with a string of pearls.

Roberta had a loving grandmother who always wore a string of pearls.  She adored her grandmother and had a very close relationship to her.  For Roberta, the string of pearls was symbolic of all the good times they had together.  She frequently wore a string of pearls herself.

Stan had a nasty great aunt whom he hated.  She always wore a string of pearls. Every time she visited their home, she made his life miserable.  She disliked boys and seemed to dislike him in particular.  The string of pearls was symbolic of all the times he had to endure her visits.  He tended to be wary of women who wore pearls.

Association can give the meaning.

Since your brain created the dream, in some ways, you are every part of the dream.  You are the producer, director, actors, creatures, setting, furniture, vegetation, sky, ground, colors, sounds, actions, words and storyline.

To find out what meaning the people, objects, creatures, and places, have for you, explore the associations you have with each one.


Joey dreams of an old man floating in a leaky boat way out at sea. The feeling tone to the dream is dread.

When Joey thought of the ‘old man’, he immediately thought of his grandfather who lived on the West Coast.  His grandfather was not doing well financially. When he thought this, he had the sudden realization that he had a ‘sinking feeling’ about his future.  He did not want to end up poor like his grandfather.

Try it yourself: To get the meaning of elements in your dream take each significant element and  associate to it.  Allow for whatever thoughts to pop into your mind. Write them down as you do it. When you find the meaning it has you will resonate with it.

Become the element.


Sara tended to overwork.  Her husband was always worried about how she was going to wear herself out.  Sara too wondered if she was doing too much.

Sara dreamed of a cat sleeping curled up in a wicker basket. Feeling tone to the dream is peaceful.

To try to get the meaning of the dream Sara talked as if she was the cat (another way to associate).  I am a fluffy orange cat.  I’m an older cat.  I’m sleeping peacefully.  I’m getting rest.

As Sara said this she realized she is not getting worn out.  She is just fine.  Like the cat she can rest, get restored and jump up and happily work some more.  She just likes to work.  Her next realization was  – her husband is not getting enough time with her.  She decided to address that issue with him instead of talking about her getting worn out.

Often the meaning of dreams is hidden in the metaphors of the dreams, such as leaky boat and rested cat.  By associating to the significant elements in the dream you can get insight into what the meaning of the dream is for you.

Have fun with this method of exploring your dreams.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay


Dreams Part 2: What is the Most Common Dream Theme Amongst all Cultures?

The most common theme amongst all people is the Chase or Attack Theme.  This is a bad dream or nightmare in which someone or something is chasing the dreamer.  The dreamer may escape sometimes and other times may get caught with disastrous results. The following example shows how a client’s Chase dreams can change in a positive way during effective therapy.


When I started working with Andy (Caucasian male) he was suffering from ongoing nightmares.  In the first nightmare he reported, he was frozen in terror. Nightmare:  I’m standing at the end of a large culvert.  There is a giant monster at the other end of the culvert growling and baring his teeth at me.  I’m terrified, so terrified I cannot move.  I jolt awake with my heart pounding.  

As we worked together in therapy the nightmares started shifting.  In the next series of nightmares, he is no longer paralyzed in fear.  He is able to move.  The monsters have gone.  Now an alien chases him. Nightmare:  I’m crossing a bridge trying to get away from an alien that is chasing me.  I’m running and running.  The alien is catching up to me.  I startle awake in terror.

After more sessions, the nightmares continued to shift.  In the nightmares he is still able to move.  The alien disappears and now he is chased by several vicious dogs. Nightmare:  I’m running along a dark street.  There is no one around. The buildings are all dark and empty.  I’m alone.  Vicious dogs are chasing me.  I get away from them.  I wake up feeling relief.

Weeks later the nightmares become less terrifying.  The creatures chasing him are no longer aliens or dogs, but humans, albeit, criminals.  He does not know if they are dangerous or not.  He is no longer isolated. The woman in the dream is an indication he is starting to connect to humans who are not threatening. Bad dream:  I’m running through a city at night.  There are several criminals chasing me.  I don’t know what they want from me.  I run past a place. There is a woman inside looking after a baby.  I keep running.  I wake up scared, but not too scared.

Last stages of therapy:  He is no longer being chased.  He is working with a foreign man and engaged in a joint venture of which he is in charge. Dream:  I’m at an airport.  I’ve hired an Asian helicopter pilot to take me up for a tour over the city.  He is going to show me significant areas of the city, which I want to learn about.

After nine months of therapy, Andy decided to end therapy.  He felt good about himself.  The part of himself he had disowned is now re-owned.  It is still a foreign part of himself, but he has made an alliance with it. He felt in control of himself and his life.


At the beginning of therapy Andy has disowned his own power.  The monster represents his power, which is so distorted that it is not even human or animal at this point.  Through the work in therapy, he begins to own his power.  It gradually shifts –  from monster to alien –  to dogs – to criminals –  to a foreign business partner.  At the end of therapy he has a working alliance with his power even though this part of himself is still foreign to him.  He now feels in charge of himself and is able access the resources of this foreign part of himself.  The city represents life as he is living it.  By going up in a helicopter he will get a better perception of the life as he is living it. The woman in the dream represents, me, the therapist.  The baby indicates a new sense of self is emerging, which he has not yet fully owned, as a result of his owning his own power and her care.


In chase dreams, the dreamer is avoiding something in his or her life.  The recurring theme indicates the dreamer is constantly bothered by what they are avoiding and they have to keep working to avoid whatever it is they fear will happen if they face it. Whether the danger is real or imaginary, it is helpful to know what the danger is so you can most effectively deal with it.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay


Dreams Part 1: Understanding Dreams and Dreaming.

Every night people dream.  They may or may not remember the dreams.  In a normal night sleep, people have four to five 90 minute cycles.  With each cycle there is a period of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.  During this stage of sleep people are having vivid dreams.  Their eyes can be seen going rapidly back and forth under the eyelids.  If someone wakes them up they will report a vivid dream.  This has been proven in sleep labs.  Over the night the length of the REM dreaming gets longer in each cycle, with the longest one occurring just before we wake up in the morning.

REM sleep/dreaming is essential to our physical and mental well-being.  If for some reason we are unable to or are prevented from REM dreaming, we become emotionally and physically ill.  If a fisherman goes out alone to fish for 48 hours and must stay awake to man his boat, he will have more periods of REM sleep than usual when he returns.

Very simply stated, one part of the brain goes to sleep while another part of the brain goes to work processing our daily life in dreams.  When awake the left-brain is focusing on doing life, and all the while the right-brain is picking up information through all of the senses (hearing, sight, taste, smell, touch and others).  During dreaming the right-brain synthesizes the tremendous amount of information it takes in, with the information and factual data from the left-brain.

What is the function of dreaming?

Dreaming helps people sort things out (whether they remember their dreams or not).  It helps people make sense of their experiences.

It is common for people to wake up in the morning, without remembering their dreams, with a decision made or problem solved.   People often say when asked to make a decision, “Let me sleep on it, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

The dreaming brain is highly creative because it lets go of logic.  Many new ideas, concepts, inventions, changes, art, and breakthroughs come from dreams.

Sarah McLaughlin was preparing to go into the studio to record an album.  The morning she was to do the recording, she woke up with a song in her mind,  Fly Like a Bird.  She recorded the new song along with the others she was doing that day.

Recurring dreams are significant.  They can be positive or negative.

Many athletes recall from an early age, dreams of winning an Olympic medal, standing on the podium and hearing their national anthem.  When people want something, they work hard in the daytime to perform the skills and they dream about it at night.  Their dreams are likely to come true because through their dreams they figure out how to achieve their goal.

When people are afraid they frequently dream about whatever it is that they fear – a person, an experience, an event.  Recurring nightmares or bad dreams indicate that a person has an ongoing problem in his life, which he is unable to solve.

Example:  Cindy, an adult, told a recurring nightmare she had for most of her childhood.  She was one of five children. Both her parents were verbally and emotionally abusive.  They were also physically abusive, grabbing anything at hand to hit the children with or throw at them.  In the recurring nightmare, they were chasing her.  She found, if she concentrated hard enough she could float up into the air and be out of their reach, although she could feel them grabbing at her feet.  Some nights she couldn’t get high enough and they caught her.  The nightmare stopped when she moved out of the home.

Through the next series of posts, I’m going to teach you about dreams and dreaming so you can use the knowledge to help you with your life.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay