People have long theorized on the meaning of dreams. From ancient civilizations to modern scientists. Some of the earliest theories of dreaming were proposed by the Greeks and Romans who believed that dreams served as a gateway between the earthly world and the godly realm. In ancient Greece and Rome, it was believed that dreams had prophetic powers.
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By the nineteenth century at the dawn of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung developed some of the most recognized theories of dreaming. Freud’s theory was based on the idea of repressed longing, where dreaming allows us to process unresolved and repressed wishes. Carl Jung, also believed in the psychological importance of dreams, theorizing that they are the psyche's attempt to communicate vital information to the person.
Over the twentieth and twenty-first century psychology developed and went through numerous paradigm shifts. During this period, many theories of dreaming came in and out of favor. Currently, several contrasting theories exist with wide bodies of research to support them, such as the “activation-synthesis hypothesis,” which suggests that dreams have no meaning and are a result of electrical brain impulses, and the “threat simulation theory”, which suggests dreams gave us an evolutionary advantage, helping us to simulate potential threatening events and figure out how to behave to gain the greatest benefit.
Today, the true meaning of why we dream remains hotly debated, with scientists continuing to collect data and develop their theories. While the reason we dream is not yet understood, many of us have dreams with commonly occurring themes. Over the years, interpretations of these common dreams have emerged. Below, we discuss these common dreams and their meanings.
Dreams of dying oneself or others around the dreamer dying are common and rather disconcerting. However, some theories suggest that death in dreams is a positive omen, that it represents change and letting go of negative aspects of the dreamer’s life.
Other interpretations suggest that dreams of death may reflect times the dreamer is feeling anxiety about change in their waking life or that they are currently in fear of the unknown.
Studies have shown that dreams in which the dreamer is falling, often from a great height, are also common. Most interpretations suggest that this dream is not a favorable one, it suggests that the dreamer considers that their life is not going to plan. It also suggests that the dreamer may benefit from rethinking their life choices and assessing the current path they are on. Dreams of falling can also symbolize a need to let go and enjoy life more.
Dreams of flying can evoke feelings of excitement as well as fear. This represents their two separate meanings. Sometimes, dreams of flying can represent feelings of liberation, freedom, and independence, which can be enjoyable. On the other hand, dreams of flying can also symbolize feelings to flee or escape situations in real life.
Most people will have experienced at least one dream about losing teeth, for some people it can be a recurring theme. While there is no single interpretation of this dream, it can often symbolize a source of worry in the dreamer’s waking life. Commonly, it can relate to concern over money, the dreamer’s appearance, or the dreamer’s ability to communicate.
Both women and men can experience dreams of being pregnant, this dream theme is common to both genders. Dream interpreters disagree on the meaning of this dream, some believe it is associated with creativity and others suggest it is linked with fear.
Also, it is believed that the meaning of this dream changes depending on if the dreamer is actually pregnant or not. For those who dream of being pregnant while they are pregnant in real life, the dream may reflect anxieties surrounding pregnancy and birth.
Dreams of being pursued by someone, often an unknown attacker, are unfortunately very common. The interpretation of this type of dream suggests that it symbolizes that the dreamer is trying to avoid something in their waking life. It also may represent the dreamer’s wish to escape their own fears or desires. The identity of the pursuer can help identify the exact meaning of the dream.
Being naked in public
One of the most common dreams is that of suddenly realizing that you are naked in public. Dream interpreters suggest that this frequently occurring dream that is often accompanied by feelings of panic and embarrassment is linked to the feeling of being phony in real life. The dream can also indicate anxiety of the dreamer’s imperfections and shortcomings being revealed.
Overall, dreams are personal to the dreamer and are thought to reflect on the individual and the specific situations they find themselves in in real life. Dream interpretations can help indicate the potential meaning of a dream, but the dreamer can often understand the dream meaning in a way that is personal to them through self-reflection.
- Prado de Oliveira, L., 2014. Histoires de l'interprétation des rêves. Cahiers de psychologie clinique, 42(1), p.13. https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_CPC_042_0011–histories-of-dream-interpretation.htm
- Revonsuo, A., 2000. The reinterpretation of dreams: An evolutionary hypothesis of the function of dreaming. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23(6), pp.877-901. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences/article/abs/reinterpretation-of-dreams-an-evolutionary-hypothesis-of-the-function-of-dreaming/EE0E7DB39E361540D2DDA79C262EDA7E
- The Science Behind Dreaming. The Scientific American. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-behind-dreaming/
- What Your Dreams Actually Mean, According to Science. Jeffrey Kluger. Time. Available at: https://time.com/4921605/dreams-meaning/
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Last Updated: Aug 23, 2021
After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.
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