Analyzing Your Dreams

Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves


Everyone wonders what their dreams mean, and there are many complicated systems one can use to learn about them. Since any attempt at looking inward is rewarding, all of these systems probably help some.

But don't miss the obvious.

The obvious thing about dreams is this:
Dreams help us to maintain our beliefs when these beliefs have been threatened by the reality of daily experience.


We each have a unique and very personal "world view." We use it to make sense out of our lives. Each of us needs to believe that our view of the world is right.

Since no one has a perfect world view, our world view must be changeable.

When we think our world view might be wrong we start to feel afraid.

Our dreams protect us from haphazardly changing our minds about how the world works.

In our dreams we create experiences which show us we were right all along even when we weren't!


Think of this simple example when you work on your dreams:

A little boy believes that "all men with beards are scary."
One day a bearded man visits his home and is kind to him all day long. That night the boy wonders if bearded men really are scary. He's almost sure that they are not, but changing his mind about it seems scary too. So he has a frightening dream in which a bearded man chases him.

When he wakes up, he goes back to believing that all bearded men are scary. End result: He has learned nothing from his real life experience the day before.

It's as if our dreams are saying:
"I've made up my mind. Don't confuse me with the facts."



Four questions to use when analyzing your dreams:

  1. How did I feel at the very end of the dream itself? (In the dream, not after you woke up.)

  2. What was the most emotionally significant thing that happened the day before you had this dream? (What gave you the strongest good or bad feeling?)

  3. How was the feeling at the end of the dream the opposite of the strong feeling you had yesterday?

  4. What could you learn if you decided to throw your dream away and just learn from the real experiences you had the day before?


If you've followed this so far you can see that in a sense our dreams are lying to us.

Since this is so, it can be very difficult to analyze our own dreams. When we try to analyze our own dreams we are continually tempted to lie to ourselves

Ask a very close friend to help you. Tell them about your dream and about yesterday and try to give them complete answers to the four questions. Then ask them to catch you if you seem to be lying to yourself.

Often, you will see no connection at all between yesterday's events and your dream but your friend will say it's really obvious to them! Ask them to explain what they see.

It helps to use a pencil and paper and refer to the four step process shown above. Somehow seeing our statements in writing helps to overcome denial.


Recurring dreams are more complicated. If you have recurring dreams you'll need to think about what's been bothering you since these dreams started (rather than just since yesterday). Also, because recurring dreams indicate a long-standing conflict, it is unlikely that you will be able to analyze them well enough on your own. Try it on your own first, but ask for help if you realize it's not working. If the dreams cause you a lot of pain, ask a therapist to help.


If your dream still seems real to you hours or days after the dream itself, you are beginning to confuse fantasy and reality. The conflict behind this particular dream is extremely important for you to figure out. Get help if either the dreams or the sense that they are "real" don't go away!


Therapists work in different ways. If your therapist doesn't feel confident in analyzing the dream but does feel competent at helping you with the problem the dream is about, that's fine. It's the problem you need help with, not the dream.

next: Are You Considering Therapy?

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 11). Analyzing Your Dreams, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Last Updated: March 29, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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