Sometimes a dream is only a dream…

… and sometimes not. Dreams have a lot of different functions, and seem to come in several basic types. Here are my observations over many years of experiencing and remembering my own dreams, on what kinds of dreams there are and generally what they mean. I’ll treat some of these in greater depth in later posts. The categories below move generally from the least significant to the most significant.

Random Noise – There’s a lot going on in our heads at night, and I think some of it is just “clearing the decks.” This is house-keeping of the brain, sweeping out the debris, resetting our neuronal states, replenishing neurotransmitters, what have you. In the course of all this, there may be some random excitation of this and that spot in the brain, which our minds try to link together in a dream. These dreams are pretty meaningless and mostly make no sense, no matter how we try to slice them. My guess is, there’s a lot of this that happens that we don’t bother to remember, because there’s nothing real in there to remember.

Daily Processing – Different from the former but sometimes hard to distinguish, these dreams consist of the brain sorting out the events of the day and deciding where to put them. We receive a lot of stimuli of various kinds during the day varying in significance from snippets we read in the newspaper, to new things we’ve learned, to important life events or relationship shifts. Studies have shown that a lot of our memories are formed at night, and that sleep plays an important role in that. Many of our dreams, especially those that seem to key off of something that happened during the day, are probably related to this activity of processing daily information and events into the larger framework of our minds – short-term memory, long-term memory, building relationships and networks to other information. These dreams are experienced as being somewhat more coherent than those above, but in and of themselves don’t contain any special significance.

Anxiety Dreams – Sometimes we live through events or periods of our lives that elicit such a strong emotional response that some of it gets buried deep within our psyche. Long after that period is over, we have dreams about the events. A very common one is dreams about school – not being prepared, not knowing where your classes are, failing all your exams, not graduating. It may be about a job environment, a bad marriage, or an addiction from which you’re in recovery. What these dreams have in common is that they occur after the event or period is over, and slowly they help you work through the residual fear, anxiety, and negative connection you still have to that time period. When the dreams end, you can feel confident that that issue is released.

Messages from the Inner Mind – These are key to understanding what is going on in our lives. Our subconscious knows so much more than we do. It sees body language, takes in all kinds of information that our conscious mind filters out. I have often found myself having dreams that felt real and true about other people I am in a relationship with or a current situation on which I need guidance. I find that I can count on this information like a direct message from my intuitive self saying, “see what you have missed; know what you really know.” This can clue us in to people’s true motivations, the actual states of our relationships, our own fears or desires, and what we need that we aren’t taking care of. I have had several life-altering insights from dreams of this nature, and to me, this is probably the single most important reason to be able to remember your dreams.

“Real” Dreams – Dreams that are more than messages from our inner selves. These are dreams that are real in the sense that they connect with something or someone outside of ourselves. I have rarely had these, but can think of several clear instances where the person I was dreaming with also had the dream, or remembered the conversation, or felt my presence. I don’t pretend to be able to explain these, rather, I am observing them. I believe in my own reality, especially when it is corroborated by others.

More to come – specific examples and discussion welcome!

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4 thoughts on “Sometimes a dream is only a dream…

  1. Coppermoon says:

    Good sorting of kinds of dreams – I have very few periods of no dreams – most of the time, they are those rambling, crazy, too-much-pizza-too-late-at-night type. But now and then, there are the “real” dreams and I do take notice of those. Sometimes they are warnings, sometimes they are preparation for an event to come, and sometimes they are comforting – but they always stand out as Real. Looking forward to more on this….

  2. judithornot says:

    Very interesting, Teresa. The categories have different names, but pretty much fit what I’ve been taught and learned about dreams. In my work with clients, we talk most about what you call “anxiety” or “messages from the inner mind” dreams. I’ve been calling them messages from the subconscious, but I like the way you break them into two groups. The anxiety dreams function much like EMDR, helping people re-live and understand what has happened to them (though it only seems to work that way if they actually do try to understand the dreams).

  3. Spicey says:

    What does it mean when you dream about something and about a week or 2 later it actually happens? I have had many dreams like that where I dream of someone or something usually something bad happening and when I go see the person or talk to them that I haven’t in awhile or have seen on daily basis letting them know about my dreams it either has happened or takes place in a week or so…. Does this make sense

  4. Yes, it makes sense. I would put it in the category of “Real Dreams” above. I’m not sure it has a specific meaning other than that you’re able to tune in somehow to what is actually happening somewhere else – some people seem to be able to do this with some frequency and others maybe once or twice in their life that they remember. What I wonder is how many of us have real dreams that we don’t remember, simply because we don’t remember most of our dreams to start with. It’s the ones that shock us the most that we are most likely to remember upon waking, and those are usually the ones with the worst things in them :(

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