Human beings have been trying to figure out the meaning of their dreams probably for as long as humankind has existed. The need to make sense of our lives is as human as dreaming is, and dreaming represents an important part of our lives — we do it every single night! Some of the earliest recorded attempts to interpret dreams are from Ancient Babylon, Greece and Egypt. In those ancient societies, dreams were considered a sacred communication with the divine that could deliver omens of the future.
Thousands of years later, psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung interpreted dreams based on the theory that dreams are a depiction of our unconscious fears and desires. Some modern scientists who have tackled the subject of dream interpretation argue that dreams exist to aid our survival. These researchers theorize that dreams act as a “threat rehearsal” wherein we can confront primal threats, such as threats to our life or status, so that we can better confront these challenges in real life.
Read on to discover the meanings of the most common dreams, as defined by today’s top dream experts. Keep in mind that dream interpretation is pretty subjective, so different experts may interpret the same dream in different ways.
As spiders weave intricate webs to catch unsuspecting prey, dreaming about spiders can indicate that the dreamer is being manipulated or is manipulating a situation or person herself, according to Cynthia Richmond, a behavioral therapist and dream expert who has appeared on Oprah. If the spider is poisonous, this may mean that the dreamer is concerned about some especially venomous, or even deadly force, says Richmond. However, if the dreamer is afraid of spiders in his/her waking life, a dream of spiders has a different meaning: he/she needs to come to terms with and overcome this phobia. According to dreammoods.com, a comprehensive online dream dictionary, dreaming about bugs in general can also represent something that is “bugging” or scaring you.
2. Being Chased
Being chased in a dream is typically your subconscious mind telling you that you’re avoiding a painful or frightening emotion, person or issue, according to Richard Nicoletti, J.D., a psychotherapist at the Jung Institute. Says Nicoletti, in dreams about being chased, the context also is important, i.e., who or what is chasing you. Lauri Loewenberg, author of So What Did You Dream Last Night? and founder of thedreamzone.com, says that you need to confront the threatening situation in real life in order to stop having such dreams.
3. Being Naked in Public
A very common dream, being naked in public represents feeling vulnerable or exposed. According to Keith Stevens, author of The Dreamer and the Beast – How Dreams Exercise Our Primal Instincts and one of the pioneers of the “threat rehearsal” theory of dream interpretation, in primitive terms, being naked in public puts you at a disadvantage – you have nowhere to hide a weapon, for example. Thus, such dreams provide the benefit of stimulating your instinct to not let yourself get into disadvantageous positions. In a more figurative sense, dreaming of public nudity could represent exposing yourself emotionally, e.g., revealing a potentially damaging personal secret.
4. Losing Your Teeth
From an evolutionary standpoint, teeth are important for survival (you need them to eat) and reproduction (you need a decent set of chompers to attract a good mate). Accordingly, dreaming about losing your teeth exercises your instincts to protect yourself and your appearance, says Keith Stevens. On a more symbolic level, teeth represent how powerful and confident you feel, according to psychologist and dream interpreter Ian Wallace. Therefore, losing your teeth in a dream could represent a waking-life situation that is eroding your confidence.
It is a myth that you will die in real life if you dream about falling and hitting the ground. However, a “falling” dream could mean things in your life aren’t going so great. Lauri Loewenberg interprets this type of dream as your subconscious mind sending out a red flag that something in your life is moving rapidly in the wrong direction. This could be your relationship, career, finances or something else. These dreams are also common among people with depression, says Loewenberg. A more literal dream interpretation from Keith Stevens says that this “natural element threat” dream activates your survival instinct to be wary of heights.
According to Russell Grant and Vicky Emptage, authors ofThe Illustrated Dream Dictionary, dreaming about flying has to do with your sexual ambitions. Flying high and proud means you’re happy with and even boastful of your sex life, while trying to fly and failing might mean that you’re striking out a lot or feeling sexually inadequate. Alternatively, psychologist Ian Wallace says being able to fly in a dream is about the desire to “rise above” difficult circumstances or a heavy responsibility in your waking life. Finally, Keith Stevens theorizes that dreaming of flying is about feeling superior to others. Think of the advantage you’d have if you actually had this super power! Dreaming of being able to breathe underwater is in this same class of “superiority” dreams, says Stevens.
7. Being Pregnant/Giving Birth
This is a very common dream, especially (but not exclusively) among women. On a basic, human-instinct level, these dreams stimulate a woman’s instinct to reproduce, says Keith Stevens. From the perspective of Ally Mead, a self-proclaimed psychic who has studied dream interpretation at the Jungian Institute of Los Angeles, pregnancy dreams are about creativity; the dreamer has an unacknowledged desire to come up with a new idea, create a piece of art, or embark on a new creative project. Men who dream of being pregnant may be craving the power that women are able to wield by becoming a mother, says Mead.
A dream about dying could be a subconscious contemplation of your mortality, or the death could symbolize an end, change or absence. Dying in a dream could symbolize that you are looking for a new start or are going through a spiritual transformation, whereas dreaming about the death of a loved one could mean that this person is no longer part of your life, or that you lack a certain quality that this person embodies. Looking at death dreams as a straightforward representation of death itself, Keith Stevens says these dreams stimulate our survival instinct, and dreams about the death of a love one encourage us to protect and cherish the ones we love.
9. Being Lost
Being lost in a labyrinthine building or unfamiliar city is a very stressful and very common type of dream. In many cases, the dreamer may be worried about “getting lost” in her own life circumstances. These types of dreams may occur when you feel anxious or insecure about “finding your way” in a new life situation, such as when starting a new job or moving to a new city, according to Cathleen O’Connor, Ph.D. and author of The Everything Law of Attraction Dream Dictionary. You may be especially prone to dreaming about being lost if you are embarking on a new challenge that you feel unprepared for, or are struggling to get accustomed to a situation where the rules are constantly changing. Dreaming that another person is lost could mean that you have unresolved feelings about this person, according to the dream dictionary at smartgirl.org.
According to psychotherapist and author Jeffrey Sumber, dreaming about water reflects change, renewal and purification, sometimes symbolizing a change in consciousness accompanying some life transformation. Context is important, however. Says Sumber, if you dream about offering water to others, this could represent that you are offering new life or positive change to others, whereas if you dream about being caught in a typhoon, you could be feeling overwhelmed by a life change.
11. Being Back at School
No matter how many years we have been out of school, we just can’t seem to escape it in our dream-life. More than anything, this reflects the profound effect that years of schooling has on us. Often, these dreams are accompanied by anxiety-provoking situations, such as being lost, naked, or unprepared for an exam. As discussed in the entries on those specific dream topics, such dreams could indicate you are feeling vulnerable, exposed or insecure in your current life circumstances. In general, however, dreaming about school is all about your job – at least, according to author Lauri Loewenberg. Says Loewenberg, the scrutiny and pressures we are subjected to at work directly parallel those of school. I guess it’s true that high school never ends.
12. Being Cheated On
Dreams are a place where we can express our insecurities, including sexual jealousy. It should be fairly obvious that dreaming that your spouse or significant other is cheating on you does not necessarily mean that they are two-timing you in real life, but rather, it indicates that you may have some worries about this happening. Fortunately, this is completely normal, according to threat-rehearsal theorist Keith Stevens. It simply reflects our instinctive determination to fend off romantic rivals to keep our mate. According to Loewenberg, you may have such dreams when you feel “cheated” out of quality time with your sweetheart, and you should let the dream be a wake-up call to alert you that you need to spend more time together.
Being attacked by snakes is the most common type of “being attacked by an animal” dream, according to Keith Stevens. Snakes are a real threat to many people worldwide, and this dream rehearses our instinct to avoid and/or survive this threat, posits Stevens. Symbolically, snakes could represent a hidden threat, the proverbial “snake in the grass.” A snake shedding its skin could symbolize transformation or renewal, in which case a snake dream could be seen as a positive omen, according to the website.
14. Being Late
Usually, these dreams occur in the context of being tardy to or missing an important event, such catching a plane, attending an important work meeting, or getting to class on the first day of school. This kind of dream could show that you are anxious about work, school, an upcoming trip, etc. It may also indicate an inability to make a connection, regret about a missed opportunity, or a need to get your life in order, according to Oprah dream expert Cynthia Richmond. If you have this dream, Richmond suggests asking yourself what are you missing in life and whom you might have disappointed.
15. Being Unprepared to Perform
In this sort of dream, you may find yourself, at the last minute, woefully unprepared for some important performance, such as taking a final exam, giving a speech to thousands of people, or delivering your debut performance on Broadway. According to Ian Wallace, this type of dream shows that you are judging your own performance in life, and are afraid of coming up short. Such dreams help stimulate our determination to be prepared and ready to perform in real life, according to Keith Stevens.
16. Hot and Steamy Dreams
Having a sexy dream about someone you love or are attracted to in real life is a rather clear-cut carryover of your waking feelings into Dreamland: you have emotions and/or sexual urges that you long to express. Our society is pretty inhibited when it comes to expressions of sexuality outside of certain approved circumstances, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are hardwired to procreate. Dreams give us a forum to express these desires. If you’re in a relationship, having a hot and spicy dream about someone other than your partner may indicate that your waking sex life isn’t totally fulfilling your needs and that you need to reinvigorate your relationship. That said, sensual dreams are not always about unexpressed sexual desires: dreaming about sex with a platonic friend or even with a stranger could simply indicate a desire for closeness or intimacy without hang-ups or baggage.
Unfortunately, not all sex dreams are pleasant. But don’t worry, just because you’re dreaming about having sex with your elderly 8th-grade algebra teacher doesn’t mean that you are secretly hot for him. According to Keith Stevens, sex dreams about someone you are not attracted to – even someone you’re related to or someone of a different gender than you are normally attracted to – are unpleasant by design; they are meant to disgust you so that don’t pursue such unwise pairings in real life. Similarly, dreams about being raped encourage us to avoid this disturbing and dangerous scenario in real life. According to dreammoods.com, dreaming about being raped could also indicate you are feeling violated in some way.
18. Being Shot
According to Keith Stevens, this is one of the commonly reported dreams about threats from other people, especially in the United States. This type of dream may occur as a result of your instinctual concern about avoiding and surviving an actual shooting. You may have this dream in response to seeing coverage of shootings on the news or because of violent threats in your own life. Taking a more metaphorical approach, dreammoods.com interprets dreams of being shot as symbolizing any sort of confrontation or victimization in your waking life, including self-punishment.
19. Being Exposed on the Toilet
Like being naked in public, being exposed to the public while using the toilet leaves you extremely vulnerable. Going back to our cave-person roots, you need privacy when doing your business so that no one can attack you while you’re in a compromising position. Therefore, dreams about being exposed to the public exist to encourage you to avoid potentially vulnerable situations, according to Keith Stevens. However, despite our instinctual resistance to vulnerability, sometimes it is actually in our best interest, as when forming close relationships with other people. According to Ian Wallace, an “exposure” dream might be a good reminder that you need to open up to others and not worry so much about the potential embarrassment you risk by doing so.
20. Driving an Out-of-Control Vehicle
Most drivers have had this dream: You’re driving along and realize you’re about to hit a car or person … only to realize that the breaks or steering wheel won’t work! Of course, this could also happen in real life, so this type of dream could simply indicate anxiety about such an event occurring, especially if you have been in a car accident before. But as you might guess, dreaming of not being able to control your vehicle might also mean that you feel out of control in your own life, or that you cannot make consistent progress toward your ambitions, according to Wallace.
It might seem strange that we talk about, and even dream about, celebrities almost as much as we do our own group of friends and family, but evolutionary psychology has a solid theory to explain it: If we see or hear about a person a lot, even if it’s on TV or in magazines, our brains cannot distinguish between whether we actually “know” the person, or if we just think we do. Thus, we can feel like a celebrity or public figure is a member of our “tribe” even though we’ve never met them. So, having a dream about hanging out with Jack Nicholson is not necessarily more significant than dreaming about hanging out with a college friend you admire (unless, perhaps, Jack is in character from The Shining). However, if you have a dream where you feel a rush of pride or elation because a celebrity is showing you attention, this could mean you long to attain a higher social status, possibly due to low self-esteem.
22. Can’t Make a Phone Call
Although telephones don’t resemble the form they did 20 or even 10 years ago, we are still dependent on our phones for much of our communications, whether it’s via text or using it to actually speak to someone. In fact, you could argue that we’re more addicted to our phones than ever before in history. As in real life, a phone in a dream represents communication. Thus, the common dream of not being able to get through to someone over the phone indicates communication problems or fear of not being able to connect with the person at the other end. Perhaps you are having communication issues with this person in real life. On the other hand, you might be a little too dependent on using your smartphone as a primary means of communication and could benefit from some in-person human interaction. (Ever heard of meeting for coffee?)
23. Being Paralyzed
You try to move, but your legs are paralyzed or physically trapped. Or maybe you try to speak, but can’t make the words come out. Whatever the exact context of the dream, you are unable to use your usual tools to flee a threat, go somewhere, or express yourself. According to thecuriousdreamer.org, paralysis dreams can indicate that you feel unable to progress in a certain situation because something is holding you back, possibly even self-sabotage. As a result, you may be exerting a lot of effort but still “going nowhere.” Try to figure out what obstacle you feel is hindering you in real life.
24. Can’t Find the Bathroom
In some cases, the common dream of not being able to find a bathroom could have the same meaning as being exposed to the public when trying to use the bathroom: you seek privacy so that you won’t have to feel vulnerable or embarrassed. However, in many cases, people have this dream when they need to use the toilet in real life. If you frequently have this dream and wake up with an urgent need to go to the bathroom, or worse, you find and use the bathroom in your dream, but not in real life, it’s a good idea to see a doctor to make sure you don’t have any, um, plumbing problems. If the dream is unrelated to a real-life urge to use the bathroom, it could symbolize that there is an issue in your life where you are finding it challenging to express your fundamental needs, according to Wallace.
25. Being Frustrated
A general feeling of frustration is perhaps the most common theme in dreams. Maybe you lost your car keys and can’t find them, or you can’t figure out the answer to an important question, or you can’t cry out for help when you need it. Or maybe the context is so nonsensical that can’t even figure out why you found it so frustrating once you wake up. This theme runs through most “bad” dreams, including many of the dreams discussed above. According to threat-rehearsal theorists like Keith Stevens, these dreams motivate us to be persistent and overcome challenges in real life. However, if you have these bad dreams so often that they are causing you significant distress, this could indicate that you have severe stress or a psychological condition, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. In such cases, it is a good idea to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. If your dreams have you tossing and turning every night, you might also want to talk to your doctor about taking a natural sleep aid to achieve more restful, restorative sleep.