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Are your dreams literal or symbolic?

In Insight and Experience by Jade MarkiewiczLeave a Comment

Have you ever wondered if dreams can predict the future?

You wake up feeling joy and happiness. You remember dreaming you were back in the arms of your former lover. Does this mean that he or she is going to call you to reunite? Or is there another, more mysterious meaning to the dream?

When dreaming, we experience the dream as ‘real’, along with many of the physical and emotional sensations stimulated by the dream activity, e.g., being chased, feeling elated, struggling uphill, confronting danger or talking to deceased loved ones. It’s no wonder that people often make the mistake of interpreting the dream literally. A literal interpretation means that what happened in the dream could, or will, happen in waking life. That is not the case, as dreams are symbolic and, while some people do experience precognitive dreams, it is a rare occurrence.

To construe a dream as literal is not only misleading, but it robs you of the opportunity of discovering the deeper meaning of the dream message.

What are these mysterious dream symbols? The dictionary defines a symbol as “something visible that by association or convention represents something else that is invisible”. Another way of putting it would be to say that a symbol is an object or a picture that stands for an idea. For example, a heart could stand for love or a sword can represent power. Our world is full of symbols and virtually anything can be viewed in a symbolic way, but individuals don’t necessarily respond to the same symbol in the same manner. For example, the ‘swastika’ is a potent symbol, but it would arouse vastly different emotions in different people. A symbol holds energy and has the power to evoke strong emotions such as pride, fear, love, courage, hate or desire. Symbolic impact arises from a deep inner level and is enmeshed with past experience, memory and cultural influences.

An example of a symbol most people could relate to is the Australian flag. Depending on one’s perspective, it can evoke patriotism, national pride, co-operation, faith, apathy, hate or prejudice. Either way, a country’s flag is bound to stir something in the psyche.

Your personal dream symbols will also trigger unique associations from your own memories and experiences.

To illustrate the significance of dream symbols, here is the dream of a woman in her late 30s.

I am carrying a tiny kitten and I need to pee. I am at a large estate of some kind; I go here to use the toilet. The place is familiar and is being renovated and the toilets have moved. A male gives me directions. When I get to the cubicle there is nowhere to put down the kitten. There is some kind of threat everywhere I try. I will not endanger the kitten. So I don’t actually pee.

Key dream symbols:

Kitten – cute, helpless, dependent, inner child/baby; needs nourishment and care to mature
Renovations – major changes, both internal and external; usually leading to improvement
Toilet – a place of privacy where one is free to release unwanted bodily waste products

On an interpretive level, the dream could be saying:

The dreamer is at a stage in life where she is experiencing changes on a deep level. On the one hand, the renovation of the large estate represents renewal and a more expansive self image, but she is having trouble ‘letting go’ of emotional experiences from childhood, possibly infancy. She is looking after her inner child and wanting to protect it, but at the same time she is unable to meet her adult personal needs. By holding onto the ‘kitten’, she could be denying herself the opportunity of releasing no longer useful emotions.

So next time you remember a dream, explore it from a symbolic perspective and unlock the mystery of the meaning.


Jade Markiewicz is a Melbourne-based dream facilitator/educator with a deep interest in the unconscious and the transformational power of dreams. Her workshops and dream study groups focus on creativity, emotional wellbeing and personal growth.

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