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The Meaning Behind Common Dreams and What They Say About You

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People have puzzled for centuries over why exactly we have the dreams we do. While some chalk it up to random neural activity, others believe our dreams reveal our subconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires. Licensed psychoanalyst Anne Cutler falls into the latter camp. 

Cutler, who has been analyzing dreams as a therapist for 25 years, tells Refinery29 that a dream is “a communication from the dreamer to him or herself.” When we’re dreaming, she explains, our subconscious thoughts and memories come to the forefront. 

“We make connections between what’s going on for us in the present and how it relates to recurring themes in our lives, often themes set up in childhood,” she says. These themes usually concern events that occurred right before the dream. 

To express these ideas, our subconscious draws on symbols that already exist in our culture’s language, media, or religion. The lines between the literal and the metaphorical blur. “Dream language is both visual and occurring in metaphors,” says Cutler. 

These symbols make emotions we may not be in touch within our waking lives very obvious when we’re sleeping. “Feeling states are often highlighted in dreams, sometimes in dramatic ways,” says Cutler. For example, while being overwhelmed may just show up as a bit of anxiety IRL, it can become a huge tidal wave in a dream. That’s one of the reasons paying attention to our dreams is so informative. 

That said, this isn’t an exact science. The same dream can mean different things to different people, especially people from different places. The same image can also mean different things in different dreams by the same person, depending what they’re going through and what else happens in the dream. However, Cutler has observed a relationship between what people dream about and what they’re dealing with in their lives. 

From riding a roller coaster to losing teeth, here are the possible meanings behind 15 common dreams:

Death

Many of Cutler’s clients have dreamt about people they know dying, from their significant others to their parents. Some people have also dreamt of their own deaths, according to the International Association for the Study of Dreams, but this is very rare, perhaps since it’s so hard to imagine. In all her years of doing dream interpretations, Cutler has never come across someone who died in a dream.

What it means
Whether you’re dreaming about someone else’s death or your own, a dream about death is usually metaphorical, says Cutler, so no need to freak out and prepare for the worst. Your partner’s death, for example, could reveal that you feel like your passion is dying. This dream also can come up during a divorce or breakup. Or, it could get even more symbolic: Someone else’s death could represent a piece of yourself you’ve let go of, like a bad habit, an old job, or your parents’ values.

You're Cheating On Your S.O.

People in relationships often dream that they’re unfaithful with someone they know or an alluring stranger. Single people can also have this dream about past or fictional relationships.

What it means
If you repeatedly dream that you’re cheating, this is often some fear or uncertainty about something happening in real life related to your relationship. Maybe, for example, you’ve been bitching about your S.O. to your friends, and you’re worried she is going to find out. Or, maybe you’ve been flirting with a co-worker, and even though it means nothing, deep down you’re afraid you might cheat for real.
Then again, it could also have nothing to do with your current boo. 

For example, you may be concerned about a breach of trust in a totally different relationship, like abandonment by your parents or betrayal at the hands of your best friend, and it just shows up in your dreams in terms of your relationship. Or you may feel guilty about taking a shortcut to get something you wanted. If you’re single and dreaming about an ex or an imaginary S.O., one of these interpretations is likely.

Missing Teeth

Most people are very unsettled when this dream visits them. Sometimes it manifests as a dream about your teeth just coming loose on their own like they did when you were little. Losing them through an injury is also a common dream.

What it means
Tooth loss is a symbol of disempowerment, says Cutler. Since our primary experiences with this IRL involve either growing up or aging, people have this dream when they feel like time is passing too quickly or they’re getting older and less relevant in their careers or relationships. It often shows up around retirement, she says. 

If someone else is punching or pulling your teeth out, on the other hand, this dream can mean the dreamer is “losing power over somebody, their enemy or somebody they’re mad at.”

Snakes

Snakes have endless symbolic meanings in our culture, so they can appear in dreams in all sorts of creepy ways. They’ll pop up in our yards, in our homes, in our beds, and (yikes) on our bodies.

What it means
A snake, especially one in a bed, can be a phallic symbol representing either sexual desire or fear surrounding sex. A slithering reptile can also stand in for someone who is conniving or “snaky.” Or, if you’ve been brought up with the Bible, snakes can sometimes come in as a sign of temptation to do something you know you shouldn’t, like Eve experiences when she encounters the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Spiders or Other Bugs

Like snakes, bugs are a common fear and symbol in our culture, so if you find spiders and other bugs crawling around you or your home in your dreams, you’re definitely not alone.

What it means
Bugs in dreams can be a play on words. For example, something may be bugging you, or you may feel like a task you’ve been procrastinating on is creeping up on you. “It’s something that you want to avoid but that sort of has an insidious quality,” says Cutler.

[For the full story, check out Refinery29]

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