Last Update: March 9, 2020
Flying through the clouds only to drop straight back down to earth. Watching an immense tornado sweep through town and uproot the house. Epic Lord of the Rings-style battles waged in the office. The dream world can be a strange place.
Nearly everyone has experienced some form of those strange dreams—the kind that leaves the dreamer pondering its meaning long after waking up. So once and for all, we want to know: What is up with all those bizarre dreams?
Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream On It, broke it down for us. “Don’t look at your dream literally because you’re not going to get the message,” she says. “You have to look at your dream symbolically.”
That reverie about a misty waterfall isn’t just an indication of a hankering for a tropical vacation, after all. Loewenberg explained some of the most common dreams—and what they really mean.
Waking up in the middle of a fall can be a shock, but of course, you’re not really falling—it’s what scientists call a hypnic jerk. This sleep disturbance often happens just as the body drifts off into sleep. As the mind and muscles relax, almost going into a full dream state, the waking self pops back in—startling you awake. Though no one knows exactly what causes hypnic jerks, Loewenberg says that experiencing this phenomenon often can be a sign of a lack of sleep, or trouble falling asleep.
Of course, there are also real dreams about falling, being chased, and running off a cliff. These sorts of dreams are more serious: They represent deep disappointment, or high hopes that have come crashing down.
Infidelity is the most common subject of women’s dreams. But fear not—just because a significant other is unfaithful in the dream world, doesn’t mean anything is going on in reality. “It does mean that there is a third wheel in the relationship—not another person, but more likely another thing,” Loewenberg says. “This could be something taking up his time and attention, like work or spending too much time in his man cave.”
Being swept away in a raging flood or picked up in a whirling tornado isn’t just a scary night terror. It can be an indication of emotions spinning out of control. “Weather in dreams is typically connected to emotions because emotions are the weather of your mind,” Loewenberg notes.
Tornados in particular often tend to pop up in dreams. Extreme weather can be a sign of overwhelming worry, stress, or anxiety. “If you’re a frequent tornado dreamer, it’s an indication that you’re a card carrying member of the worry club,” she says.
Many people have dreamt of a fight at one time or another—in fact, it’s one of the most prevalent dreams among men. Whether in a full-on battle, medieval sword fight, or fist fight, these dreams often reveal how we perceive ourselves. “You want to look at how well you’re doing in the fight,” Loewenberg explains. “It will directly reflect how you’re performing in your real life.” For instance, in a fist fight, punches flying in slow motion or missing the target are a sign of feeling ineffectual in real life.
Having a dream that some terrible accident has happened to your child isn’t a premonition of the future—it’s the mind expressing a feeling of loss often associated with children passing a new milestone. As children grow, excitement about baby’s first steps or first day of school can be marred by sadness that time is passing so quickly. These often horrifyingly realistic dreams are what happens as the subconscious mind “mourns a passing of that phase of life,” Loewenberg explains.
Not surprisingly, mothers symbolize motherhood. That’s why women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant often dream about their mothers. Another symbol of pregnancy, according to Loewenberg? Imagery of flourishing vegetation and gardens, or healthy and robust vegetables—the body’s subtle way of signaling its fruitfulness.
For many women, dreaming about water is linked to their menstrual cycles. “Water filling up in a pool or a tub, a big bag full of water—those sorts of things are going to represent what’s going on in your uterus,” Loewenberg explains. Waterfalls or overflowing tubs, on the other hand, represent…a physical overflowing, if you know what we mean.
No matter how unusual or bizarre the dream, there’s likely a psychological explanation. Taking a good look at dreams’ symbolism, can reveal a lot of truths about waking life.
Illustration by Katherine Prendergast
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