I would like to write today about an aspect of dreaming I have not covered very much in my usual posts about dream symbols, and that is when dreams play out wishes we have for waking life, or express suppressed desires.
A recent comment on The Dream Well:
“Lately I’ve been going to the gym quite a bit and watching what I eat, and I’ve noticed in my dreams I’m pigging out on a lot of unhealthy food eg. Cake, pizza, burgers. Is this normal?”
Yes! It is entirely normal!
The major figure to address this aspect of dreams in Western schools of thought was of course Freud. His hypothesis was that all dreams represent some kind of latent or hidden desire, that is enacted in a dream (usually symbolically) because the nature of this desire is too uncomfortable for the dreamer to consciously admit in waking life. More recent dream workers, such as Jung and Perls, have challenged this basic assumption and developed other theories.
But even allowing for the theories of Jung and others, there certainly seems to be a strong case that we dream about things we can’t do, but on some level would like to do, in waking life. While sometimes these desires may be socially unacceptable, such as playing out feelings of anger and aggression, at other times the dreams may be much simpler and innocuous. Dreaming of eating food when dieting is just such an example. Other examples may be dreaming of smoking, drinking or any other habit you may be trying to change or give up. When we exert our will in waking life to make positive changes, our subconscious will often still cling to previous patterns because they are so deeply ingrained. The behaviours we are working to change are part of our subconscious because we have done them for so long. We now do them without even thinking. It may seem then as if the subconscious is our enemy, working to undermine all the good work we are attempting while awake. But this need not be the case. There are a number of ways we can harness the power of the subconscious mind to help achieve goals in waking life.
- Recognise that dreams can reflect things you still desire on some level, and be grateful for this. While exerting your will on a conscious level, it is important to not deceive yourself that those original desires have not disappeared – they have just been pushed deeper. What this means it that you have two competing desires – such as the original desire for food and the new desire for a fit and healthy body. Your subconscious mind is trying to work through this conflict. Once you are conscious of this conflict, you can gratefully accept the work you subconscious is doing to reconcile this.
- Try to understand the unmet need that is behind the original behaviours. Did you eat because you are lonely? Bored? Because to be thin and fit may attract attention you are not comfortable receiving? Recognising and addressing these underlying motivations will help break the pattern of behaviour and lead to more lasting change. Look for clues as to what these deeper motivations may be in other symbols in your dreams.
- Programme your subconscious to become an ally. As you go to sleep each night, tell yourself that you will dream about your new conscious goal. Write your intention and say it out loud. (Do this in the present tense, as if you have already achieved the goal.) Look at a picture or image board that represents your goal. Try to feel what it will be like once you are living the life you wish for.
- Don’t feel guilty about dreaming of things that were once important to you. Knowing you have dreamed of these things can mean you don’t actually have to do them while awake, and is an essential step in the process of learning to let go.
An important note to consider is that some dreams during behavioural change will be literal – such as dreaming of eating when giving up certain foods. But other dreams are likely to far more symbolic, addressing the feelings and motivations of the original behaviour as well as the reasons for changing. These kind of dreams may take more work to deeply understand. And finally, some dreams that seem literal may in fact be symbolic! See my posts here on food and eating dreams and here on feast and banquets for examples of how eating dreams can have a variety of symbolic meanings. Some of this symbolism may also help you to recognise what is at the cause of your eating behaviours.
So when you next dream of something that seems to run counter to your waking aspirations, or that makes you feel guilty, don’t be discouraged, and know that this entirely normal. Over time, with patience and commitment, eventually your dreams will start to reflect your new thought patterns, and they will become the dominant ones. At that point, your new way of living will start to feel “normal.” Your newly programmed subconscious mind will start to work for you, it will seem that things like living healthily are now “automatic.” You will be able to trust your subconscious to help you make positive decisions without having to think too much about it or constantly exert your will. Then you will really begin to appreciate how wonderful an ally your subconscious can be!
Image: “The Dreaming Cake” by mygoodbabushka available to buy on etsy