The Meaning of Other People in a Dream

Before we go on and look at some other big themes and common symbols in dreams, I thought it worthwhile clarifying a question that comes up a lot about the people who star in our dreams.  So many people say “I dreamt of this guy/girl at work, I dreamed about an old friend/relative/lover etc.  Why am I dreaming about them?”  Even strangers we barely know, people we have noticed for only a fleeting moment at the shop, on the train, passing by on the street, all can make guest appearances in your nightly imaginings.  What do they have to tell us?

The first thing to get clear is that dreaming of these people is not wish fulfilment (no you don’t really want to “have sex with/kill/insert other bizzare action” with these people.)  Despite the sniggers you may hear when you say “I dreamed about so and so last night” and the reply “yeah? was it good?”, such replies really display a basic lack of knowledge  of dreams and what they are all about.

Remember, dreaming occurs only in your head.  These other people haven’t magically popped into your head of their own will – you are imagining them through a dream.  Just think if you dream of others in this way, even strangers and people you don’t especially care about, how often have you made a guest appearance in somebody else’s dream?  Which leads us back to the original question – why this particular person, at this particular time?  Like  all symbols in our dreams, people represent something other than what they are.  Remember our dreams speak to us in pictures, and they try to use elements from our everyday life that are familiar to us.  So going back to the practice of explaining symbols in your dream as you would to a child from the previous post, do the same thing for the person.   Describe their character, their personality, their relationship to you.  Then look at those words, not the person and see what they mean to you.

Using the example of Bob the neighbour from the previous “Attack” post: he lives close to me, and I feel like he is always butting in to my affairs. He is always criticising with a harsh tone and makes me feel uncomfortable.   This can you help you understand where in yourself you are being critical and harsh.  When you dream of attacking Bob, you dream isn’t telling you that you really want to attack Bob (even though in real life you may find him annoying) it is actually revealing what you have in common with Bob, and how you want to silence your own inner critic, your own “inner Bob.”

Sex and love dreams can make us feel equally uncomfortable.  But instead of thinking of this as some fantasy to be ashamed of, go through the same process of describing the person and their defining characteristics from your perspective, and then view the sex/love actions in the dream as areas of your own personality you are coming to love, new aspects of yourself you are embracing.  These dreams are not about wish fullfilment but about personal healing and finding unity within your self.  For example, you might dream of sex with the boss.  You might describe your boss as uncompromising, influential, powerful and a strong leader.  This dream would indicate that you are starting to embrace your own leadership qualities, and learning to wield your own influence and power.  So don’t feel ashamed, but maybe refrain from sharing this dream with the boss or anyone else at work who is unlikely to understand the metaphor!

Another aspect of the male/female unity dream is of embracing our own opposite sides.  Jung believes each man has a feminine side, and each woman a masculine.  Finding the correct balance in a society that defines these roles for us can be challenging.  A man dreaming of sex with a strange or beautiful woman is not likely to be thinking about cheating, but more positively, is probably becoming more in tune with his feminine side, maybe getting more in touch with his emotions.  Similarly, a woman dreaming about making love to a gorgeous male stranger is not necessarily having a fantasy, but more likely embracing her own masculine qualities, such as maybe learning to stand up for herself or become more assertive.  Often these dreams will seem more than simply sex, and have a profound love or even spiritual aspect to them.  This is a true sign of internal healing or growth.  And it is not “cheating” on your partner!  Rather, your partner is likely to enjoy the new energy and confidence such dreams create as you embrace your entire true nature.

There is one aspect though, depending on your own personal beliefs about life and death, where to dream of another person may not be symbolic. That is when you dream of someone you love who has departed this mortal coil.  I know controversy exists around this, but I personally believe that to dream of a deceased loved one, (especially when quite recently departed), whether you believe they actually appear in spirit form or not, can still be a profoundly moving experience, and one that cannot be adequately explained by referring to that person as a metaphor or symbol.  In these instances, the person is simply them-self, and to dream of them can be a step in the healing process of mourning, grief and loss.  These dreams are like gifts, psychic hugs if you will, that help us along the path to acceptance and recovery.

So, next time you dream you are attacking the neighbour or sleeping with the boss, remember to stop and think what these people represent to you.  They are not themselves, simply masks your dream has used to express a concept too difficult to condense into words.

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