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An Original Approach to Interpreting Dreams

sunny-summer-catcher-feathersI figured out an original approach to interpreting dreams long ago, but I’ve been unable to publicize it. I’ve published articles about it in the professional literature, but they haven’t attracted any attention. My basic theory about dreams seems to turn people off. It’s “too simple.” It’s “too inflexible.” Also, I haven’t been able to prove it using statistics.

My basic theory is this: dreams follow a consistent emotional pattern. Unless the dream plot is disrupted by an external influence such as noise, every dream begins with what the inner self loves, proceeds in the early-middle section with what is desired, continues in late-middle with what is undesirable, and ends with what is hated.

A man dreamed this: “I went horseback riding. The horse took me through beautiful countryside. When it was time to go back I chose a different path, became lost, and came to some barbed wire which blocked the path. The horse became restless and tried to throw me.”

He loves going horseback riding. He desires riding through beautiful countryside. It would be undesirable if he became lost and came to some barbed wire which blocked the path. He would hate it if the horse tried to throw him.

Some dreams might seem to end happily, but that “happiness” is opposite to the dreamer’s emotional reality and accordingly is something to be hated.

A woman dreamed in the last half of a dream:

“I recited:

‘I like peanut butter and jelly.

I like peanut butter and jam.

I like peanut butter and mustard.

And I like myself just as I am.’

And then I laughed heartily.”

It’s undesirable to her inner self if she feels complacent about eating the wrong foods and being overweight. She would hate feeling merriment about being overweight. (A deeper meaning to the laughter in the hatred section is that her inner self hates the pain implied by the opposite-to-reality laughter. If her pain were less the dream might show her smiling rather than laughing, but that smile might appear in the nondesire section rather than the dream’s ending; the lesser pain might merely be undesirable rather than something to be hated.)

That single example doesn’t fully address the “happy endings” shown in some dreams.

A woman dreamed: “I am in an empty old hotel. I have inherited it from someone famous — maybe Buffalo Bill. I am standing in the bare room, oak floors, large windows, sunshine, warm breezes. I am in a beautiful, white, floor-length summer gown. I am in the body of an old school friend whom I thought was attractive. Enter a man named Henry — another school chum, but someone I was less fond of, except in the dream he’s tall, sensual, appealing. He takes me in his arms and tells me Black Bart has discovered he can lay claim to the hotel if I am not married. I am upset at the thought of losing the hotel. So Henry asks me to marry him and we go to the justice of the peace and all ends well.”

The dream ending shows the dreamer marrying, for financial reasons, someone she hasn’t liked in the past, and it seems to predict they would live happily ever after. The true message, though, is that she would hate such a forced marriage and it would likely turn out badly. The indirect message is that she should marry for love rather than for money.

Note that the dream presents Henry in the nondesire and hatred sections but also must show him in the desire section for the sake of the plot’s continuity. In order for Henry to appear in her desire section, however, he has to have a desirable aspect, so in that section he becomes physically desirable. As this helps illustrate, the transformations which people undergo in dreams are not random or whimsical but instead occur for essential reasons.

Symbolism occurs for essential reasons, also. Usually, the dream must use a symbol to convey an abstract concept in the dream’s visual medium. A typical instance is when a dream uses an image of food or money to convey amount or quality of love. For example, a girl in a stressful home environment dreamed in the late-middle section that her stepmother said to her, “Here’s your supper,” and handed her a plate with a few bread crumbs on it. The crumbs of bread in the nondesire section symbolized the inadequate amount of love the dreamer was receiving from her stepmother.

Speech by a dream figure can help to reflect the conscious self’s boundaries. Anything spoken by the dreamer’s image reflects an aspect of the conscious self, and words spoken by anyone else might instead present a view which the conscious self opposes (although speech by other dream figures than the dreamer can have a variety of purposes and won’t always reflect a suppressed perspective).

A pregnant woman dreamed this in the desire section: “I was back home from the hospital holding my new baby boy. An unidentified man was looking at my baby. I said something about newborn babies being ugly. The man said, ‘I don’t think he’s ugly.’ I looked down at my son and saw that he had a perfectly shaped head, blue or green eyes, and was extremely beautiful.”

Her image’s words indicate she consciously tended to think of newborns as being ugly. Her inner self didn’t want her to have that view, and created another dream figure to express the differing, corrective view. (The plot in the desire section after that conversation shows that she wanted a beautiful baby.)

Unspoken words can appear in dreams, and at times they might be misspelled. The purpose of that misspelling is to convey that the related situation is, metaphorically, a mistake. As one example, a man spent an evening in a smoke-filled room. That night the unspoken word “aer” appeared in the nondesire section of one of his dreams. The deliberate misspelling was conveying that it was incorrect for him to be in a smoky room.

In some dreams the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming. These dreams might seem unusual but nevertheless should be analyzed using the same guidelines as other dreams. As one such example, a man on a business trip dreamed at the beginning of a dream that he was back at home. In the dream ending he realized that he was dreaming and wasn’t at home after all. The dream was showing that he would love being home and hated not being there.

There are other guidelines in my articles which can help you understand additional aspects of dream interpretation. But for now, what you’ve read may help you understand many of your dreams.


Gollub, D. (2004). The emotional pattern in dreams. Psychology And Education. 41(3-4), 26-39.

An Original Approach to Interpreting Dreams

Dan Gollub, M.A.

Dan Gollub has a master's degree in psychology and has worked as a psychologist with the developmentally disabled, teenagers in a mental hospital, and prisoners. He read much of Freud's work as a young adult, and that helped him find his own dream interpretation approach. He believes breakthroughs in psychology and mental health treatment lie ahead.

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APA Reference
Gollub, D. (2018). An Original Approach to Interpreting Dreams. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Apr 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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