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Uncovering Your Dreams: 12 Universal Themes

5. Poor performance/Outstanding performance

When you’re about to take a test, something anxiety-provoking happens. (I’ve had these kinds of dreams so many times, even years after I finished grad school! I guess school can be pretty traumatizing for some of us.) It could be showing up late to your exam, not finding the classroom or being unprepared. This also could relate to any performance, such as getting on stage and forgetting or flubbing your lines. In contrast, you ace a test, give a great speech or perform well in another way.

6. Falling or drowning/Flying or swimming

You’re freaked out and can feel yourself falling or drowning. Garfield lists these two examples:

  • I am running when I trip over a stick and fall over a cliff, going down and down and I am about to hit the rocks below.
  • I’m swimming when a giant tidal wave washes over me; I can’t breathe.

The opposite is feeling absolutely carefree and either flying or swimming effortlessly (even if you started flying in order to escape).

7. Being naked or inappropriately dressed/Looking great

You’re either naked in public or wearing something odd or inappropriate. For instance, you show up to work in your PJs. One woman had a dream that her fiancé arrived at the altar in a clown suit. Alternatively, in other dreams you’re wearing something beautiful or feel as though you look great and really fit in.

8. Missing transportation/Happily traveling

You’re racing to catch a flight, train or another form of transportation, and miss it. Or you’re late to the event you’re supposed to perform in. On the other hand, you’re happily traveling and seeing some incredible sights.

9. Machine malfunctions/No malfunctions

You might be trying to operate mechanical equipment, but there’s a glitch. Oftentimes, these dreams involve malfunctioning telephones. One woman reported talking on the phone to her boyfriend when the line went dead.

Positive dreams, however, feature making clear connections and functioning machines. In a study of dreams during bereavement, Garfield found that some participants received messages from their deceased loved ones, which helped in the healing process.

10. Natural disasters/Natural beauty

You dream about some natural disaster such as an earthquake, strong storm, tsunami or volcanic eruption. Or you dream about manmade disasters like atomic bombs or chemical warfare. The opposite is dreaming about beauty or miracles in nature.

11. Being lost or trapped/Finding new places

You might be lost in a building, a maze or some strange town. Or you’re terrified and unable to move, speak or scream. Or, worse, you’re buried alive. The positive alternative is discovering a new beautiful space (like a room in your home) or finding amazing treasures.

12. Haunted by the dead/Guided by the dead

You’re criticized or cursed by someone who’s passed away. For instance, one person dreamed that her deceased mother scolded her for giving away her belongings too soon. Or you receive a significant message from your deceased loved one, which might even have a meaningful impact on your life.

?What do you think of the idea of universal dreams? Can you relate to the dreams Garfield describes?

Uncovering Your Dreams: 12 Universal Themes

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., is an Associate Editor at Psych Central. She also explores self-image issues on her own blog Weightless and creativity on her blog Make a Mess: Everyday Creativity.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Uncovering Your Dreams: 12 Universal Themes. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.