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Understanding the Fascinating World of Dreams

understanding dreams“I was walking down a dark street, whistling and enjoying the darkness. Suddenly, I heard footsteps. Somebody was following me. I tried to run but my legs were cement. I couldn’t budge. I screamed. Nobody heard me. My heart was beating so fast. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do.”

Maria continued: “I woke up in a cold sweat, shaken by the dream and wondered what it meant. I couldn’t figure it out. I have no enemies. There’s nothing that’s scaring me in real life. So, I kind of just tried to get it out of my mind by telling myself it’s just a dream.”

Dreams are mysterious. We’re both fascinated and perplexed by them. When they frighten us, we try to push them aside, saying “it’s just a dream.” Too bad. We can learn a lot from our dreams once we learn to speak their language.

Their language? What language do dreams speak?

The language of metaphor. A metaphor is figurative language that connects one thing to another. Metaphors can be quite powerful as they move beyond literal language, forcing our brains to work harder to understand the connections.

Simple metaphors, such as “he’s a shining star,” are easily understood. More complex metaphors, however, require us to contemplate their meaning. Once we understand what our dream metaphor is trying to tell us, however, we can be deeply moved.

Though there are universal dream themes, your dream is unique to you. It is born of your subconscious. You intuitively know that your dream is trying to tell you something, and yet often you don’t have a clue about what your dream means until you bring your dream to life. How do you do that? Start by repeating the dream in the first person, present tense.

“I am walking down a dark street, whistling and enjoying the darkness. Suddenly, I hear footsteps. Somebody is following me. I try to run but my legs are cement. I can’t budge. I scream. Nobody hears me. My heart is beating so fast. I am terrified. I don’t know what to do.”

Already the dream is becoming more personal, just by putting it in the present tense. Next, begin to see all the elements of the dream as part of your persona. You probably recognize “you” as yourself, but do you recognize that you are also the “somebody” who is following you? As well as the “helpless person” who “doesn’t know what to do;” the “dark street” that you’re walking down; your “cement legs” that won’t move.

Ah yes, there are a lot of essential elements in your dream that are all part of your persona. In your sleep, you have ingeniously weaved them into this play. Did you know you were so creative?

Now it’s time to create a dialogue between the different elements, (i.e. the easygoing part of you as well as the part of you that’s terrified). Once you hear one part of your persona speak to another part, you’ll enrich your understanding of your conflict.

As Maria explored her dream, she realized that though a part of her (her outward persona) was confident and competent, another part of her (that she keeps hidden) is frightened that she doesn’t measure up to others’ expectations. She feels all alone with her fears (no wonder she keeps them hidden) and believes she has no one to turn to and doesn’t know what to do.

If you have had a similar dream to Maria’s, does her interpretation apply to you? No, for dreams are unique to each individual. No other person has your specific combination of emotions and experiences.

So, if you want to learn more about yourself, don’t hesitate to take the time to explore your dreams. The payoff can be immense as you learn about the hidden dimensions of your personality and how to integrate them into a multidimensional you.


Dream scene image available from Shutterstock

Understanding the Fascinating World of Dreams

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2018). Understanding the Fascinating World of Dreams. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Apr 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.