Byline: Hilary Shenfeld Daily Herald Staff Writer
Keeping track of your dreams
There's help for people who have trouble remembering their dreams. Counselors give these tips for remembering those nocturnal images:
- Keep a pen and paper by your bed. As soon as you wake up, keep your eyes closed and go over the dream in your mind in as much detail as possible. Then write down your thoughts as soon as your lids flutter open. Or use a tape recorder placed bedside to record your dream recollections.
- Have someone tell you just before going to sleep (or repeat the message to yourself) that you will remember your dreams.
- Share your dreams with someone each day.
- Get plenty of sleep. The longer you sleep, the more dreams you will have to remember.
- Set an alarm for a random time during the night for a week. When it goes off, write down your thoughts.
- Hilary Shenfeld
It's been years since you were in school, but suddenly you're in a long hallway with doors leading to rooms full of students. Searching frantically for the correct classroom proves futile: The place you're looking for isn't on any floor or down any corridor.
It's a common dream, one that's repeated nightly in bedrooms across the country along with variations like not being able to find your locker, being unprepared for the final exam or getting called on by a professor but not knowing the answer.
Is your subconscious trying to tell you to go back to school, dredging up a real-life episode from years ago or just trying to scare you?
Likely none of the above, says Ronald Rottschafer, an Oak Brook clinical psychologist who analyzes dreams as part of his counseling sessions.
"It has nothing to do with the past," he said. "That's got to do with, 'I feel inadequate' or 'Help. I feel unprepared.' "
Pinpoint the problem
Interpreting dreams is a time-honored technique for some analysts who say people may be able to pinpoint a subconscious problem by picking apart the meaning behind those nocturnal images.
"Dreams are another way of knowing about ourselves that is not subject to the same kind of conscious editing we do in waking life," says Veronica Tonay, one of roughly 20 dream researchers in the United States and a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The author of "The Art of Dreaming" (Celestial Arts, $11.95), Tonay says dreams can tell people more about their emotional life than they may have realized.
Not all professionals agree with the philosophy extolled by such psychoanalysis pioneers as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung that dreams are useful tools to unlocking the mysterious unconscious.
But Rottschafer and Tonay are believers.
"Dreams are a very useful tool in counseling," said Rottschafer, who has been employing them in his practice for more than 30 years. "The dream is a message. The mind does not waste time on unimportant things."
The common dreams
Not every lion chasing you through the forest or every fall from a cliff means the same thing to two different dreamers, however.
"The dream has to be interpreted in terms of their current lifestyle as well as their personality," he said. "Dreams are symbols that tell us something about what the person is going through or needs to work on."
Still, there are dreams common at all levels of society and across cultures:
- Falling from a great height can signify "I'm frightened," or "I'm in for a letdown," or "I may fear that I've come too far, too fast," Rottschafer said.
There also may be a physiological component: people just falling asleep experience a "paralyzed" sensation when the major muscle groups can't move. Falling in a dream, then, could be a natural result of the physical aspect, Tonay said.
Being rescued in the dream or waking up before hitting the bottom indicates some vulnerability, but "your own self-protection mechanism is still working," Rottschafer said.
- Flying can have two meanings, depending on how the dreamer feels. A free and happy experience can mean the person is on a high or flying somehow through life, according to Tonay. The dream also can signify a fear of what will happen if success is attained, she said.
- Being killed or dying may be an indication of some kind of mental illness. "That's a big, red blinking light," Rottschafer said.
Tonay, though, has an entirely different interpretation. Dreams of death and dying are very common and can mean a new beginning, the start of a renewal process.
"Creative people have them a lot," she said.
Also, people who have recently experienced the death of a close friend or loved one will often dream about dying because "the world seems very fragile and people seem very fragile," Tonay said.
- Being chased by lions, wild dogs or other animals means the dreamer is frightened of something or feels aggressive sexual impulses. Running in slow motion shows the person feels powerless or out of control.
- Losing your teeth - they come out when you chomp on a piece of chewy candy, for instance - shows feeling of inadequacy, weakness or powerlessness.
- Being nude or publicly exposed indicates "I can't control what's happening; I can't cover myself or there are things about me that I don't want exposed but are."
- Harming a newborn baby or watching helplessly as some danger approaches a child for new parents means, "I'm unprepared" or "I'm afraid of my own negative feelings toward pregnancy and my baby," Rottschafer said.
- Viewing a body of water is believed to represent emotion. The key is the quality of the water. Is it calm, stormy, deep or shallow? Are you drowning or gliding? The state of the water reflects internal feelings, Tonay said.
- Dreaming of snakes can symbolize different scenarios. One is there is a sneaky source of danger lurking close by. The other has a sexual nature. "Snakes are phallic symbols of potency or the fear of sex or fear of feelings that might be coming out," Rottschafer said.
It's not unusual to have dreams with a sexual component.
"Sex is one of the things in life that virtually everyone has some kind of skeleton in their sexual closet," he said.
Dreaming about sex doesn't necessarily indicate a conflict. "It could simply be a biological desire," Rottschafer said.
Tonay says an image of sex with someone other than your partner means the dreamer could be trying to incorporate a new trait. "All the characters in your dream you created yourself," she said. "So you have to think: What does this person mean to me?" If, for example, the dream involves your boss, it could mean the dreamer is coming to know about power and assertiveness in their own personality, she said.
The vivid ones
Not every dream - usually of the pleasant variety - is crucial or important, Rottschafer said. But ones people remember vividly or are troubling or frightening usually mean a message from within is trying to get out, he said.
Everyone dreams every night, though some people say they don't remember what goes on after their eyes close. But people do experience four major dream periods, studies have shown.
So what are all these two-headed monsters, snakes and failed exams good for, anyway?
Rottschafer says dreams can be used to help solve problems.
"You can help program your mind to deal more constructively with issues," he said. "New insights can develop as you face the content of your dreams."
Tonay believes dreams can unlock creativity.
"They're certainly good for inspiration," she said. "They are very informative about patterns in one's life."
And people can consciously put new ideas into their mind, much like rehearsing asking the boss for a raise. Go over what you want to do or say in dreamland before turning in for night.
"You can face the wild animal or classroom," Rottschafer said. "And say, 'This is only a dream.'"…