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What do our dreams say about us?

Dreams contain artefacts from the external world, subjective experiences, and mental activity. According to the father of psychoanalysis, dreams are the royal road to our unconscious (Freud, 1900). When we suppress what we perceive as unacceptable including intolerable aggressive and sexual instincts in our conscious lives, these unfulfilled instincts and wishes become distorted and disguised in our dreams (Freud, 1900).

Conversely, Jung (1969) suggested that dreams reveal rather than conceal content i.e. dreams are not distorted, they are exactly what they represent. Whether dreams hide or reveal, they hold meanings specific to the dreamer that he/she does not wish or may not be ready to know. In this sense, dreams can be considered as a meaningful psychic act that serves as a powerful tool for communication.

What does this all mean? Does dreaming of violence mean I have violent tendencies? Does dreaming of an ex-partner mean I’m still not over that person? Because dreams can be derived from but not always identical to real life, they could represent manifest (more surface content or images seen in the dream) or latent (deeper, more hidden unconscious thoughts and affects in the dream) content.

Things are not always what they seem. If we take things as is, the violence could reflect some form of aggressiveness, and dreams about an ex could represent unresolved feelings that linger. On the other hand, violence could also represent the chaos/disorganisation in our psyche, and the ex could represent a part of the self that has not yet been integrated.

Regardless of the meanings of our dreams, they are always about us i.e. the dreamer. The better we can understand and integrate how these dream images relate to us and our lives, the more we can generate better awareness of ourselves. Contemporary analysts have also found improvements in mental state and functioning when dreams are reworked (Roesler, 2023). Taken together, dreams offer a rich reserve for a more textured understanding of the self that is not accessible in our day-to-day lives, and afford a more profound way of connecting with oneself.


Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams. Standard Edition, 4-5. London: Hogarth, 1953.

Jung, C. G. (1969). General aspects of dream psychology. In The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, and G. Adler, 237-280. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Roesler, C. (2023). Dream interpretation and empirical dream research – an overview of research findings and their connections with psychoanalytic dream theories. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 104(2), 301-330.


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