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How do you interpret dreams?

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Quick Answer

One method of interpreting dreams is to write the dream down immediately upon waking, taking note of the emotions, people and activities that occur in the dream, and how these images relate to waking life. Dream images are interpreted based on personal experiences or traditional meanings.

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Dream interpretation is based on the personal experiences that reflect how the dreamer views the images presented in the dream. For instance, if horses are an animal that frightens the dreamer, a dream about horses means something different to that dreamer than to someone who isn't fearful of the animals.

After noting the images and feelings present in the dream, compare the themes from the dream to persistent thoughts or activities in waking life. For instance, a person focused on taking a vacation in waking life may dream of relaxing on a beach as a way to fulfill the wish for a vacation. Along with interpreting the most prominent images in the dream, consider the weather, nearby people, animals or objects, and note how these images influence the dream.

Alternately, use a dream dictionary to determine the traditionally accepted meaning of the images present in the dream. Traditional meanings that are based on Jungian archetypal images are considered common among all peoples.

Dream interpretation is not seen in the Western paradigm as a science because it is highly subjective, and methods of dream interpretation vary. The first Westerner and scientist to take dream interpretation seriously was Sigmund Freud, the German psychologist and founder of the field of psychoanalysis. Freud believed that dreams consisted of "manifest content", meaning the images, thoughts and feelings of which the dreamer is actually aware, and the "latent content," the hidden psychological meaning of the dream.

Freud thought that the content of dreams related to hidden psychological desires in the dreamer. He believed these desires to be hidden from the dreamer in order to protect them from difficult thoughts and feelings. Freud also believed that understanding the hidden meaning behind a dream allowed people to better understand themselves and resolve the difficult issues in their lives. He even created an encyclopedia of "dream symbols" to help people interpret their dreams.

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