Themes in participants’ understandings of meaning in their Most Recent Dreams: Worries, relationships, and symbolism
The ways in which individuals construct meaning in their dreams may be influenced by well-known psychological theories, popular understandings of dream meaning, or religious interpretations of dream meaning. Little research so far has been conducted investigating the kinds of meaning people ascribe to their dreams. The present study aimed to paint a snapshot picture of individuals’ understandings of one their own dreams. Participants (N=106) reported their Most Recent Dream and answered the open-ended question “What do you think this dream is about, or means?”. Data were analysed with inductive thematic analysis. Six major themes were created, all of which pertained to how the dream related to waking life: 1) Worries and Emotions; 2) Relationships; 3) Work and Studies; 4) Events and Situations; 5) Desiring, Wanting, and Longing; and 6) Symbolism. Further analyses were conducted to investigate whether there were any noticeable differences between participants who saw symbolic relations between their waking life and their dream (N=25), and those who saw only literal relations with waking life (N=46). It was found that symbolic interpreters had more trait thought suppression, more aggression/violence in their dream, more intense emotions in their dream, and more continuity between their dream and their waking-life emotions, than literal interpreters. The findings may provide evidence for the influence of popular psychological theories of dream meaning, such as Freud’s disguised wish fulfilment theory. Difficulties around and suggestions for researching dream symbolism are discussed.