Interpreting Your Dreams
These 10 steps provide a framework that will allow you to better understand your dreams and thereby better interpret the meaning of your dreams:
- Prepare: Keep a pen and paper by your bed.
- Review: As soon as you awaken review the elements of your dream.
- Key words: Identify key words from your dream, out of which you can create a title for your dream. Write down the title and key words followed by as much of the dream as you remember.
- Journal: Keep a Journal of your dreams and your notes, thoughts and feelings about your dreams.
- Associations: Write down your associations to the images or symbols in your dreams.
- Amplifications: Find amplifications to the images or symbols in your dreams.
- Context/Setting: Note the context of events in your outer life at the time of the dream, and also the setting of your dream.
- Structure: Look at the structure of your dream.
- What is the initial situation?
- What develops or changes?
- What is the action?
- What is the climax?
- What is the lysis?
- Characters: Note the characters in the dream, and determine if there is an identifiable protagonist.
- Feeling: Note any particular emotions or feelings associated with your dream.
Jungian Analysis is about much more than just dream interpretation. Yet dreams can be a useful way to gain understanding about what is going on in our lives. Dreams offer insight into ourselves that we may otherwise be unaware of, or not have in a clear or correct perspective. Dreams typically are expressed in the mytho-poetic language of the psyche. We can say that dreams are symbolic expressions of the deep meaning, needs, and desires of the Self.
In the Judeo-Christian Bible, dreams were understood to be significant. Freud used dream analysis as a means of understanding the content of his patient’s unconscious. Jung saw dreams as providing insight into not only that which has been repressed into the unconscious, but also as providing insight into the nature of each person both as an individual, and as an individual connected to humanity and the earth through what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’.
Dreams vary widely from person to person and over the course of an individual’s lifetime.
Dreams can be understood as messages from the unconscious. Many people who come into analysis will say “I never remember my dreams”. Yet once they begin to pay attention to their dreams, the unconscious somehow seems to appreciate the opportunity, and a dialogue begins between the unconscious as represented by the dream world, and the waking individual as represented by the individual’s efforts to understand and come into relationship with her or his inner life.
Some individuals come into analysis and do not dream. This is not a problem. Sometimes there are so many things going on in the outer world, that the unconscious somehow recognizes that there is not sufficient space at this moment for dreams. Sometimes an individual is so in tune with her or his inner life that dreams are not necessary at this time in life.
If you do dream, it is helpful to write your dreams down. Some people find it helpful to note keywords and to give each dream a title. If you are bringing your dream (or dreams) to analysis, it is useful to bring two copies of your dream(s) to the session – one for you, and one for your analyst. This saves valuable time in the session.
In Jungian Analysis, typically the client and the analyst will work through the dream together. However, some individuals, find it helpful to work on the dream beforehand, so that in the analytic session they can more quickly come to an understanding of the dream.
Some dreams seem to deal with smaller everyday issues and others seem to deal with larger issues. But it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. More than that, dreams seeming to simply deal with small everyday issues, may when examined more fully, also contain important information about the larger issues of one’s life.
I am amazed at how often it is the dream that a client brings in saying “Oh, this dream is nothing really, it’s just about….” that upon closer examination, provides a life changing insight.
A single dream can express several truths at once, and can refer to several aspects of our lives through the same images or symbols. Sometimes an individual can explore a dream and feel she or he has found the meaning in the dream. Then re-reading the dream six months or a year later, another level of meaning becomes apparent.
Dreams are expressed mytho-poetically using images as symbols. Working extensively with dreams has convinced me that of each occasion of a dream, the psyche provides the best, most nuanced, symbol to represent a particular situation as appropriate for the deep meaning of the dream. Symbols are images or representations from the unconscious that are not completely understood. The work of dream analysis is to derive as much meaning from a symbol as one can. This meaning informs the life of the dreamer.
When… metaphorical images point to context that can be rationally understood and expressed, we consider them allegorical. When their context or meaning is beyond the possibility of rational understanding, we speak of symbols. (E.C. Whitmont and S. Brinton Perera, 1989) 
Jung said that he approached every dream as a beginner. Associations are the personal experiences an individual associates with a particular symbol or dream image.
Often people will say “this means that”. For example, they may say when a dog appears in a dream, “dogs represent unerring friendship”. This may sometimes be true. But it is not always true. It is important to look at your associations to any symbol or image that appears in your dream in order to obtain its meaning in the context of your dream. Perhaps a man dreamt of a dog and when looking at his associations, he remembers once while walking to school, being bitten by a dog. Clearly for this man, dogs do not associate with friendship. Here dogs may associate to fear, pain, and perhaps even to school. So suppose this person had dreamt that on his way to a new job he was to start next week, he was bitten by a dog.
Through his personal associations, that is, recalling how he once wasbitten by a dog on the way to school, he may become aware of his fear of starting this new job. Such a dream can allow this man to become conscious of his fear before it takes hold, and perhaps have the opportunity of coming to terms with the fear before it ever has the opportunity to manifest in unconscious ways.
But suppose you dreamt of a dog, but never owned a dog and didn’t have any personal experiences of dogs. Then you would look at the qualities of this particular dog in your dream. Does it remind you of anyone or anything? (For example, one might feel that the dog is reminiscent of a person from the past.) What colour is the dog? What breed is the dog? How big is the dog?
So, if after looking at associations to a dream symbol, the meaning is still not clear, one then moves on to amplifications.
Amplifications are collectively agreed upon attributes of images, objects, people and animals. We could say that amplifications are collective associations based upon shared human experience as expressed in books,
films, science, religion, mythology and fairytales. A woman dreams, (in part), of a dog guarding a tunnel entrance. The dog leads the woman down into the tunnel. None of the dreamer’s personal associations to the dog in the dream, or dogs generally, resonated or seemed to provide assistance in understanding this dream. However, she did remember something about a dog that guarded the underworld. With a little research she was soon reading about Cerberus who in mythology was a dog who guarded the gates to the underworld. She also read about dogs as guides. These amplifications resonated with the dreamer and began to provide potential meaning to her dream.
If the meaning of the symbol was not clear after looking at personal associations, then further amplification may be helpful. This amplification can be accomplished by researching the attributes and characteristics of dogs on the internet, in books, encyclopedia or symbol dictionaries.
Finally, whenever we find a feeling or emotion associated with an image or an attribute, we can be sure there is some significance there. For example, when reading about guide dogs the dreamer was reminded of the sense of comfort that the dog in the dream provided as she entered the tunnel – this feeling of a sense of comfort indicated that the dreamer had found a meaningful connection to the symbol.
The Context and Setting
The context of a dream refers to the circumstances in which the dream occurred. For example, did your dream about work occur because of a particular incident at work? Is the dream related to something going on in your outer life? For example perhaps you can you say “I had this dream because my Aunt Daisy is coming to visit next week”. Sometimes there is no apparent context for a dream, and then we can be assured that the dream refers to what is going on in one’s inner life.
Sometimes the setting of a dream is indeterminate. But often the setting can give a clue to its meaning. Perhaps it is your home or where you work. Is there anything different in the dream from your home or work in reality? If the dream is set at your current home, the content of the dream may have to do with your current home life. If the dream is set in a home from your past, the content of the dream may have to do with what was experienced at the time when you lived in that home from your past. A dream in a work setting may have to do with work life. Of course, none of this is necessarily so – such ideas are suggestions as to where to look. However, if upon exploration the connection between, for example a past work setting and something that happened from that time in your life, does not ring true or ‘resonate’, then it probably is not correct and should be discarded.
Sometimes dreams occur in unfamiliar settings, but any associations to a setting can be helpful.
The Structure of the Dream
Dreams are typically structured like a story found in a book, fairytale, or a stage play. Dreams, like such stories, have a beginning, middle, and an end. It may be helpful to look at the dream to discover the structural elements of the story presented by your psyche:
a) What is the initial situation of the dream?
The first sentence of the dream often contains important information. For this first sentence and sometimes the first paragraph, there are many questions we can first ask. Noting the setting, characters, feeling tone, etc. of the initial situation, a few possible questions are: Is everything balanced? Or is there too much of, or not enough of something? Or perhaps something that might be expected, giving the setting of the dream, is not present.
b) What develops or changes in the dream?
From the initial situation how does the story develop? What changes occur?
c) What is the action in the dream?
Often a dream will have one or more actions that may range from going on a journey, to performing a task, to having a conversation.
d) What is the climax of the dream?
Just like in a book, a play or a movie, is there a moment that can be pointed to as the climax? Often at the climax there is a fundamental change in the situation. Something is born, dies, is understood, or even changes in a small way, such as a flower that was one colour, changes in shade.
e) What is the lysis of the dream?
That is, how does the dream end? Has the situation changed from the beginning of the dream? How are things left? Often we will only retain a dream fragment. These can still be valuable clues that are worth recording and bringing to analysis.
Dreams typically will have one or more characters, who can be looked at like the characters of a book, play or film.
a) Protagonist: Who is the main actor in the dream? Often it is the dreamer (may be referred to as the ‘dream ego’), but not always. Sometimes the dreamer will recognize oneself, but at a different age, or with something different than expected.
b) Antagonists: Who are the other actors in the dream? What role(s) do they play? What qualities do they have? It may also be useful to look at the genders of the various characters in a dream, the number of the characters and their relationships to the dream, to you, and to each other.
c) Animals: Animals often appear in dreams. It is important to first note any particular characteristics of the animal in the dream, including its size, colour and emotional disposition (is it friendly or unfriendly, calm or angry, etc.). Then look at your associations to the animal and finally amplifications as to the general or particular qualities associated with the animal.
d) Fantastic: Sometimes in dreams, animals will talk or take on other unusual characteristics. Sometimes objects that are inanimate in the everyday world will take on a life of their own, or have qualities not normally associated with that object (for example a spoon that can walk). Again, look at your associations and amplifications. Then consider why the psyche provided this particular image, and how this fantastical characteristic creates a unique quality to the dream image that it would not otherwise express.
An important aspect of dreams is the emotional content. Dreams will often come with a particular mood. A dream may be frightening, or it may be very pleasant. The mood or feeling may shift from the beginning to the end of a dream. There may be particular feelings associated with different characters or places in the dream. Some people may experience particular somatic responses to certain dreams; for example they may feel a tension in their belly or a pain in their back. All emotions or feelings, and moods associated with a dream are very important to note.
When exploring a dream, personal felt experience or ‘resonance’ is an important guide. For example, when one considers associations and amplifications to a dream image, if an association or amplification ‘feels exactly right’, then this association or amplification likely has some truth for the meaning of the dream. On the other hand if an association or amplification has no resonance – if it does not feel like it relates to your dream, then don’t hold on it, it is not appropriate for this dream.
Don’t worry if you don’t feel you remembered the whole dream. You remembered just what you needed to remember for now. If there was some other aspect of the dream that was important, either the dream will recur or the important aspect will come up again in a subsequent dream.
By writing down your dream and considering associations, amplifications, the context and setting, characters, dream structure and emotional content, one is well on the way toward understanding the meaning of a dream.
Yet, working with dreams can be a tricky thing. Some dreams can seem quite straight forward, and others may seem like a complete mystery. Because the dreamer is so close to his or her own material, it may at times seem impossible to derive the meaning of a particular dream. In such situations, it can be particularly helpful to explore a dream with an experienced dream analyst.
Paul Benedetto © 2009
 C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Volume 8, Princeton, Paragraph 533.
 E.C. Whitmont and S. Brinton Perera, Dreams: A Portal to the Source,