Freud’s dream symbols (Types and meaning)


Sigmund Freud in his book Interpretation of Dreams talked about how certain dreams contain dream symbols. What are they and how can we go about interpreting them?

We often come across certain dream symbols in our dreams and it’s important to learn how to interpret dream symbols.

Many times dreams are very clear in their message- you see yourself talking to a person you wanted to talk to in real life or you see a friend you were concerned about dying or becoming sick.

At other times, however, the dream is not so straightforward; it becomes twisted, distorted and unrealistic. That’s when the mind uses dream symbolism. If a dream doesn’t seem to make any sense, then know that the message of the dream has been encoded in symbols.

So in order to understand the message that your mind is trying to send you need to get good at understanding your own dream symbols.

Most of the time, dreams that reflect your current life situation- your concerns, your unresolved issues, and your recent achievements are the ones in which symbolism is used.

Types of symbols

A symbol is something that represents something else. Symbols can be broadly classified into two types:

1. Group or cultural symbols

These are symbols that are common to all humanity or to a particular cultural group. For example, all human beings consider ‘smile’ as an indicator of someone’s beauty.

So, for example, if someone dreams that his teeth are falling out, it can mean that he’s having self-image issues. Whether the person is born in America or Asia won’t matter.

Then there are symbols that are specific to a particular cultural or social group. For example, if a tribal group considers snakes holy and worships them and a member of such a group dreams about snakes, then the dream will have a completely different meaning from the dreams that you or I see about snakes.

dream symbols
While trying to understand dream symbols, it’s sometimes important to take cultural background into consideration.

2. Individual symbols

These are the kinds of symbols that one should strive to understand better because they can reveal a lot about the inner workings of your mind. These symbols reveal aspects of you that make you different from others because the meanings for such symbols differ from person to person. 

For instance, if you like ice-cream but your friend hates it, then you seeing an ice-cream in your dream will have a different meaning than your friend seeing it in his dream. Your individual symbols are keys to your unconscious. Only you can understand what they mean.

Understanding dream symbols

Here are two aspects to keep in mind when you are trying to understand your dream symbols:

1. The emotion of the symbol

Figure out what sorts of emotions a particular symbol triggers in you. That will be the emotion that your subconscious mind was trying to send you in your dream. Then you can scan your life and look for the events or circumstances that are triggering the same emotion. 

For example, if you see a lake in your dream, ask yourself “What does a lake mean to me? How does it make me feel?”Free? Joyful? Lonely?

After you figure out the emotion, ask yourself, “What are things in my life that are currently making me feel free/joyful/lonely?” 

After you understand the dream and relate it with your current life it would be a good idea to write down your dream symbols and their meanings.

The symbols that your mind uses do not change much and so the next time your mind uses the same symbols you’ll find it easier to interpret your dreams.

2. Similarities

Often the symbols that your mind uses are in some way related to the things that it actually represents. This is mostly true when your mind uses other people as symbols. Yes, your mind sometimes uses people to represent objects or other people.

For instance, if you are feeling afraid because of some danger that may assail you in the near future, you might dream that an old school teacher is whipping you. You dreaded that teacher in high school because he always whipped the students at the slightest excuse.

So, in this dream you had, that teacher was nothing but a symbol representing your current fear that you are facing in life.

Things get more interesting when the dream uses people as symbols for other people. Let’s say a colleague of yours made a complaint against you to your boss.

You might dream that you are fighting with your neighbour and telling him things like, “Why did you file a complaint against me? Why are you so jealous of me?” Upon waking up, you might wonder why the dream used your neighbour as a symbol for your colleague. 

On careful examination, you will find that there are some similarities between your colleague and the neighbor.

For example, the same way of dressing, same hair colour, same way of talking, etc. Most probably, your subconscious mind faced resistance when it wanted to directly show up the colleague in the dream.

Perhaps you hated him so much that you couldn’t even handle him in your dreams. It was too painful a thing to be brought into your consciousness. So the mind disguised him coyly as your neighbour, who seemed much less harmful to you.