So, you have had a dream – and a person featured in it in some way. Now you are wondering what they mean. Why were they in your dream? What do they represent?
In part 1 we considered eight things they could potentially be. In this article we will explore six clues that can help you work out what they actually are!
This article is part of a two part series.
- In the first part we considered 8 possibilities for what people could represent in dreams.
- In this second part, we will look at 6 clues to help us determine what they are.
I will share real examples so you can see how it works in practice!
I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective, and treat my dreams as a conversation with God. But many of the principles I share are general – so I hope everyone will find some useful tips!
People in dreams
If you read part 1, you will already have in the back of your mind some possibilities for what people could be in your dreams. (If not, check it out here). Here is a reminder:
- Themselves (literal)
- Reflecting ourselves
- Aspects of our own life
- Other people
- An organisation or movement
- An angel or other spiritual being
- Anything and everything
But you may now be wondering how to work out which they are? Don’t worry! Over the years I have developed some easy-to-understand clues that can help!
But first, I want to briefly mention an important basic principle: finding the focus.
Finding the focus
The first thing to establish is whether we (the dreamer) are the focus of the dream. We sometimes call this deciding whether it is an intrinsic or extrinsic dream. This will help in our quest to determine what the people in the dream represent.
An intrinsic dream is where we, the dreamer, are the focus. In other words – the dream is about our own life. The vast majority of dreams are intrinsic If we are involved in the dream, then we are probably the focus. If we use the word ‘I’, such as ‘I did this’, then we are the focus. Therefore, other people in the dream are most likely to be symbolic, and are there to give us insight into our life and the situations we are involved in.
An extrinsic dream is one that gives us insight into another person or situation: i.e. that person is the focus, not us. We can recognise this because we are just observing; maybe watching from above – not involved in the dream. In this case the person we are dreaming about might be literal. This kind of dream is rare – but more likely if we are a prophetic type, or an intercessor: occasionally God gives us a dream about someone else to help us understand them; or so we can pray for them.
However, remember that even when we just seem to be observing – the dream could still be reflecting our own life (just like the story of David and Nathan in my last post). So keep an open mind!
6 clues to determine what people could mean in your dream
How I recommend using the clues:
- Allow a little time to pray and ask God to show you what the person represents.
- Consider the whole context of the dream – to see how the person fits into the big picture.
- Work through the clues/questions and go with the one that resonates with you. See whether the dream makes sense with that interpretation. If not, pray some more and consider some of the different possibilities.
- How do you feel about them?
- What is their relationship to you?
- What is their appearance?
- What is their name?
- What is their personality?
- What is their job or gifting?
Clue 1: How do you feel about them?
I have come to the conclusion that the most important indicator of what a person represents in our dreams, is how we feel about them in the dream. It doesn’t matter whether we know them in real life or not.
While we are dreaming, I find that our spirits are more alert. We usually have an inbuilt sense of whether the person is positive or negative, and I find that this indicator is pretty accurate. So it’s worth stopping to reflect on how you felt about them while you were dreaming. Was this different to how you feel about them in real life, or was it the same?
If the person is helping us, giving us advice, bringing a good gift, or some other positive function, then they are probably representing something good: God, a representative of God, or a part of us that is on the right track.
If the person feels unpleasant or is trying to harm us, then they are probably representing something negative: something that is not from God, or a part of us that is not seeing/doing things in the most helpful way.
If you have prayed, and asked God to help you understand the dream, then what you felt about that person is a good place to start.
Clue 2: What is their relationship to you?
If you know the person, particularly if they are a significant person in your life, it could be their relationship with you that is the important thing.
Take your natural feelings about the person out of the equation for a moment, and engage your clue-solving side. Consider what that ‘relationship’ might represent symbolically.
The best way to explain this is to give you a few potential ideas:
- MUM – The motherly side of God; a leader who is like a mum to us; the part of ourselves that is running our life or ‘holding it together’; something that is our source, such as a group that we inherited our opinions from.
- DAD – God the Father; a spiritual dad or leader; the part of us that is leading our life; the culture that has shaped our worldview.
- BROTHER – Jesus as our brother; a fellow Christian; a good friend.
- HUSBAND/WIFE – Anything that we have come into agreement with; wife could be our church, ministry or any group that we are responsible for; husband could be Jesus; wife could be the Holy Spirit.
- EX-BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND – An old habit; something we used to think/do.
Hopefully you can see the possibilities. In all of these instances, go back to how you felt about the person in the dream, and determine whether they were positive or negative. Then reflect on whether their relationship with you is the most significant thing.
Consider whether their relationship to you is the defining thing about them – and what that relationship could mean symbolically.
Clue 3: What is their appearance?
This question comes into play if there is something noteworthy about the appearance of the person.
Dream characters can sometimes be like the cartoon caricatures – with the relevant feature highlighted. You can probably recall drawings of politicians with huge ears or noses. Their natural feature is grossly exaggerated to draw attention to it.
In dreams, things are sometimes emphasized to draw our attention to the important feature (and the associated symbolism). For example, any of the following might seem to stand out:
- Hair colour
- Prominent features
- Clothes / accessories
- Acting in an unusual manner
For example, the lady in the picture below is dressed in red, and has dyed her hair red. If she appeared in your dream, then the colour red would probably be the main indicator of what she represents. You can’t miss the red!!!
Consider whether there was something about their appearance that you specifically remember. Make a note of it when you record your dream – it is probably important.
Clue 4: What is their name?
With people in dreams, sometimes it can be their name which defines what they represent.
I have found this to be likely when they seem to be a bit random, yet we know their name. For example: a work colleague that we don’t normally have much to do with; a person we haven’t seen for years; or a random acquaintance. These are people that don’t have much significance in our life with regard to the other clues.
Here are some ways the name could be important:
- The meaning of their name: For example: CLAIRE means ‘light’, so could represent clarity, direction, or even a heavenly being (an angel of light).
- A wordplay on the sound of their name: For example: An old teacher of mine with the surname STANHOPE was used to represent hope in one of my dreams.
- A bible character with the same name: For example: Someone called SAMUEL often represents hearing God’s voice in my dreams. Samuel was notably known for hearing God’s voice in the bible.
Of course, this is all assuming that our dreams are coming from a source external to our own subconscious – namely, God! Otherwise there would be no point looking up the meaning of a name we don’t know.
I have so often found that the meaning of a name (that I didn’t know before) turned out to be the key to unravelling a dream. This is one of the things that convinces me that God is real and speaks through dreams!
There is a very useful book called The Name Book by Dorothy Astoria for looking up name meanings.
It’s always worth looking up the meaning of a name – particularly if the person seems a bit random in your dream. Also, consider whether their name (first name or surname) lends itself to a wordplay, or if there is a well-known bible character/book with the same name.
Clue 5: What is their personality?
Some people just stand out to us because of their personality. As soon as we think of them, some aspect of their character jumps into our mind. For example, they could be a particularly kind person, or very bubbly and engaging. Conversely, you might think of them as being a bit tight-fisted or critical.
Often when people like this appear in our dreams – acting in the way that confirms our opinion of them, we fall into the trap of thinking that the dream is actually about them. But I’ve got news for you – most of the time, when this happens, they are actually reflecting that trait in ourselves!
When this happens – they are being used as a caricature to overemphasize a certain tendency that we have, or highlight a characteristic. That could be good or bad!
- I have a friend who is exuberantly outgoing and good at making connections with people. I would call her very ‘socially engaging’ – to an extreme! God recently used her in dreams to represent myself – to encourage me to engage more in some social media groups.
Clue 6: What is their job or gifting?
If someone in our dream has a well-defined job or ministry gift, that could be the clue to their meaning.
Here are a few examples from my own dreams:
- I have a friend who is a SCHOOL TEACHER by profession. God uses her in my dreams to represent my gift of teaching.
- I also have a friend who has an exceptional MINISTRY GIFT OF TEACHING. It’s not his paid job – but everyone knows that it’s his ‘thing’. God also uses him to represent my gift of teaching.
- I have a relative who has a highly respected level of authority in a national news company. He sometimes appears in my dreams to tell me something. He represents an authoritative voice – the ‘news’ that I need to hear – and his presence alerts me that I need to take notice of this information.
There could also be unknown characters who appear in our dreams, but we know they have a certain job, such as: a dentist, a fireman, a builder, a businessman.
When you think about this person in your dream, does their job or profession seem to be the most important thing about them? If so, then consider what that could symbolise for you.
Real dream example
I had this dream in 2008, soon after I started learning to interpret dreams. I was in church leadership at the time; very busy and quite frustrated with how things were going. I had a vision for developing a church training centre, but couldn’t see how it could possibly happen.
Dream: Trying to write an exam
In the dream I had to take an exam. I was given instructions to go to the pharmacy to get some ointment (0.7% strength), and then go to the exam. I was in a hurry so rushed straight to the exam hall without it.
In the exam paper there were some questions to answer, and I got more and more frustrated as I couldn’t answer them. I drew a picture of a car, but that’s all I could manage.
After I handed the paper in I was summoned to see the examiner, who was one of my old university lecturers – Dr Stanhope. He asked me, ‘What’s this?’ because He knew I had done so badly. But he had a twinkle in his eye as he spoke to me, and he said he liked my car drawing.
The general symbolism explained
The context of the dream was about taking an exam. In this dream it was like an assessment of where I was at with my life. In this dream I couldn’t do the exam – indicating that I was unable to do what I wanted to do at that time.
The ointment was 0.7%. Seven is the number of completion, and God’s perfection. I took this to represent the anointing of God’s Spirit. I didn’t want to wait to get that anointing in the dream. In other words – I was trying to do things now and failing, but actually I needed to wait for God’s perfect timing.
The car drawing was my vision – my idea of how I was going to achieve these things (car is a vehicle for getting where you need to go).
The person: The examiner – Dr Stanhope
There were a few details that stood out about this person:
- Relationship – Although I knew this lecturer at college, I never had much to do with him. So the other details about him would be more important than my relationship to him.
- My feeling – although I was worried about my exam paper, his eyes were twinkling, he felt like someone kind who wanted the best for me even though he needed to talk to me! He felt positive in the dream.
- His name – carries a wordplay on hope – suggesting that the dream (and the person) carried hope.
- His job – as university lecturer and examiner, suggested someone qualified to assess my life honestly.
All the clues point towards this man representing God – and his assessment of why I was struggling – but with kindness and hope. This is the very nature of the God that I know!
God was letting me know that He understood my struggles and frustrations, and that there was hope for change. He liked my vision – but I was unable to do those things; I would need to wait for His perfect timing.
About three years later God brought our church across the path of another nearby church who had actually developed a training centre like the one I had longed for! We were able to join in with that – and support it – and it was all already done. I had to do nothing at all except enjoy being a part of it! No wonder God had a twinkle in His eye. 🤣
Unfamiliar people in dreams
I have been specifically asked about unfamiliar people in dreams, so I’m including this as a bonus thought. It’s very common to dream of people that we don’t know. It could be a random child, helper, teacher, faceless person, etc.
When that happens, it’s probable that they are symbolic, and we can apply all the normal clues. I’ve heard testimonies of people dreaming about someone they don’t know and subsequently meeting them in real life – but that’s never happened to me, and I think it’s pretty rare!
Sometimes we know who the person is ‘meant’ to be (like our Mum, son, friend, etc.), but when we consider their appearance in the dream, they don’t actually look like that person. That’s a very good indication that they are symbolic, not literal.
An unknown person could be symbolic of any of the possibilities I previously shared:
- A real person you don’t know yet
- Reflecting you
- An aspect of you / your character
- Someone else you know
- A group of people
- A spiritual being
- Anything (a gift, season, etc.)
God sometimes appears as someone we don’t know (or can’t quite see – we just know they’re there!). If we have a relationship with God, we can usually identify when it was His presence, as we reflect on the dream. He can also appear as someone we don’t know – either male or female – but they feel somehow familiar.
A faceless person could also be a negative spiritual influence – if they feel unpleasant.
So take time to reflect:
- If you ‘know’ the person, was it really them – when you stop to think about it?
- If you don’t know the person, what seemed important about them?
- Use the same clues that I have shared in this article.
What stands out the most?
I have given you lots of things to think about. I have dropped lots of clues and ideas that can help you understand what the people mean in your dreams:
- How do you feel about them?
- What is their relationship to you?
- What is their appearance?
- What is their name?
- What is their personality?
- What is their job or gifting?
It might seem a little overwhelming – but it’s actually simpler than it seems. The chances are that you can narrow down the options pretty quickly. Something will probably stand out to you about the person. You might even find, as you record the dream, that you are noting down certain things. Those things are likely to be important, so don’t skip the details when you are writing.
Another thing you can do, is imagine you were describing this person to someone else. You might say, ‘Let me tell you about so-and-so… he’s a doctor!’. Or, ‘This lady was being quite unpleasant in the dream’, or, ‘They looked really strange because…’.Pay attention to those things.
Start with what stands out the most. If you follow that up and it still doesn’t make sense of the dream, you could think about some of the other options.
So chill out, pray about it, and then have a go!
If you missed part one of this series – check it out here:
- How dreams can help us overcome our blind spots
- Dream symbols: Fire – and what it means
- Why you never stop learning to interpret dreams
- Beginner’s guide to biblical dream interpretation
- How dream work can revitalise your morning prayer time