Are you learning to interpret your own dreams?
If so, you will probably have discovered that there are some challenges involved in the process. But there are also some great advantages!
This article contains 5 tips to overcome the challenges of interpreting your own dreams (rather than asking someone else).
I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective. My belief is that our dreams can come from God, and understanding them is best understood within the context of an ongoing relationship with Him.
The challenges of interpreting your own dreams
In a previous article we investigated more fully the pros and cons of interpreting our own dreams: Can I interpret my own dreams – or should I ask an expert?
We discovered that there is an appropriate time for asking for help with dreams, particularly when we are first learning and when we need some objective input.
But understanding dreams is primarily our own responsibility as the dreamer – as part of our relationship with God. And, realistically, we can’t keep asking for help with our dreams every day, so we do need to learn to interpret them ourselves.
Overcoming the obstacles
As someone who has interpreted my own dreams for many years, I have had to overcome some obstacles along the way. It’s a bit like trying to take a good selfie! It’s hard to see clearly and get the right angle!
Interpreting our own dreams is a bit like trying to take a good selfie!
Here are some examples why:
- It’s very easy to jump to a quick conclusion about what a dream means based on preconceptions.
- We can easily end up just reaffirming our own opinions.
- Our blind spots can get in the way, and we might simply be unable to see the true meaning.
- Our emotions can hinder our objectivity.
- It takes time and perseverance to grow in the art of dream interpretation so it is easy to get demoralised and give up if we are on our own.
In this article we will we will consider some tips I have gleaned which are specifically relevant when interpreting our own dreams – and ones that play to its advantages.
Tip 1: Find the real life context of the dream
This first tip plays to the advantage of interpreting our own dreams.
Dreams are like illustrations or parables that relate to something going on in our life. So the first challenge when interpreting dreams is to identify what area of our life it is about. Once you know that, it is much easier to understand the message the dream contains.
The first challenge when interpreting dreams is to identify what area of our life it is about.
This is where interpreting our own dreams comes in!
If we are interpreting a dream for someone else, it is like joining a conversation mid-way though. It takes a while to get our head around what they are talking about. But with our own dreams, we know what some of the issues are that we have been facing. For example:
- We are the only person who truly knows what is going on in our life!
- Only we know the situations we are facing.
- Only we know the things that are important to us at a deep level.
- Only we know what we have cried out to God about in the darkest moments.
- Only we know our secret hopes and fears.
These are the kinds of things that are often addressed in dreams, so if we engage with the process we have the opportunity to discover God’s heart for our life at a very personal level.
Practical pointers for finding the context
Some simple questions you could ask yourself are:
- What has been going on my life recently that is like the dream?
- What concerns do I currently have?
- What questions have I been asking God recently?
- What have I been praying / talking to God about?
- What was on my mind before I feel asleep?
It is a bit like fitting one image over another. Once you figure out how the dream and real life match up, you can start to grasp what the dream is saying.
I have written more about this with some real dream examples in the following article: Biblical tools: Considering the context of a dream.
Charity Virkler Kayembi also explains this extremely well in her DAESI dream work method. I recommend checking it out here:
Tip 2: Put aside your emotional involvement in the dream
One of the wonderful things about dreams is that they engage our emotions. I can still remember dreams I had as a child because the emotions attached to them were so powerful. God uses our emotions in dreams to get our attention, and to address the things that are important to us.
God uses our emotions in dreams to get our attention, and to address the things that are important to us.
But emotions are not always helpful when it comes to interpreting our own dreams; and that is because dreams are usually symbolic in nature!
I have found that dreams are a bit like cryptic crossword puzzles. They contain symbols and clues that need deciphering. Once all the clues line up, the meaning becomes clear. It requires objectivity and self discipline to detach ourselves from an emotive dream element and think of it as a symbol.
I remember someone telling me a dream they had involving their husband. I could see immediately that the husband was symbolising God in the dream, but they couldn’t see it. They had some emotional feelings about the situation, which they couldn’t put aside to interpret the dream objectively.
Sometimes I have woken up in a sweat in the night, thinking that something awful had happened because of the feelings in my dreams.
I once dreamt my son had died which was very emotional when I first woke up. When I came back to the dream later I could see that my son dying was symbolically representing our church coming to an end; our church did subsequently close (in a planned way!).
How to work around strong dream emotions
It is very hard to disengage emotionally from the situation in the dream and think symbolically. Here are a few tips I have found helpful when dreams carry strong emotions:
- Come back to the dream later. At the time of dreaming, write down the dream as fully as you can. Record how you felt, plus the colour and atmosphere. But then put it to one side. Come back to it later that day or the next day, once you can consider the dream calmly.
- Consider the symbolism. Assume that the dream is symbolic, and is probably not about what it first appears. Write down ideas for what each of the dream elements could represent and go from there. Treat it like a puzzle to solve.
- Consider where in your real life you feel those same emotions. Use emotions to help your detective work; they can help you identify what area of your life the dream is about. In the example above when I dreamed about my son dying, it carried an emotional feeling of grief. But the emotion was actually symbolic of the sadness I felt about the church closing.
- Remember nightmares are not usually what they seem. Nightmares are probably the strongest example of negative dream emotions. But use the same principles as above. Come back to the dream when you can think and pray more objectively. Ask someone else for help if necessary.
Tip 3: Don’t discount any dreams at first glance
One of the hazards about interpreting our own dreams is that we can be jump to quick conclusions about why we have dreamt something. It usually comes from our westernised perception of dreams being just our minds processing events.
If we believe God speaks through dreams, we need to overcome those preconceptions.
At that moment of waking, it is so easy to stay in bed. Any excuse for not getting up to write the dream down will spring into our minds. I’ve been there! Here are some of the excuses that I have used myself:
- That was a silly dream. It’s not important.
- I only dreamed that because of what happened yesterday.
- I only dreamed that because I was thinking about…
- That was just a fear dream or nightmare…
Normally my curiosity gets the better of me; after a few minutes of arguing with myself I do get up and write the dream down. I then come back to it later to see whether it was actually God. Every time I have done that, it has turned out that the dream was from God; and once I understood the message it was very helpful to know.
I have learned never to discount something first off because I think I know why I dreamt it. I’m always wrong!
God uses our everyday life to speak to us
When Jesus was speaking to people He used illustrations from their lives and the things they could see around them.
- If they were walking through fields, he would tell parables about seeds or wheat.
- If they were in the market place, He would tell give illustrations about trading and merchants.
We don’t discount those stories just because they were about Jesus’ current situation. The opposite in fact! It makes them more relevant and understandable.
God does the same thing in our dreams:
- If we go to a wedding, He might use that as an illustration to speak to us about our relationship with Him in a dream.
- If we have just bought a new car, He could use it to speak about something new He is doing in our life, or that He wants to do.
- If we are thinking about something He will turn it into a dream illustration.
So, always write your dream down – even if you think it’s not important, or if it’s about what you did yesterday. Come back to it later: It could be God – and it probably is!
Tip 4: Be open to having your mind changed
One of the hazards of interpreting our own dreams is that it is easy to make them say what we want to hear.
God uses dreams to get round our blind spots and change wrong ideas – but we need to be alert and pick up the relevant clues if we want to cooperate with the process.
It really helps to have an attitude that wants to hear the truth and be changed. If we approach dreams with that attitude we are more likely to persevere until we understand the true message.
It helps to have an attitude that wants to hear the truth and be changed.
Personally, I tend to jump to completely the opposite interpretation to the real God-intended one. I sometimes get things completely upside down. I’m not sure why that is! It may be because it takes a while for me to make that shift and see things His way.
Pay attention to the niggles
What I have found is that when I have misunderstood a dream I usually have a ‘niggle’ about my interpretation. Something just doesn’t quite add up, or not all the elements of the dream seem to fit with the picture.
I have learnt not to ignore those niggles! Unless I can see how all the elements of a dream fit into the interpretation and confirm it – I assume I might have got it wrong!
Ignore those niggles at your peril!
When I still have some niggles, I highlight the dream in my journal – as one to revisit at some point. I then come back to it in a few weeks time. Often by then God will have been speaking the same message to me in other ways, and I’ll suddenly be able to understand the dream.
I have found these attitudes to be very helpful:
- Be open to have your assumptions challenged and your mindset shifted.
- Don’t ignore those niggles.
- Pay attention to parts of the dream that don’t tie up with your initial interpretation.
- Revisit the dream in a few weeks time if you’re not totally sure.
Dreams are an incredible tool for personal transformation, but if we want it to happen we have to learn to stay alert, pursue the truth, and catch ourselves out!
If we are willing to go the journey, God will mentor us and use dreams in the process.
Tip 5: Have realistic expectations
Another hazard of interpreting our dreams by ourselves is that it is very easy to get disillusioned. Proverbs 13:12 tells is that ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’, and this is very true with dreams.
Interpreting our own dreams is a never-ending task, and if we go through periods of not understanding our dreams it can become demoralising – and easy to give up.
We can overcome this by having realistic expectations of the process, and the way God uses our dreams and the relevant timings. We are in this for the long-haul!
An interpretation is not guaranteed.
I remember the late John Paul Jackson saying that we can never demand a dream interpretation. It is God’s choice to communicate to us through a dream, and He determines when the interpretation is revealed.
Having said that, I find that I have usually understood most of my dreams within a year of having them. Mostly they are about things happening in my life at the time, or within the coming few months. Some dreams speak into the coming year. A small number are about things further in the future.
What this means is – it is fine to leave a dream and come back to it later!
It is fine to leave some dreams and come back to them later!
I have a system in my journal for highlighting dreams I need to revisit; and I highlight in yellow dreams that seem particularly important – to make sure I do come back to them again.
Dreams come in cycles
I find that I go through a cycle pattern with my dreams.
To start with, I have a number of dreams that I don’t understand. I get frustrated, but continue to pray about them. After a while I feel like giving up. Time goes by. Then, suddenly, I will have a revelation of what God has been trying to say! Maybe I will realise through something else that happens, or a sudden thought. I then go through my dreams with that in mind – and find many of them suddenly make sense; they all confirm the new thing God is saying.
There will be a period of enjoying that new idea, and God will continue to speak to me about it. Then, suddenly, God will start on a new topic and I no longer understand my dreams! Usually I can sense a shift to a new subject. And the cycle starts again.
I hate the periods in between where I don’t understand. But I have learnt that they don’t last forever; I just need to persevere and be patient for God’s timing.
It really helps to be realistic and learn how God speaks to you. Are there patterns and cycles in your dreams? And remember: Some dreams need to be stored up for a future moment.
We have seen that there are some challenges when it comes to interpreting your own dreams, but with the right attitude and realistic expectations it is possible to interpret them successfully over time.
Here is a summary of the main points:
- Find the real life context (or situation) that the dream represents. As the dreamer, you are in the best position to figure that out!
- Emotions are useful for determining what area of like your dream is about, but sometimes you need to put your emotional involvement aside to think objectively about the dream symbols.
- It’s easy to dismiss dreams by jumping to conclusions about why you think you dreamt them. Always write them down and think about them anyway. You might be surprised.
- Stay on the alert and be open to having your mindset shifted. This is a particular challenge with your own dreams. Revisit them until you feel sure that the interpretation is right – with no niggling doubts!
- Have realistic expectations of the time factor involved in understanding your dreams.
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you want to know more, do get in touch, or subscribe to my emails below to receive regular helpful dream interpretation tips.
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Explore the pros and cons of interpreting your own dreams – and when it’s advisable to ask someone for help.
Taking inspiration from the bible to understand the symbolic language of dreams, plus real dream examples.
Have you ever wondered why God speaks through dreams which need interpreting rather than by more direct methods? One reason is to reveal our blind spots.