How to tell if a dream symbol is being used in a positive or negative way – and why it is important – with real dream examples.
If you are interested in dream interpretation, you may have heard people mention positive and negative contexts of dream symbols.
But what does that mean, and why is it important?
This article explains what positive and negative context means, with clues to look for that can help you tell the difference.
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.
If you have just come across this post and are new to dream interpretation, it is worth mentioning that dreams are symbolic in nature. You might find it helpful to read Understand your dreams: A bible-based introduction to dream language and my 3 step dream interpretation method to give you a foundation.
- Dream symbols can be positive or negative
- How to tell if a symbol is positive or negative
- Clues from the dream as a whole
- Responding to negative dream symbols
Dream symbols can be positive or negative
Dream symbols are the various elements that appear in our dreams. They could be people, places, buildings, objects, colours, numbers, etc. What does a red car mean, or a horse, for example?
In any given dream there will be symbols that feature prominently, and we will need to understand them to make sense of the dream.
There are many dream dictionaries available to suggest potential meanings, but becoming too reliant on those can hinder us from grappling with the elements and hearing God for ourselves. I have written more about that in 10 simple clues for understanding dream symbols.
Part of the interpretation process is determining whether the symbol is positive or negative.
Why it is important to know the difference
It is important to discern whether the symbol is being used in a positive or negative context – for a few reasons:
- It changes the potential meaning of the symbol.
- It can totally change the interpretation of the dream.
- The negative meaning is often the opposite of the positive one.
Here are a few examples:
- The colour red can represent the power and ability to do something in God’s strength. But in a negative context it can represent anger or misuse of power. In a dream, depending on which it is, that could either mean we are empowered and blessed to do something, or we are using our power inappropriately!
- A wedding can represent coming into agreement with something (such as a way of thinking). Depending on whether the person we are marrying is positive or negative, the dream could be encouraging us to continue, or advising us that we are agreeing with something unhelpful.
- Wood can represent humanity (as opposed to rock which is God). In a negative context this could represent human weakness and insufficiency, but in a positive sense it could represent humility – which is being aware of one’s humanity in a helpful way.
HOW TO TELL IF A SYMBOL IS POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE
Therefore, it is vital to know how to discern whether a dream symbol should be interpreted in a positive or negative way. To do this, we can glean clues from the main dream, and from the symbol itself.
Clues from the dream as a whole
Dream symbols cannot be taken on their own; they must be considered within the context of the whole dream. These clues could come from the setting, the colour, and the feeling/atmosphere.
Like all thoughts and ideas, dreams can be broadly organised into coming from three sources:
- Dreams from a positive spiritual source (God)
- Dreams giving insight into our own soul (mind, will and emotions)
- Dreams from (or revealing) a negative spiritual influence (the enemy)
Every type of dream is useful if we know what we are dealing with – and having a sense of which of the above it is can help us interpret the elements in the right way. If the whole dream is positive, the individual elements are more likely to be positive.
If the whole dream is positive, the individual elements are more likely to be positive.
A note of caution, however: A dream symbol can still be positive, even if the main dream has a negative feel – and vice versa. So, although the whole dream is important, the factors relating to the symbol itself will override it. For example:
- A spiritually negative dream can have God breaking in at various points.
- A positive dream from God can include elements that are negative.
With that in mind, here are some helpful clues relating to the whole dream:
The setting of the dream
This is the backdrop to the dream and gives the dream a frame of reference. See considering the context of a dream for more about this. For example, the setting could be:
- The place where it happens
- The main activity (e.g. on a car journey, trying to get home)
- The main people you are with
Consider whether you felt good about the setting: Was it set in a scary house, or did the house feel peaceful? Were the main people with you friendly or ominous?
The colour of the dream
The background colour of a dream is very important. Broadly speaking:
- Dreams from God are usually bright or normal colour.
- Dreams from (or showing us) our own soul tend to be muted colour or confusing; sometimes it looks like there is a filter over the dream.
- Dreams from the enemy (or revealing enemy activity) tend to be obviously black and white, or monochrome.
The feeling/atmosphere of the dream
My experience is that dreams are like a window into the supernatural world. I have found that my discernment is generally more accurate in my dreams that when I am awake. So, take a moment to consider what you felt about the dream – as a whole. How did you feel when you woke up?
All of these factors can help us determine the source of the dream. But remember that although the whole dream context is important, the factors relating to the symbol itself will override it when determining the positive/negative nature of a symbol.
Clues from the dream symbol
This leads us into factors relating to the symbol itself.
If a symbol seems normal or neutral, it is probably being used in a positive context and should be interpreted as such. Therefore, in the following sections I have focused on the negative attributes, as these would normally draw your attention if the dream element was not to be interpreted positively.
How do you describe the symbol?
The appearance of a dream element gives us a big clue as to whether it is to be interpreted positively or negatively.
Here are some examples of how you might describe something negative:
- It’s an unpleasant colour, or you don’t like that particular shade.
- It’s something that doesn’t suit you.
- You think it looks dirty or cloudy: not a pure shade (like ‘off-white’).
- It doesn’t look right.
- It looks angry or threatening.
Conversely, positive elements tend to be clean, bright, and visually appealing to the dreamer, or just appear normal.
Real dream example: Clothes that look terrible
I dreamed I had changed into some very pale loose-fitting blue jeans, with the same colour sweatshirt top. That shade of blue looked terrible on me, as did the loose shape. I thought maybe I should change.
The colour blue can mean revelation from heaven, but in a negative context it can be false revelation. The way I described the clothes was negative. So, this dream was alerting me that I thought I had heard from God, but I had made a mistake. I needed to go back to Him so He could change my understanding.
How do you feel about the symbol?
I have found that our spiritual discernment tends to work well in dreams, so our feelings about the dream element while we are dreaming are very important: They are usually accurate.
For example, the following negative feelings would suggest a negative context:
- Do you feel afraid of it?
- Do you dislike it?
- Do you have a sense of unease about it?
- Does it make you feel cross or agitated?
Conversely, positive elements tend to have positive feelings associated with them – or would just feel normal.
Real dream example: The laptop is in the wrong place
I dreamed that I had put my laptop on the wrong surface. Normally that wouldn’t matter too much, but in the dream I had a feeling of horror about this, akin to what you would feel when watching a horror movie. I woke up in a sweat!
A laptop is a type of computer, and often relates to our mind/thoughts. In this dream my feelings about the position of the laptop clearly identify it as being a negative context. Therefore, I understood it to mean I had got the wrong idea about something – and it was highly important to adjust my thinking – hence the strength of the negative feeling in the dream.
The action relating to the symbol
The third clue relates to what is happening with the object/symbol. Is it being used in a negative way? For example:
- Are people chasing you, being unkind, or some other negative action?
- Is an animal trying to bite you, or a dog growling at you?
- Is the object being used to do something wrong or unhelpful?
The action relating to positive symbols might be helpful in some way. For example, a car might be helping you get where you need to go, a view might be beautiful, and food might be healthy or tasty. Alternatively, the action might just be normal, i.e., doing what it normally does in a neutral kind of way!
For example, a gun might be considered a negative symbol if someone is trying to shoot you with it (it could symbolise a verbal attack). But if you are using a gun in a shooting range and are hitting the bullseye, it is a positive context, and suggests that you are on target with something!
Does it have the potential to harm you?
If a dream element has the potential to harm you, it is probably negative in context. This is not always the case though: Check back to the action in the dream (above) to make sure, and consider cultural factors.
- Some symbols are nearly always considered negative because they can hurt (or even kill) people, like sharks, snakes, spiders, poison, etc.
- Other symbols might be negative to you personally, for example if you have an allergy to it, have a fear of it, or have had a negative experience with it in the past.
For example, my son is gluten intolerant, so I must ensure all our family meals are gluten free. I am a teacher in my local church, and preparing food is symbolic of providing spiritual food. I sometimes dream of food containing gluten, alerting me to the fact that an idea would be unhelpful to the church. Food containing gluten is a negative indicator for me.
Conversely, positive elements could have the potential to help you in some way.
Responding to negative dream symbols
When a dream/dream symbol has a negative feel or context it is easy to jump to the conclusion that we are being admonished or criticized by God. It is easy to feel condemned or guilty. But that’s not God’s heart.
All dreams from God are sent to give us hope; even dreams that highlight our failings carry hope for change; they might be to set us free, or to prevent us making unhelpful choices. Even fear dreams and nightmares are not always bad; sometimes God needs to shout very loudly to get us to listen!
The details we have discussed in this article are all there to help us interpret our dreams correctly, so pay attention to them!
The details in our dreams are there to help us interpret them correctly – so we are empowered to take appropriate action.
They are there to provide clues: To mentor us in discerning God’s voice, and to give us the heads up when something is wrong – so we are empowered to do something about it!
Dream symbols can have either a positive or negative context, and this can totally change the interpretation of the dream. The negative meaning can be the exact opposite of the positive/normal one!
If the whole dream is positive, the individual symbols are more likely to be positive, and vice versa – so we can gain clues from the dream. For example:
- From the setting
- From the background colour
- From the feeling/atmosphere
However, the factors relating to the individual symbol will take priority. We can gain clues about these from:
- How we describe the symbol
- How we feel about the symbol
- The action relating to the symbol
- Whether it has the potential to help or harm us
And finally… all these clues are there to help us interpret our dreams correctly, so we can discern God’s voice, make wise decisions, and live life to the full! Even the negative elements are there for a good reason.
I hope you have found this article helpful. If you want to know more, do subscribe to my emails below to receive regular dream interpretation tips.
The purpose of this blog is to provide solid biblical foundations for interpreting dreams, change mindsets in the church, and encourage others to make their own dream journey. I am primarily a writer and bible teacher – who loves dreams, and I hope you will be inspired to learn to interpret your own dreams.
It is not currently my aim to routinely engage in dream interpretations or provide training, except through writing blog posts. You can read my most up to date position on interpreting dreams here: Requests for dream interpretations.
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How to understand dream symbols: 10 questions to help identify their meaning, plus real dream examples.
Taking inspiration from the bible to understand the symbolic language of dreams, plus real dream examples.
Light and dark dreams, coloured dreams, night-time dreams, muted dreams, monochrome dreams, and what they mean.
- Beginner’s guide to biblical dream interpretation
- How dream work can revitalise your morning prayer time
- Requests for dream interpretations
- Biblical meaning of colours in dreams
- The importance of background colour and atmosphere in dreams