As a counselor, I get asked to interpret dreams all the time. And it always makes me laugh.
There is no science to interpreting dreams.
Those dream symbol dictionaries that people buy are just for entertainment. They contain no real psychological or spiritual value.
The truth is that no one can interpret your dreams except you. (Unless you happen to have someone around like Joseph who had a divine gift for interpreting the dreams of others.)
We are symbol-making creatures. God made us this way. He teaches us through metaphor and image. He has given us specific symbols designed to help us remember. Turn to any book of the Bible and you will find some sort of symbol, metaphor, or illustration in it.
Symbols are a type of shorthand for the brain. We take an image, an object, a person, or a memory and attach meaning and emotion to it. It then becomes a stand-in for that emotional state or belief. Most of the time, we are really reacting to our symbols and not actually to the matter at hand.
Your dreams are a perfect example of what I mean.
We all have a conscious mind and an unconscious mind. You are fully aware of your conscious mind. It is obvious. It is the place from which you operate moment by moment.
Everything that is taking place outside of your awareness is your unconscious mind. Many aspects of your unconscious are easily accessible. They enter your consciousness when you become aware of them. You suddenly remember something or ponder an issue or recall an experience.
There are, however, things that lurk in your unconscious mind that you do not want entering your awareness. It can be something you want to deny or avoid. It can be something that brings up hurt, pain, or fear. It can also just be something you don’t have time or energy to address.
That’s where dreams come into play.
When your conscious mind takes a break, your unconscious mind is set free. But your unconscious mind deals in symbols. Hence, dreaming that you are a cat. It is pretty rare that we dream about the actual thing our unconscious mind is trying to get us to resolve.
Your symbols are unique to you.
You can’t look up “cat” in the dream dictionary and find an explanation for your specific experience. Instead, you need to spend some time figuring out what a cat means to you. Or it could also have nothing to do with a cat, but rather the experience. What did it feel like to be a cat? What happened in your cat state?
Growing up, I had a profound phobia of sharks. I literally had a panic attack if I saw an image of one. But the shark was just a symbol of my real issue. As I child, I had been attacked by someone. My conscious mind couldn’t resolve that experience, so it was shoved into my unconscious mind which translated it into a shark.
I wasn’t able to resolve that phobia until I faced what the symbol actually represented. I had to detach the meaning from the symbol and process through it to find resolution and peace.
I still don’t like sharks, but the panic attacks are no more.
As you can see, the symbol didn’t stay in my dreams. It became a part of my waking moments, my conscious mind. But it remained in symbol form.
That is what our mind does. It makes symbols. Our lives are full of symbols. Most are unique to us, but we also share some of them collectively.
We all know what the cross means. For some, that symbol is rich with meaning and significance. But wouldn’t you say that the real significance is what the cross means uniquely to you rather than what it means to everyone else?
Even if we share symbols, it is still about our own attachment to it.
I encourage you to look at your life and examine its symbols.
Don’t try to rid yourself of them. That is impossible. But if you find yourself experiencing intense reactions to things, pause and reflect on what the trigger means—how it is standing in as a symbol for the real issue.
Freedom and peace await you if you can learn to become a master of your symbols. Jesus, more than anyone else, can help you with that. Go to Him and ask for insight. He ultimately holds the truth that will set you free and bring you peace.
About Jennifer Miller
Jennifer Miller, MAR, MA, LPC is a Christian pastor, professional counselor, and author of No Longer Two: A Guide to How God Created Men, Women, and Marriage. For over a decade, she has been combining her expertise in psychology and theology to help individuals, couples, and families both in private practice and in ministry, as well as through her writing, speaking, and teaching.
She is the co-founder and Co-Executive Director of The Center for Living Well, a nonprofit Christ-centered wellness ministry dedicated to helping people live well and love God. She regularly leads classes, workshops, and retreats on a wide range of topics including faith and relationships. She is also a Master-level Christ-Centered Yoga Leader at the Center.
Jennifer is one of the new co-hosts on Heart and Soul with Jory Fisher. You can listen to her with Jory the second and third shows of the month.