What does it mean when you dream about someone? And what does it mean when someone else dreams about you? Dreaming is a vast and mysterious topic and can inspire us to ask these and many other questions.
In this article we are going to explore possible answers and reasons as to why your subconscious mind is showing you a particular person in your dreaming state.
Why dreams happen
Although sleep studies have been conducted for quite a while now, many questions about how and why we dream have not yet been satisfactorily answered.
What has been scientifically proven is that the majority of our dreaming occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, part of the sleep cycle which we cycle in and out of during a night’s sleep. Interestingly, studies have shown that our brain waves are almost as rapid during REM sleep as they are when we’re awake – what this means is that the brain is very active during the REM part of the sleep cycle.
There is a general consensus among experts that the brain stem is responsible for generating REM sleep, just as it is responsible for regulating all basic life-preserving bodily functions, including heart beat and breathing. Experts have developed this theory because it has been observed that those with injured brain stems don’t go into REM sleep – but they still dream.
Conversely, those with an injured frontal lobe go into the REM cycle of sleep but don’t dream. For now, at least, these observations are the closest thing we have to absolute proof that dreams are generated by the frontal lobe – which makes a lot of sense, as the frontal lobe is also responsible for such things as imagination, emotion, social interaction and problem solving.
The fact that dreaming is caused the frontal lobe already gives us some vital clues as to how and why we dream. When we are dreaming, it is the part of our brain that is responsible for imagination, creativity, emotion and interaction that is active and glowing.
Dreaming and the subconscious mind
Dreams arise from the deep, mysterious and sometimes dark waters of the subconscious mind. In order to understand and try to interpret our dreams, we have to know and understand, at least to some degree, where they come from – and why they come.
In psychological terms, the subconscious is defined as ‘operating or existing outside of consciousness.’
Think of it like this. Your mind – the full spectrum of your consciousness and being – is like a huge ice berg (not unlike the one that wrecked the Titanic). Your conscious mind is the part of the ice berg that peeks up above the waterline. This is the part of your personality that you, and other people around you, are aware of and interact with on an everyday basis. Your subconscious mind is the part of your consciousness that is submerged under water and out of sight. In other words, your subconscious mind accounts, in large, for who you are and how you act and navigate in the world.
Without the magnitude and strength of your subconscious self, your conscious self would have nothing to stand on – it would be free-floating, to keep with the analogy of the ice berg.
But despite its size and significance, your subconscious self is mostly invisible, or rather, hidden from sight. The people you interact with on an everyday basis, from your colleagues or clients to your circle of friends, mostly don’t see it and don’t think about it being there. Heck, you yourself might even forget about or be oblivious to its existence.
The French psychologist Pierre Janet (1859-1947) was the first to describe the subconscious in his doctorate of letters thesis, De l’Automatisme Psychologique. Since then, many other psychologists have studied and expanded on Janet’s work.
Janet’s contemporary, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, also worked with the concept of the subconscious. Freud argued that the subconscious contains our primary urges, Eros and Thanatos (love and aggression). He viewed the subconscious as as vast reservoir of unconscious urges and emotions, as well as hidden or repressed memories and other factors hidden from the light of conscious awareness. But, Freud pointed out, just because something is hidden doesn’t mean that it is insignificant – in fact, in the case of the subconscious, it is quite the reverse. It is exactly because the subconscious is hidden that it exerts such great power over our personalities and lives.
This brings us to Freud’s student and the man who came to be known as the father of modern analytical psychology, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). Jung expanded greatly on the existing theories about the subconscious, adding several of his own thoughts and observations to the mix. Jung defined the unconscious – or the collective unconscious, as he called it – as the part of the mind containing memories, drives and impulses of which the individual is unaware. According to Jung’s definition of the subconscious, it is common to all of mankind – rather than being an individual phenomena – and it has its seat in the inherited structure of the brain.
Dreaming and the shadow
One of the concepts Jung introduced in relation to the collective unconscious is the the connected of the Shadow.
The Shadow consists of all those aspects of our selves that are either unacceptable or don’t fit comfortably into the societies in which we are raised. We all have a Shadow, because we all have unsightly and unacceptable traits and impulses – such as aggression and violent tendencies. The Shadow is a manifestation of our ability to regulate ourselves and each other in a society.
The Shadow function is completely necessary and healthy, to a degree. We couldn’t have civilised societies if everyone acted out their dark impulses, drives and fantasies all of the time. Chaos would reign, and we wouldn’t be able to create and collaborate and get along with each other as human beings.
Of course, the Shadow can never be entirely repressed. Every time someone murders, rapes or maims a fellow human being, it is a manifestation of the Shadow.
But the Shadow doesn’t only contain the dark and dangerous impulses that most of us would never dream of acting out in daily life (but might when we are dreaming). It also contains any aspect of ourselves that we have been taught or lead to believe is unacceptable. Which personality traits are deemed unacceptable and therefore relegated to the realm of Shadow varies from culture to culture, from religion to religion, and from family to family. While being gay is acceptable in most Western societies now, there are still many cultures and societies where any sexuality or identity that doesn’t conform to the strict standards of the status quo is off the table. If you grow up gay in a culture where your authentic sexual identity is not welcome, you are inevitably going to shove your true feelings down and confine them to your personal Shadow. The Shadow contains not only dangerous and violent and truly reprehensible impulses, but also personality traits that an individual might have had to suppress for the sake of being accepted.
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In short, everyone has a Shadow, and while all of our Shadows share a lot of common ground, they also have their differences, and some Shadows are bigger and stronger than others, depending on how much and what you’ve had to suppress.
The dream realm is the domain of the Shadow. While you might be able to keep yourself together and present a filtered and potentially watered-down version of yourself to the world in daily life, you don’t have that ability when you dream and your waking, filtering and controlling mind is taking a break.
Because the part of your brain that is responsible for implulse control and critical thinking isn’t the part of the brain that is responsible for dreaming, you will find your dream landscape rich in the kinds of experiences and actions that your rational, waking mind is usually holding back and filtering out. Needless to say, this can be both terrifying and enlightening.
In the dream state, your mind presents you with all sorts of complex, compelling or frightening scenarios, plots and people.
Our dreams can teach us a lot about ourselves – more than some of us are comfortable with, even -, by showing us the sides of ourselves we are not normally consciously aware of. A dream might reveal a hidden personality trait, a deep unconscious desire, longing or apprehension.
Differences between the dream world and real life
The worlds we visit when we dream are very different from the waking world.
Time works differently
Space and time work differently when we are dreaming. Time might stretch or compress in a way that never happens in waking life, where time is always linear and prowesses at a steady and predictable pace.
In dreams, time works much more like it does in storytelling, whether we are talking literature, movies or computer games. Here, time might fast-forward, jump, or stretch or compress so that a single minute seems like hours or years, or an hour seems like a minute.
There is no true explanation (as of yet) as to why this is. The best guess is that the brain, when sleeping and dreaming, is engaging in storytelling, which is not constrained by linear time as our waking mind perceives it.
Gravity works differently
Another thing that works very differently in dreams is gravity – as well as any other natural, physiological law you can think of. Gravity might exist in dreams, or seem to exist, but in the realm of dreams, gravity might either suddenly cease to exist (often in a way that fits the plot of the dream you are dreaming), or it may change its behaviour, for example by going syrupy, allowing the dream version of you to fly or run at an incredible speed, or to fall slowly and land softly.
Dreams seem to have a very casual relationship with the laws of physics overall. In dreams, objects might seem much heavier or lighter than their waking-life counterparts, or you might have certain abilities – or lack certain abilities – than your physical body normally possesses.
Logic works differently
It almost goes without saying that logic works differently, or is partially dissolved, when we dream.
In our sleep, our brains might make connections or draw conclusions that would never seem logical to our waking selves, but which make perfect sense in the context of the dream. Similarly, the people who populate our dreams might act in ways that would never seem logical, reasonable or acceptable in the waking world.
An absurd but clear example would be a dream in which you run into a police station and alert the policeman you get to talk to that a person has just been shot in the street outside. Instead of rushing outside with you, the policeman tells you that it is hunting season and that there is nothing to worry about. He then opens his desk drawer and takes out a yellow pinball pistol and hands it to you, telling you that this is the weapon that has been assigned to you for this year’s hunting season.
There is no object permanence in the dream realm
Searching for a particular object, or sometimes a person, is a common dream scenario. The tricky part is that nothing is solid or permanent in the realm of dreams.
This s true in waking life too, but at least when we hang our car keys on the hook next to the door, we can reasonably expect that that’s where we are going to find them the next time we need them.
Not so in dreams. In dreams, buildings end to crumble and objects tend to disappear – or appear – out of the blue. In dreams, there is no delay between affirmation and manifestation.
Dreams have no filters
One of the reasons why dreams can sometimes get really dark and scary – or really exciting – is that the subconscious mind has no filter. It is the conscious mind, the waking mind, that presides over social filters and ideas about what is and isn’t appropriate.
While dreams can sometimes be lighthearted, sweet and fun, they can also get truly deep, dark, deviant and depraved. In dreams, your mind throw up all sorts of thoughts, desires and impulses that you would never act on in real life. If you pay attention to your dreams, they can teach you a lot about your true desires and sides of your identity that your waking, conscious mind usually manages to filter out.
Dreams are symbolic rather than literal
Just like you can’t expect a dream to make logical sense to your waking consciousness, you also can’t take the things that are said or done in a dream literally – and this includes the other person or the people you dream about.
When interpreting dreams, it is important to keep the inherent illogic of the dream realm in mind. Let us say, for example, that you have a bad dream about your romantic partner cheating on you or leaving you for someone else. While you can definitely interpret this dream as an expression of your own deep-seated fears and insecurities about your current relationship disintegrating, you cannot and should not take a dream like this as evidence or even as an omen that these events have any footing in real life.
A dream can stir up a lot of intense feelings and anxieties, and while you shouldn’t dismiss an unpleasant dream as meaningless, it makes more sense to consider it an expression of your own unconscious feelings, rather than an expression of anything the person betraying you in the dream is thinking, feeling or contemplating.
In other words, unless you possess great psychic gifts and are in the habit of receiving accurate dream guidance, your dream is on you, an expression of your own personality and the things that are stirring in your own subconscious.
No piece of writing about dreaming is complete without mentioning lucid dreams.
Lucid dreaming is when you are awake within your dream – fully conscious that you are navigating the realm of dreams rather than the waking world.
Compared to dreaming normally, dreaming while being lucid and aware is fairly uncommon – in fact, some people never experience such dreams.
Lucid dreams can happen spontaneously and randomly, or you can train yourself to have them more frequently. There are all sorts of techniques, meditations and even supplements you can use to encourage more lucid dreams.
The great advantage of being awake within your dreams is, of course, that you get to control your actions within the dream and fully relish and enjoy the possibilities that the dream realm offers. In lucid dreams you can experience all sorts of things that are impossible when you are awake, such as flying, or robbing a large bank and actually getting away with it.
Lucid dreams tend to be extremely vivid and life-like, recognisable only as dreams thanks to their lack of logic, casual relationship with natural laws like gravity, and your ability to shift the scenery at will.
The best movie ever made about lucid dreams has got to be Inception, where a motley crew of dream architects travel into the subconscious minds of others during their REM cycle in order to plant cues and suggestions.
A night mare is a bad dream that presents you with themes and visuals you would rather stay far away from – such as death, murder, suicide, injury, betrayal, accident and attack.
Nightmares involving other people – particularly if these people are friends or family – often represent some of our worst and most primal fears. Even if we don’t often think about it consciously, on a deep, subconscious level we all fear some of the same things. For example, we all fear losing our loved ones, we fear being betrayed, rejected or abandoned by those we love, and we are fearful of bodily harm, injury and death. When we dream about death and destruction, it is a way for us to face the fears we often successfully repress or forget about when we are awake.
An interesting thing to keep in mind when you are having a dream experience involving the darkest theme of all, death, is that death represents impermanence and new beginnings. Sometimes, we may dream of death and dying when our lives are undergoing a lot of change and growth. Dreaming about ourselves or someone we love either dying can simply be a representation of our reprehension about impermanence and chance.
On a positive note, nightmares can work as reminders of what we value the most in life. Whenever I wake up from a nightmare in which a close family member or a friend has been in a car accident or been killed in some other gruesome manner, I always call them or shoot them a message, telling them how much I love and value them. Silver linings.
Sometimes, you might find yourself dreaming the same recurring dream over and over again, night after night – or you may find that the same person keeps appearing in your dreams.
When the same dreams occur multiple times or on a regular basis, it is a clear indication that your subconscious mind is emphasising the dream in question. It is essentially yelling at you and pulling at your sleeve in an effort to get you to look and pay attention.
Recurring dreams – particularly recurring dreams about someone particular – might hold vital clues or lessons. Having the same dream more than once gives you an opportunity to really take in whatever it is the dream is trying to tell you.
You may, for example, be dreaming about a particular group of friends that you haven’t really been keeping in touch with for a while. Dreaming about home could mean that you have a deep subconscious wish to reconnect and rebuild the friendship you share with these people.
Dream interpretation and your dream questions, answered
Here is a handy list of frequently asked questions about the dream state and what it all means – hopefully, it will illuminate and answer some of your own questions.
What does it mean when you dream about someone?
The million dollar question when it comes to dream interpretation has got to be, What does it mean when you dream about someone?
The one certain and universally applicable answer is that when you dream about someone, it is because of something going on within you, in a way that relates to them, either because of who they are to you, or what they represent.
Is it true that when you dream about someone they are thinking about you?
The short answer is, probably not. When you dream about someone, it indicates that you are thinking about them, as evidenced by the fact that they are showing up in your dream.
When you dream about someone does that mean they miss you?
Again, the answer is the reversal of the question. When you dream about someone, it can mean that you are missing them. Whether they are missing you is an entirely different questions that cannot be answered by interpreting your dream.
What does it mean when you have a dream about someone you like?
When you dream about someone you have a crush on, it is a clear indication that they are taking up a lot of space in your mind, that you are fascinated by them and thinking about them, even in your sleep.
What does it mean when you dream about your ex?
Dreaming about your ex can mean a host of different things, depending on the story and overall mood of the dream. It could mean that you are missing them, or that you have unresolved issues related to them.
What does it mean when you dream about a family member?
Again, it depends on the dream’s storyline and mood, and on the events taking place in the dream. Dreaming about family is very common, as our nearest family members are deeply imprinted on our unconscious minds.
What does it mean when you dream about the death of a family member?
Dreaming about a family member dying is a common nightmare, an expression of a deep and primal terror of losing the ones we love the most, such as our parents, siblings or children.
What does it mean when you dream about someone who is already dead?
Dreaming about a loved one or an important mentor who is already dead most likely means that you are missing that person. Visiting them in your sleep can be a wonderful way of keeping their memory alive and maintaining sense of contact and communication with them long after they have departed.
What does it mean when you dream about someone having a baby?
Dreaming about birth or babies can be a sign of newness and fresh new beginnings in your life. Symbolically, babies a signs of new life and new hope.
What does it mean when you dream about someone sexually?
Sex dreams are common, and in the realm of sleep, the libido has full reign. Dreaming about someone sexually is a clear indication that your libido is alive and well, and the dream might reveal new angles on your sexual desires that you were not aware of before. The particular person that your dreaming mind casts in the role of sexual dream partner may or may not have any bearing on the meaning of the dream.
What does it mean when you dream about someone famous?
Dreaming about someone famous is still really a dream about yourself. A dream about fame and wealth can be an indication of ambition.
Dreaming about someone: The theory contenders
All sorts of theories exist as to what it ultimately means when you are dreaming about someone or encounter or interact with other people in your dreams.
One theory is that people dream about different layers of their own identity – and by extension, every dream interaction you have is with a different aspect of yourself. There is no scientific evidence and no data to suggest that this is the case, but it is a theory worth contemplating. It could be true in some cases, or partially true.
Another theory, which rings more true to me and might to you as well, is the theory of projection. According to this theory, the people we encounter in our dreams – as well as the various dream landscapes we move through – are all coloured by our waking mind’s perception and view of the people, objects and surroundings we see in our dreams. For example, if you have a difficult relationship with your father and he appears in your dream, the dream version of your father is likely going to resemble your view of your father and the strained relationship you have with him, rather than being a true and nuanced representation of your father. Or, you may have a dream about a particular colleague being mean to you, but the dream version of your colleague is closer to your perception of your colleague than it is to the true and tangible real-life colleague. As with the previous theory, there is no scientific data to support this take on things, but it does seem like a reasonable explanation when viewed through the lens of psychology, which tells us that projections play a significant role in our waking interactions with other people.
Yet other theories suggest that when you are dreaming about someone, it is be cause they are thinking about you or missing you. It seems more likely that it is you who are thinking about or missing them. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that when you are longing for someone, missing them, craving their council or company, a version of them appears in your dreams as a result of your own longing and wish for them to be present.
Dreaming about someone? The inevitable conclusion
Given everything we know – and everything we don’t know – about the nature of dreams, consciousness and brain chemistry, only you can truly decide what you believe it means when you are dreaming about someone. There is no ultimate, final, verifiable answer.
This, of course, can seem frustrating, as it would be nice to know exactly what it means when you are dreaming about someone. Naturally, there is a great need to understand our dreams, to know precisely what it means. And if, for example, you are dreaming about someone you have a crush on, it would be very reassuring to be able to know whether that means they are thinking about you, too. What it does tell you with certainty is that you are thinking about them – and that might be all of the confirmation your dream is going to yield. .
Just as it can seem infuriating that there is no ultimate truth, no clear and singular answer as to what it means when you are dreaming about someone, it can also seem exciting. The subconscious dream landscape is vast and mysterious, filled with possibilities, inspiration and symbolic clues. But ultimately, dreams tend to raise many more questions than they answer.