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How to Interpret Dreams About Self

Updated on June 9, 2020
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Ms. Carroll is an amateur photographer & freelance writer who likes to fuse nature and photography with life experiences.

photo by Venky P.
photo by Venky P.

Only the Shadow Knows

When we dream about ourselves, the subject of the dream represents in short, our ego. The unconscious mind is attempting to reveal to us, those parts of our personality that we don’t know, that we are ignoring, or that we have repressed. It is important to understand that the conscious mind is synonymous with our ego, and the subconscious mind is our alter-ego. Our subconscious mind, the alter-ego, uses our dreams to try and reveal things to our conscious mind or ego so that we can in turn, act on them or better understand ourselves.

Dream psychologist Karen Signell refers to three types of self or ego represented in our dreams. Just as Carl Jung did, she refers to them as shadows:

  1. the personal shadow - represents weaknesses that we project onto other individuals;
  2. the cultural shadow - reflects stereotypical traits and are therefore, projected onto a group; and
  3. the archetypal shadow - represents the deepest, darkest side of ourselves; the part we don’t want exposed.

Even in our dreams, we will most likely try to deny those personal traits about us that we find embarrassing or unacceptable for some reason. Therefore, the subconscious mind will use symbols or act out an entire plot in order to help us understand or change ourselves. That revelation might come in the form of an obscure person from our past, or in the shadowy figure of someone close to us. If we ignore one type, our dreams will try to speak to us in another. The point is to listen to our dreams and apply the concept revealed there to our inner self.

Why We Dream We're Being Pursued

Dreams of being pursued are common. Often we dream of someone trying to kill us, or we simply dream that someone is chasing us, perhaps with evil intent. Dream psychologists vary in their interpretation of pursuit dreams. Some say that if the pursuer is the same sex, the enemy may be none other than ourselves and that our subconscious mind is pointing to something in ourselves that we do not want to recognize. Some say that dreaming of being chased by another person indicates that your subconscious is telling you to avoid an issue or a person such that the person doing the chasing becomes important. However, there is a difference between running away and being chased. Only the dream understands the context in which the pursuit is framed. If the dreamer is running, obviously your subconscious is expressing a desire or suggesting that you remove yourself from a particular situation.

According to John Sanford, if we deny our own evil or inferior nature, we merely drive it into our subconscious where it can actually become dangerous. Our dreams attempt to show us a shadow of our true self, and in this way, a dream can reveal what we may not even recognize about ourselves. Dreams of pursuit are an important framework for revealing our true selves and shadow dreaming requires both psychological and spiritual insight to be interpreted. In some cases, it can mean looking for something you may not want to admit exists.

What It Means to Dream Your Own Death

Dreams of ourselves dying are less common because we most often awake before we die, but the message being conveyed by the dream is either extinction or transformation. Changing ourselves requires that we leave old behavior or belief patterns behind and forge new ones. As human beings, we usually resist change, so dreams of death or near death are often dramatic and contain the elements of a nightmare.

We usually wake before we die because dying is a stressful event and even in REM sleep, the brain releases adrenaline. It is the adrenaline that wakes you. However, there are recorded instances of a person dreaming their own death and very much living to tell about it. It is suggested that there was less of an adrenaline surge, perhaps because the dream had already been dreamt several times and came as no shock, or the person dreaming actually had no fear of dying.

In a personal dream of my own, I dreamed that I was whisked by an evil spirt to the top of a transparent, spiral staircase. I could only see myself being dangled and I could not see the evil spirit but I knew that my death was imminent because he/she intended to throw me back down the stairs. Out of fear, I instantly started reciting the 23rd Psalms, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." I just repeated that over and over and over again until finally, the evil spirit released me and set me back down at the bottom of the steps. It was a Baptist preacher who interpreted my dream by pointing out to me that the evil spirit had not set me down, but the Lord had picked me up. I had made that choice conscious by reciting the 23rd Psalms. My subconscious mind helped my conscious mind rediscover my faith. And by sharing the dream, I was able to accept its meaning and move forward without having to redream it again and again.

What it Means to Dream About Detached Body Parts

Dreams use metaphors so that our conscious minds can understand and interpret our subconscious. Dreams about detached body parts are a good example of this. To lose a body part without a known cause or to have one fall off can simply be the alter-ego trying to reveal to the dreamer, his or her fear of losing something. It could also represent that the dreamer is processing a recent loss. Alternatively, being dismembered could represent the dreamer's fears or feelings of being cut-off or isolated from a particular person or situation. The dreamer could be feeling a lack of control or sense of helplessness.

As a teenager, I vividly recall a dream where I had been sucked outside by a hurricane and every arm and leg was severed from me by the force of the wind. I recall another dream later in life where I was floating in a floor to ceiling library and my body parts had been severed from me, but my arms and legs were still there floating with me among the stacks. The first dream likely represented a fear and the second dream likely represented my processing of a recent loss, perhaps someone educated.

Dreams of Being Violently Killed or Injured

There have been cases where dreamers predicted their own demise. More than one, in fact. But unless you're a political figure with known enemies, it is more likely that your stabbing or gunshot dream is positive.

Stabbing dreams are associated with betrayal. Translated, to dream you get stabbed could indicate you are being betrayed, afraid of being betrayed, or should be afraid of being betrayed.

To dream you got shot or were being shot at, could indicate that you wish to remove some aspect of your own personality; however, where you are shot seems to be important. Gunshot wounds to the head, chest and abdomen mean differing things according to dream experts. For instance, being shot in the neck could represent a conflict between one's heart and mind. Being shot in the head could be an indication of a mental struggle, that while being shot in the chest (with a gun or arrow) could reflect matters of the heart.

Sources and References:

Sanford, John A. Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language. San Francisco: Harper, 1989.

Signell, Karen. Wisdom of the Heart: Working with Women’s Dreams, New York: Bantam, 1990.

Taylor, Jeremy. Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill: Using Dreams to Tap the Wisdom of the Unconscious. New York: Time Warner, 1992.

Krippner, Stanley and Joseph Dillard. Dreamworking: How to Use Your Dreams for Creative Problem Solving. Bearly Limited: New York, 1988.

Van de Castle, Robert L. Our Dreaming Mind. Random House: New York, 1994.

Llewellyn's Complete Dictionary of Dreams: Over 1,000 Dream Symbols and Their Universal Meanings (Llewellyn's Complete Book Series, 5)
Llewellyn's Complete Dictionary of Dreams: Over 1,000 Dream Symbols and Their Universal Meanings (Llewellyn's Complete Book Series, 5)
This is a great resource with examples of interpretations and explanations for symbols in dreams. I used it as a starting place and found things remarkably consistent, though not always, with my dreams.

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