Common Dream Symbols And What People Believe They Mean

For decades, there’s been debate in the scientific community regarding the meaning of dreams. Sigmund Freud thought there was a specific meaning behind each dream symbol, while other scientists, such as Tore Nielsen, argue that it’s more complicated than that. Whether you believe dreams are meaningless or that they are the window to your inner self, it can be fascinating to dive into centuries-old interpretations. From dreams about flying to teeth falling out, read on for fascinating symbols and their believed meanings.

Water Is Thought To Reveal Emotions

water
a2eorigins/Unsplash
a2eorigins/Unsplash

Sleep disorder expert Meir Kryger explained to CNET that many believe water is a symbol for emotions in dreams. Some of the more common associations are muddy water and sadness, or clear water representing clarity.

Perhaps an even more straightforward interpretation is that the nature of the water indicates how you feel. In this sense, raging waves would allude to feelings of being overwhelmed. On the contrary, still water might symbolize feelings of peace and tranquility. Professional dream analyst Lauri Quinn Loewenberg told CNET, “all that truly matters is what fits for the dreamer.”

Death Can Represent The End Of Something

Carolyna Booth/Pixabay
Carolyna Booth/Pixabay

Dreaming about death may seem frightening or uncomfortable at first, but many interpretations shed a positive light on these types of dreams. Loewenberg says that death can symbolize the end of something, such as a chapter in your life.

In that sense, dreaming about your own death may not be a scary premonition, but rather an indicator that something in you has metaphorically died. This may be prompted by dropping a habit or changing a career. Someone else’s death may represent the end of their presence in your life, such as a former partner or friend.

Fire Can Represent Anger, Passion, And More

fire
alken/Unsplash
alken/Unsplash

Loewenberg states that fire often represents anger or distress to her clients. Being that fire has the power to destroy, this would make sense to many. On the flip side, Dream Moods A-Z Dream Dictionary has a more broad definition of the dream symbol.

According to the website, fire can take on a more positive meaning, representing passion, purification, or even enlightenment. It can also be a metaphor for a “fiery” person or a warning that you are “playing with fire.” They remind the reader that it all depends on the context of the dream.

Light Or Darkness May Indicate A Phase You’re In

darkness
fabiosbruun/Unsplash
fabiosbruun/Unsplash

Light and darkness are such vague concepts that they can be vastly different for every dreamer. However, if your dream is so bright or dark that it stands out to you, some believe it may be a symbol. Loewenberg explains that dark places in dreams may be a metaphor for sadness or loneliness.

She adds that a different interpretation is that you are “in the dark” about something and need more information. Thus, seeing light or daytime in a dream when you typically dream of the night may indicate that you’ve emerged from a “dark place.”

Wind May Represent Change

wind
tobistj/Unsplash
tobistj/Unsplash

Another element many have interpreted in dreams is wind. In general, wind is thought to represent change. Thus, the dreamer is believed to either be in the midst of change or anticipating change that will soon come. The intensity of the wind is paramount in dream interpretations.

A light breeze can denote feelings of ease or may indicate that the dreamer interprets the change as minor. A harsh wind that is uprooting everything around you may symbolize feelings of losing control. Furthermore, walking against the wind may represent your strength in the face of adversity.

Falling Can Be An Indication Of Insecurity

Alexas-Fotos/Pixabay
Derek Owens/Unsplash

Falling is such a common dream symbol that Loewenberg describes it as an archetype, or a “pattern of the psyche.” For many, the experience is a metaphor for feelings of insecurity. Dream Moods describes it as “losing your foothold,” and thus being without control.

This interpretation would explain why so many of us have had a falling dream, as we all feel our limitations at some point or another. Dream Moods also notes that falling can represent failure or feelings of inferiority, since you can no ability to catch yourself or otherwise prevent a hard landing.

Flying May Represent Freedom Or Escape

Xinhua/Meng Dingbo via Getty Images
Xinhua/Meng Dingbo via Getty Images

Another dream archetype, that is essentially the opposite of falling, is flying. Where falling is thought to symbolize a lack of control, flying can carry the opposite meaning, representing freedom and an inflated sense of self.

Dream Moods notes that how you feel and the direction you’re flying are important indicators of what the symbol may represent for you. For instance, flying backward may indicate you are focused on the past, while speeding ahead may reveal feelings of invincibility. Another interpretation is that flying is a metaphor for gaining perspective or reaching new heights.

Being Chased May Indicate Avoidance

Dylan Nolte/Unsplash
Dylan Nolte/Unsplash

Another common dream is one where you’re being chased. Psychotherapist Richard Nicoletti told HuffPost that being chased is often associated with avoiding an issue or person in your waking life. He adds that what is chasing you — an animal, shadow, man or woman — also can have important implications.

Since dreams are personal, paying attention to who or what the chaser is, what feelings you experience in the dream, the setting, and other details can help break it down. Nicoletti notes that the chase isn’t often a literal representation, but may be a metaphor for running from a painful feeling or memory.

Shadowy Figures May Be Hidden Parts Of Yourself

VIVEK PRAKASH/AFP via Getty Images
VIVEK PRAKASH/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking of being chased in dreams, often, the chaser is a shadowy figure that you can’t make out. One mind-blowing interpretation is that the shadow represents none other than yourself! Dream Moods explains that shadows in dreams may be a hidden aspect of yourself.

In this sense, if the shadow is chasing you, it could be a suppressed part of yourself that is eager to emerge. A different interpretation is that you are trying to get away from being stuck in someone’s metaphorical shadow.

Being Lost May Indicate An Anxious Situation

Jakub Kriz/Unsplash
Jakub Kriz/Unsplash

Another common dream is one wherein you feel lost or are looking for something that has been lost. Author Cathleen O’Connor explained to HuffPost that lost dreams often relate to feelings of anxiety, frustration, or confusion. She said that the may indicate a waking concern of not being able to metaphorically find your way.

Moving to a new city or starting at a new job are examples O’Conner offered for why these dreams may persist. She also stated that if you’re looking for something that is lost in a dream, the item may be symbolic, such as a wallet representing identity.

Climbing Can Indicate Leveling Up Or Backing Down

Fionn Claydon/Unsplash
Fionn Claydon/Unsplash

Climbing is another dream symbol that depends heavily on the circumstances of the dream. One of the most vital components when interpreting a climbing dream is which direction you’re going. Many believe that climbing up a ladder is a representation of ascending toward success in your waking life.

Conversely, climbing down a latter or a mountain may indicate that you are backing away from negative feelings. Dream Stop also mentions that it’s important to note how you feel in the dream. If the climb is a struggle or if you stop, it could indicate a challenge you aren’t feeling up to.

Snakes Could Represent Something Positive Or Negative

David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

Since dream meanings ultimately come down to the dreamer, many symbols can be explained positively or negatively. Snakes have particularly incongruent interpretations that depend largely on the dreamer. For instance, some believe that the reptile represents hidden threats because of its slithering nature and association with deceptiveness.

Some take it a step further and believe that the snake is your subconscious mind crawling underfoot. On the other hand, some see snakes as symbols of transformation because they shed their skin. Ultimately, whatever the dreamer associates with snakes is the most likely symbol represented in their dreams.

Losing Teeth Is Said To Symbolize Vanity

Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Having a dream where your teeth fall out is relatively common, according to Dream Moods. The website states that the dream may relate to vanity, indicating that the dreamer has anxiety over their appearance. It’s not a far-fetched interpretation when you think of how middle-schoolers often feel about their braces.

Along those lines, teeth are also believed to represent embarrassment or poor health. Since teeth also help you enunciate, some interpret falling teeth as a symbol of not being able to say something in your waking life.

Dream Test-Taking Can Relate To Feelings Of Scrutiny

FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images
FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images

Often when dreamers are taking a test, it is one that is unusually difficult or impossible to read. Since tests can induce anxiety in real life, these dreams can be extra fear-inducing. That’s why some believe that they are a sign of fear in waking life.

More specifically, Dream Moods suggests it may indicate that you’re feeling scrutinized by someone. You may even be the one scrutinizing yourself out of fear of failure or a lack of confidence. A similar interpretation is that the difficult test represents an unrealistic standard you’ve set for yourself.

How You Handle Money In Dreams Indicates Its Symbolism

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Who wouldn’t want to dream about money? However, the dream symbol doesn’t always equate to success in your waking life. By and large, the interpretation has everything to do with the context of the dream. For instance, spending money may be emblematic of giving love.

Along those lines, seeing others give money to anyone but you may indicate you feel ignored. Similarly, dreams about losing money may be tied to feelings of vulnerability. Borrowing or stealing money may indicate a sense of lacking something in your life, and a desperation to attain it.

Crowds May Symbolize Conformity Or Need For Space

Ollie Millington/Redferns/Getty Images
Ollie Millington/Redferns/Getty Images

If you dream that you’re in a crowd, it may be a sign that you are in need of more space in your waking life, or that you’re conforming too much. This interpretation suggests that you may be yearning to express your individuality and break from the norm.

On the other hand, if you see a crowd that you aren’t a part of, it could indicate feelings of isolation. Additionally, a chaotic crowd may be a metaphor for the problems in your life that seem to be “crowding” around you. A pleasant crowd may represent a strong support system.

Keys Can Be A Metaphor For Secrets, Freedom, And More

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Gonzales Photo/PYMCA/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Keys are a versatile dream symbol with numerous interpretations. One of the more straightforward representations is that they are emblematic of secrets. In this sense, they may be metaphorically locking up or unlocking your inner feelings.

Along these same lines, keys are sometimes believed to signify opportunities or freedom. They can represent a sense of power and authority in that you have control over what is revealed and what is hidden, and who has access to what. Conversely, losing keys in your dream may symbolize loss of status or missed opportunities.

Balloons May Represent Rising Above Something

Ankush Minda/Unsplash
Ankush Minda/Unsplash

As with a metaphorically burst bubble, balloons in dreams are often said to indicate your mindset. For instance, seeing a balloon on the rise may allude to your ability to rise up during a difficult time in your waking life. On the other hand, seeing a balloon pop may reflect mounting pressure.

Alternately, balloons may represent an inflated ego, while blowing one up may symbolize breathing life into a goal or dream. Riding in a hot air balloon is said to relate to being metaphorically elevated, perhaps in terms of reputation or spirituality.

Weddings Can Represent Life Transitions

John Rainford/GC Images/Getty Images
John Rainford/GC Images/Getty Images

Dreaming about a wedding may or may not have to do with your current relationship status. Rather, it is generally perceived as a symbol of any life transition, such as moving or starting a new job. How you feel at the wedding may indicate your waking feelings regarding the phase of life you’ve entered.

Dream Moods also states that getting married to someone you don’t know in a dream may be a metaphor for your feminine and masculine sides coming together. It may indicate that you have embraced and balanced the opposite aspects of yourself.

Traffic May Represent Feeling “Stuck” In Life

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Sitting in traffic can be frustrating enough in real life, not to mention dreaming about it! Dream Moods suggests that the dream may indicate you feel stuck in life. This interpretation suggests that the surrounding cars are metaphorical roadblocks, preventing things from running smoothly.

Alternatively, directing traffic may represent the control you have over the lives of others. In that sense, the traffic could indicate anxieties over the influence and power you have over others.

Machinery May Be An Illustration Of Your Mind And Body

gears
MustangJoe/Pixabay
MustangJoe/Pixabay

Many people believe that machinery is a symbol of the mind and body when it appears in dreams. If the gears are all gliding smoothly, then it may be a sign that you feel efficient and healthy, or that situations are playing out with ease.

If the machinery is malfunctioning, then it may indicate that you need some “repair” in your waking life. Think of the phrase “I’m having a breakdown.” Dream Moods notes that dreaming of a rusty machine may represent your outdated habits that are in need of an update.

Motherhood May Symbolize Nurturing

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Dreaming of your own mother or of being a mother is believed to relate to nurturing. Since mothers are often associated with comfort and guidance, the dream may represent a need for those things in waking life.

For those who are not mothers and dream they are, Dream Moods states that it may indicate you are longing to show more of your nurturing side. This may occur if you are harboring feelings of guilt for being too assertive or not compassionate enough.

Pregnancy May Symbolize Something That Is Developing

LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images
LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

If you dream that you or someone you know is pregnant, it may not be an indicator that a bun is in the oven. Rather, it is often interpreted as a metaphor for something that is developing in your life. Perhaps you have an idea that is coming to fruition, a project that is underway, or a goal that you are headed toward.

In this sense, the state of the pregnancy can indicate your feelings about the project or idea. A difficult pregnancy could represent your concerns about the project or idea, while one that is easygoing may imply confidence about it.

Trains May Represent Your Life Journey

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The phrase “being on track” helps explain why some believe that trains represent your life journey in dreams, particularly if you are riding in one. It can also point to the orderly way in which you do things, or how you refuse to stray from the path you’re on.

Along these lines, a train wreck in your dream may indicate feelings of chaos in your waking life. Things may not be going in the direction you’d hoped, making you feel like a “wreck.” Alternatively, it may indicate an inner knowledge that you’re on the wrong path.

Eating Can Represent Ingesting Ideas

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Food is another item in dreams than many interpret as being a metaphor for something else. Some see the act as a symbol of ingesting ideas. Similarly, eating too much very fast may represent a desperation for something, such as affection or praise.

On the contrary, being opposed to eating something may indicate a distaste for something in your waking life. What your eating can also play a role in your dream’s symbolism. For example, those who are familiar with the phrase “bringing home the bacon” may be dreaming about eating bacon during prosperous times.

Being Literally Trapped May Have Metaphorical Implications

Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images
Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

If you dream of being literally trapped somewhere, it could be a metaphor for how you feel emotionally in your waking life. There may be a relationship, job, or other situation that you feel you can’t escape.

The dream could also be interpreted less specifically, as it may simply indicate that you feel “trapped” in a monotonous life. On the contrary, dreaming of setting a trap may allude to a desire to hold onto something that seems to be slipping away. Seeing something that is trapped may represent a part of yourself that you wish to let out.

A Wall May Point To The Barriers In Your Life

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Many equate walls to boundaries in the metaphorical sense, so seeing one in your dream may be an expression of something you need to get past. Jumping over or knocking down the wall may indicate confidence that you will be able to handle whatever challenge comes your way.

Likewise, dreaming that you’re building a wall may represent the saying “putting up walls.” You may be preventing yourself from becoming emotionally attached to others. A different interpretation is that you’ve come to accept your limitations.

A Ring May Be A Symbol Of Loyalty

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/WireImage/Getty Images
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/WireImage/Getty Images

As with weddings, seeing or wearing a ring in your dream may not automatically imply that you’re eager to tie the knot. Rather, people often interpret the symbol more broadly so that it indicates a sense of loyalty to something in your waking life.

Alternatively, the round shape may allude to a sense of completeness or continuity. Thus, a broken ring may represent something being amiss or compromised in your waking life, such as an ending relationship. Similarly, having your ring stolen may be a metaphor for losing interest in something you were previously loyal to.

Roads May Indicate How You Feel About Progressing

Peter Watson/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Peter Watson/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

There are tons of metaphors surrounding roads, from the fork in the road to long and winding roads. Many believe that these expressions can manifest themselves in your dreams, in which case a road may represent your beliefs about moving forward in something.

For instance, a bumpy or windy road may symbolize obstacles you are expecting to encounter on the way toward a goal. A smooth and straight road may imply that you are confident in the direction you’re going.

Boats May Symbolize Your Response To Emotions

Getty Images
Getty Images

As we previously mentioned, water in dreams is often associated with your emotional state. The boat, then, becomes the symbol of your response to those emotions. If you are commanding a ship in a storm, it may be your way of getting through hard times.

If the boat becomes wrecked by wild waves, it could indicate that you feel ill-equipped to handle those emotions in your waking life. Alternatively, if the boat is your haven, you may be experiencing “smooth sailing” through life.