By Josette Keelor - firstname.lastname@example.org
The study of dreams has long eluded many people who wonder what their dreams mean. Premonitions, love for a dream person, or simply a retelling of something recently seen on TV are usual suggestions that explain plot lines of dreams.
Licensed therapist Hilde Matheson says, however, that dreams have little to do with the people, places and things they feature and everything to do with the actual dreamer.
Many times people will not pursue an answer to their dreams unless the dreams bother them, but good or bad, dreams reflect daily life and sometimes point out problems we need to fix, Matheson says.
"Dreams expect action, they're not there to entertain you," she says. "Dreams demand of you that you take action."
That's exactly what she did when she was having a personal crisis a few years ago.
"There was something in me that arose," she says. "I thought, I don't like that about myself, I'm going to change."
Though Matheson is not a dream specialist and does not interpret her clients' dreams, she has long had a great interest in dream interpretation, encouraging her clients to pay attention to their dreams.
"I never interpret the dream, the dream needs to be interpreted by the dreamer. ... In order to learn more about themselves," she says.
"Dreams are tailor-made. ... They are unique to every person."
Matheson says she tries to point her clients in the right direction, based on her own studies of the science.
When a client first comes to her for help, she usually asks them about their dreams.
"I find that whatever they tell me, the dream will tell me more," she says. "I always start out, 'Did you have a dream last week?'"
If they cannot remember their dreams, Matheson assigns them homework.
"When you expect a dream, it will come," she says, remembering a client who told Matheson she does not dream.
"I said, 'Bring me a dream next week,' [and] she brought me an incredible dream."
Dreams offer Matheson so much information because each one is unique to the dreamer.
"It's depression and anxieties and panic attacks, you know, different life changes," she says. "Your subconscious is so wise and knows what you need."
The dream will include messages meant specifically for the recipient, which is why people should decipher their own dreams, and also why one person's monster dream might not mean the same as another person's.
"Every part of the dream is part of yourself," Matheson says. Even the other people in the dream are really aspects of your personality, in disguise.
"When you dream about people that you know, the dream is not usually about them," she says. "The dream really points to us. So learning about your own symbology is very important."
The key, she says, is in figuring out how each of those characters makes you feel -- in the dream and in your waking life -- so you can determine which aspect of yourself each one represents.
Did you dream you robbed a bank or, conversely, were robbed by someone else?
This character represents "the thug part of me, or the thief part of me," Matheson says.
"If you look at the moments, at fleeting moments of yourself -- jealousy, lust, 'I could kill him' ... see, that's the murderer part of me ... We have those dark sides, they're deep inside," she says.
When people block out the negative parts of their waking lives is when those parts become prominent in dreams, Matheson says.
"The unconscious wants to be heard," she says. "It's an incredible part of us."
What if you cannot see or distinguish the person in your dream?
Matheson refers to these dream people as shadows.
"The shadow's part of us, these are the parts we don't know," she says.
Dreams can be a warning as well.
"Your intuitive self -- you may have a flash of intuition, and that comes from your unconscious, that part of you that's very wise," she says.
If you still can't figure out what your dreams mean, then ask them, Matheson says. "I ask my dreams to give me more information."
If a dream has been troubling Matheson, before she falls asleep at night she will say out loud that she needs her dreams to be more specific.
"Dreams listen to you, they want to help you," she says.
Because dreams speak in symbols, they are not always easy to decipher. For this reason, websites or books that list common dreams cannot be an end-all when it comes to dream interpretation. One symbol does not mean the same thing to everyone, Matheson says.
"Every person looks at one specific object in a different way," she says.
The proud, aloof part of her might appear as an eagle in her dream, she says, if she views eagles as proud and aloof in her waking life. Those who view an eagle as something else, like a predator, might see an eagle if they feel they are acting in a predatory way in their life or allowing themselves to fall prey to others.
If you dream about someone you know dying, that does not mean your acquaintance is going to die, she says.
"Very seldom do we predict deaths," Matheson says. "The person in your dream represents a part of yourself -- the wise part, the kind part, the unkind part, the stingy part."
"Could be that the stingy part of you is dying. ... So now that part of [you] is passing on, it's changing in effect," she says.
Dreaming about the birth of a baby could symbolize a new aspect of your life.
"What is being birthed in you right now? What new ideas, what new experiences ... is coming up in you," Matheson says.
The symbols are individualized to each person, but they also need to be taken into context in the dream, related to other aspects of the dream.
"Different symbols mean different things," she says. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Matheson recommends keeping a dream journal to keep track of dreams, something that has been helpful to her.
"When I don't understand a dream ... I write it down," she says.
Keeping a journal is useful because she can look back and see if any patterns emerge in her dreams, which helps her determine an ongoing problem. If one symbol eludes her, she has noticed that the following night her dreams will offer her another symbol pointing to the same problem, something that she can better understand. Without the dream journal she might not even remember past dreams, much less notice a pattern emerging.
"A theme, this is so helpful," Matheson says. "I realized that my dreams dealt with my insecurities.
"I would dream of a hollow house."
An exercise Matheson does when trying to figure out her dreams is to imagine her dream character sitting in a chair next to her. She talks to the character -- like the house -- "and say[s] 'You are so empty, it doesn't feel good to be inside you.' It's like an awareness opens up inside me ... and I allow the house to talk back."
In another dream, Matheson saw the shadows cast by artwork hanging on a wall.
"I'm a shadow, I'm not that beautiful art object?" she realized. "It kept showing me [in] this series of dreams how I was feeling about myself." She was feeling empty, like she was only a shadow of the person she might be.
When Matheson finally realized this, she was able to change, she says, but until that point the dreams kept repeating the message, changing the scenery and symbology in order to make the connection.
"If I stayed in that stage of my mind, I'd be just a wimp. ... I would always feel sorry for myself and just be the victim," she says.
But when Matheson changed, she says she realized, "Boy, I'm a powerful woman, I love myself, you know. I'm a terrific woman, and that comes from work, work on the self."
"Dreams have been my best therapist," she says.
"No therapist could have done what dreams do for me."