naked in front of the class: what your recurring dreams say about you
If you listen to your dreams, it might help you when you're awake.
image Maniac, 2018, Netflix
words Rhys Thomas
For the third morning in a row, you have woken up feeling a little uneasy. Not because you’re unwell, or didn’t sleep, or didn’t sleep well, but because you vividly remember that seconds ago you were standing in the school cafeteria, and you were naked. Of course it was a dream, but it felt real and everyone was there: your first crush, your first kiss, your best friends. And you were there too, holding a tray with some lunch on it, and suddenly, you looked down and realised you were naked.
It is the third time you’ve had this dream this week, and it certainly jolts you out of bed.
Dreams probably just seem like a strange side effect of being a human, such as having goosebumps, an appendix, a tail bone, or nipples if you’re a guy. They are something we have but they seem a little unnecessary, a little random and pointless. However, while we don’t have definitive answers for why we dream, research is continuing to suggest that dreaming is incredibly useful. Apparently, it can help us to process issues that affect us while we’re awake. One study even shows that dreams and nightmares can help with PTSD.
This is because the parts of our brain that are most active when we dream are those which deal with memory. They are the emotional parts of the brain, and also the parts of the brain that help us with imagination too – this is why dreams are generally symbolic and pretty wild, almost hallucinogenic experiences.
Recurring dreams are defined as dreams that happen over and over again. You might not dream the same dream on consecutive nights, and there might be slightly different elements to the dream (the people, the location) but you’ll know that there’s a couple of narratives you remember dreaming because they seem to happen on the regular, and are always profound. The reason recurring dreams happen is because “we have the same issues coming up again and again in our waking life” says Ian Wallace, dream psychologist – a role in which Wallace focuses on dreams as the basis of the psychotherapy he does with clients. The dream will stay until we’re over the issue, he says.
Dreams come from the unconscious mind (often called the subconscious mind), as opposed to the conscious mind. The conscious mind is the mind we use when we’re actively thinking about something and aware of things like your surroundings. Only five percent of our brain activity is conscious according to estimates, the rest is unconscious. This makes a powerful case for analysing what our dreams are trying to tell us. Learning from these dreams might even help us to improve our wellbeing. So as well as being strange and trippy and surreal, dreams have the potential to be an incredibly positive force.
While they might feel unique, there are a fair few recurring dreams that many people experience. We’ve spoken to two dream experts to learn about some of the most common dreams. If you want to know what your dreams are saying about you, read on, and enjoy knowing that actually those weird thoughts you have aren’t quite so strange after all.
“The most common recurring dream across human history is being chased,” says Wallace, adding that there’s evidence of these dreams in cave paintings carved at least 30,000 years ago. Of course, back then, humans were having to think a lot about predators chasing them, and that was definitely going to stick in the mind come bedtime. in 2023 we are less likely to be chased by predators, but "in waking life, we often describe a chase as a pursuit. You're either chasing something or running away from it," Wallace adds, pointing out that these days generally, we're pursuing something. So if we're being chased in the dream, it can mean we're trying to reach an ambition and we're not getting there because of a frustration or a challenge.
“The action from this dream is to connect and engage with whatever that frustration is, whatever is causing you that tension in waking life,” says Wallace. Usually this involves stepping outside your comfort zone, being assertive, and aiming to find the confidence to resolve the situation for yourself.
Bad things with teeth
Having a dream where your teeth start falling out is the most common of this category of dreams, and is also the second most common form of recurring dream. “Teeth symbolise the power to assert ourselves” says Wallace. Professional dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg, who listens to and then analyses people’s dreams, previously studied dream psychology and became a ‘certified dream analyst' in 1996. She adds that teeth tend to symbolise communication. “Teeth falling out is usually because you have allowed something out of your mouth that you feel should have stayed in there permanently” she says.
Other teeth-related dreams that might have you waking up feeling weird include chewing or even swallowing your teeth. Cracking or crumbling teeth is usually connected to weak speech, because things that are weak crack and crumble. By this we mean perhaps someone didn't hold up their end of an argument, or they didn't make their point strong enough. Swallowing them could mean you should have said something that you didn’t.” Loewenberg says. Generally though, teeth have to do with assertiveness and thinking about our relationship to how outspoken we are: could we hold some things back, or could we perhaps benefit from speaking our minds a little more.
The toilet dream
Wallace says that people are always coming up to him and asking about this strange dream: you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing in your dream and suddenly you need the toilet, and you get to the toilet, and there’s something wrong with the toilet. The door won’t close, or there’s no door at all. Perhaps there’s not even walls. Perhaps it’s just a very dirty toilet like those at festivals and you don’t want to use it. So you stand there not knowing what to do, but knowing that you really need to go to the toilet.
“It's all about our needs. A toilet symbolises someplace you go to when you want to get rid of something that's no longer healthy or sustainable for you in waking life.” Wallace says. Specifically, he goes on to say that it’s about not knowing how to let go of an unhealthy situation; ultimately the dream is about boundaries. We can learn from this dream by identifying where we should set boundaries for ourselves in life that makes us less overwhelmed, and less exposed to situations that aren’t helping us live our best lives.
Being naked in public
Yup, there’s even positives to waking up knowing that in dreamland you’ve just been naked in public. “Clothing is the image we choose to present to the world,” says Wallace. With this in mind, the symbolism coming from deep inside our temporal lobe, is to do with us being exposed, or vulnerable, or being seen closer than we aim to be. “It's common for people who are going into a new job or a new relationship, as there are barriers that help you to feel comfortable which are being removed.” Wallace adds.
The lesson isn’t to cover up more. It’s to feel okay with being symbolically naked sometimes. “Notice how in these dreams nobody else is bothered about your nudity?” Says Loewenberg. “We should take the lesson that sometimes we need to reveal our talents, open up, and show the world who we are.” Wallace adds. Dreams where you’ve been wearing inappropriate clothing -a clown costume at a funeral for example- generally fall into this category too.
Being unprepared for an exam
Often a dream shows us something like the first time we were in a situation, it’s our formative experience of an uncomfortable feeling, and reliving it while asleep feels very real. School is where many of these experiences occurred, especially when it comes to being judged for our ability to do something, which is why we end up walking those specific corridors of the past so frequently in our dreams.
With this dream, we are sitting there and it’s suddenly been communicated that we have an exam soon, maybe right away, maybe the day after. Maybe we’ve known about the exam for a few weeks but it’s now the day before the exam and we haven’t read a page of the book we’re being tested on. Generally, if you’re having this dream, you should chill. “The people having these dreams are often the absolute last people who would be unprepared for an exam, they are perfectionists. They are very self critical, they always feel that they’re not living up to the standards they have set for themselves.” The people who have this dream are often giving virgo, gemini, and scorpio energy; they are often the INTJ and INFJs of the world.
Either way, these dreams tend to come from the idea of us reflecting on how we are doing within school, or a career. The real lesson to take from this dream is that “rather than constantly immersing yourself in self-examination and self-criticism is to actually celebrate your achievements and what you've done so far,” says Wallace.
Of course there are variations in how you can read dreams. For example some cultures might think very differently about the appearance of a spider than another; some people might be scared of snakes, to others they are loved pets. This is why some people see the value in having their dreams read by a professional. Wallace and Loewenberg say that when reading dreams, they tap into personal experience and ask questions in order to get to the bottom of what this dream means to the person specifically. But the overarching signs of common dreams we’ve mentioned above are a good start for the dream-reading curious.
A great way to begin with looking into our dreams is by journaling them as soon as we wake up. Wallace says that “within 10 minutes of being awake, most of your memory of the dream will be gone”. Loewenberg adds that “along with journaling our dreams, so that we can ensure we remember them, it’s a good idea to journal your day on the left hand of the page followed by the dream from that night on the right hand. This can help you look for patterns between the two states of mind.”
Oh yeah, and sex dreams? Don’t worry about how weird they get. “Sex in a dream is rarely about a physical want, but more about a psychological or emotional thing that you need. So sex to the dreaming mind is about a need to either connect with the person you're dreaming about, or incorporate something about their personality into your life,” Loewenberg says. This means those dreams are more about what the person or people you’re dreaming about represent that you are lacking in your life in some way.
So dreams! Quite the trippy mirror. Weird and wonderful states of mind full of symbolism and guidance. Like horoscopes, but more directly about you. And sure, that’s scarier in some ways, but these realisations hold a lot of power too. Even nightmares, which are often just the brain looking to process the more difficult issues in life we face.
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