What These Common Dreams Say About You

People have puzzled for centuries over why exactly we have the dreams we do. While some chalk it up to random neural activity, others believe our dreams reveal our subconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires. Licensed psychoanalyst Anne Cutler falls into the latter camp.

Cutler, who has been analyzing dreams as a therapist for 25 years, tells Refinery29 that a dream is “a communication from the dreamer to him or herself.” When we’re dreaming, she explains, our subconscious thoughts and memories come to the forefront.

“We make connections between what’s going on for us in the present and how it relates to recurring themes in our lives, often themes set up in childhood,” she says. These themes usually concern events that occurred right before the dream.

To express these ideas, our subconscious draws on symbols that already exist in our culture’s language, media, or religion. The lines between the literal and the metaphorical blur. “Dream language is both visual and occurring in metaphors,” Cutler explains.

These symbols make emotions we may not be in touch with in our waking lives very obvious when we’re sleeping. “Feeling states are often highlighted in dreams, sometimes in dramatic ways,” Cutler says. For example, while being overwhelmed may just show up as a bit of anxiety IRL, it can become a huge tidal wave in a dream. That’s one of the reasons paying attention to our dreams is so informative.

That said, this isn’t an exact science. The same dream can mean different things to different people, especially people from different places. The same image can also mean different things in different dreams by the same person, depending what they’re going through and what else happens in the dream. However, Cutler has observed a relationship between what people dream about and what they’re dealing with in their lives.

From riding a roller coaster to losing teeth, here are the possible meanings behind 15 common dreams.

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Death
Many of Cutler’s clients have dreamt about people they know dying, from their significant others to their parents. Some people have also dreamt of their own deaths, according to the International Association For The Study of Dreams, but this is very rare, perhaps since it’s so hard to imagine. In all her years of doing dream interpretations, Cutler has never come across someone who died in a dream.
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What It Means
Whether you’re dreaming about someone else’s death or your own, a dream about death is usually metaphorical, Cutler says, so no need to freak out and prepare for the worst. Your partner’s death, for example, could reveal that you feel like your passion is dying. This dream also can come up during a divorce or breakup. Or, it could get even more symbolic: Someone else’s death could represent a piece of yourself you’ve let go of, like a bad habit, an old job, or your parents’ values.
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You're Cheating On Your S.O.
People in relationships often dream that they’re unfaithful with someone they know or an alluring stranger. Single people can also have this dream about past or fictional relationships.
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What It Means
If you repeatedly dream that you’re cheating, this is often some fear or uncertainty about something happening in real life related to your relationship. Maybe, for example, you’ve been bitching about your S.O. to your friends, and you’re worried she is going to find out. Or, maybe you’ve been flirting with a co-worker, and even though it means nothing, deep-down you’re afraid you might cheat for real.
Then again, it could also have nothing to do with your current boo.

For example, you may be concerned about a breach of trust in a totally different relationship, like abandonment by your parents or betrayal at the hands of your best friend, and it just shows up in your dreams in terms of your relationship. Or you you may feel guilty about taking a shortcut to get something you wanted. If you’re single and dreaming about an ex or an imaginary S.O., one of these interpretations is likely.
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You're S.O. Cheats On You
Conversely, a popular nightmare involves catching your partner straying, perhaps with someone you feel threatened by or someone they have a past with.
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What It Means
As with cheating yourself, dreaming of being cheated on can reflect a real fear. Maybe you’re subconsciously suspicious, or maybe you feel like you’re competing for your partner’s attention, even if you don’t actually think they’re cheating.

Here again, it may have nothing to do with your relationship: maybe you feel that a friend or relative has wronged you or like you’re getting “cheated” out of something you deserve at work.
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Missing Teeth
Most people are very unsettled when this dream visits them. Sometimes it manifests as a dream about your teeth just coming loose on their own like they did when you were little. Losing them through an injury is also a common dream.
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What It Means
Tooth loss is a symbol of disempowerment, Cutler says. Since our primary experiences with this IRL involve either growing up or aging, people have this dream when they feel like time is passing too quickly or they’re getting older and less relevant in their careers or relationships. It often shows up around retirement, she says.

If someone else is punching or pulling your teeth out, on the other hand, this dream can mean the dreamer is “losing power over somebody, their enemy or somebody they’re mad at.”
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Snakes
Snakes have endless symbolic meanings in our culture, so they can appear in dreams in all sorts of creepy ways. They’ll pop up in our yards, in our homes, in our beds, and (yikes) on our bodies.
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What It Means
A snake, especially one in a bed, can be a phallic symbol representing either sexual desire or fear surrounding sex. A slithering reptile can also stand in for someone who is conniving or “snaky.” Or, if you’ve been brought up with the Bible, snakes can sometimes come in as a sign of temptation to do something you know you shouldn’t, like Eve experiences when she encounters the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
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Spiders Or Other Bugs
Like snakes, bugs are a common fear and symbol in our culture, so if you find spiders and other bugs crawling around you or your home in your dreams, you’re definitely not alone.
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What It Means
Bugs in dreams can be a play on words. For example, something may be bugging you, or you may feel like a task you’ve been procrastinating on is creeping up on you. “It’s something that you want to avoid but that sort of has an insidious quality,” Cutler says.
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Flying
The ability to soar above the clouds like a bird is a favorite dream for many people and something lucid dreamers often try to create. Flying in a plane or helicopter is another common dream motif.
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What It Means
When you’re having one of those fun flying dreams, it’s usually exactly what it feels like: a sign of freedom and empowerment. We tend to have these when we feel in control of our lives — literally on top of everything, even “on top of the world.” If you’re in a plane, you may be anticipating either an actual trip or a metaphorical transition in your life.
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Falling
The polar opposite of flying, falling is usually not a fun experience, from tripping to free-falling off a building. Often, people will dream that they’re falling and then wake with a start.
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What It Means
Falling dreams also mean pretty much what they feeling like. The faller feels out of control and possibly endangered. Some scientists have suggested that dreaming of falling and then suddenly waking right after going to bed can result from physical processes involved with falling asleep.

Cutler believes the severity of the fall can be a metric of your anxiety. In very strong anxiety dreams, “the image in the dream is so real that your body almost physiologically feels like it’s falling,” she says.
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You're Being Chased
Lots of us have woken up from epic chase scenes seemingly inspired by action movies. These can involve a real person, like your boss, or a fictional creature, like a vampire (or werewolf, depending which side you’re on).
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What It Means
A chase dream is generally the result of anxiety. You may feel like you’re running from something, whether that’s debt piling up or problems in your relationship you’re not communicating about.

These are sometimes the dreams that stick with us most: “Often, the most anxiety fueled dreams are the ones we remember because the imagery can be very vivid and the intensity of feelings often cause the dreamer to wake up from the dream,” Cutler says.
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You're Being Chased & Can't Run Away
Some chase dreams feel like you’re running in slow motion, as if there’s a force field in front of you, or you can’t move at all.
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What It Means
If you’re unable to run, that could mean you’re feeling paralyzed by the issue you’re running from and you’re not making any progress. There’s some situation in your life that’s making you think, “it’s all gonna catch up with me,” Cutler says.
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Pregnancy
Even when we have no plans of getting pregnant in the near future and don’t know anyone who does, many of us dream that we or someone we know is suddenly with child.
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What It Means
It may seem out there to say that dreams tell the future, but with pregnancy dreams, this is sometimes the case. Your subconscious is capable of registering that you’re pregnant before a pregnancy test does.

People with clairvoyant pregnancy dreams are “aware at some level that they’re pregnant in a bodily sense but not yet consciously, so it comes out in the dream,” Cutler says. Not TTC? Don’t worry — your dream pregnancies can also mean something new is on the horizon in your life.
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You Can't Find A Toilet
When you have to use the bathroom in a dream, it sometimes feels like your whole home is an endless maze and the toilet is the prize for completing it, but you just can’t seem to reach the finish line.
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What It Means
The meaning of this one’s real simple: If you’re looking for a bathroom in a dream, chances are you actually have to pee. The problem, of course, is that you can’t get to the toilet when you’re sleeping. So, you just keep on searching and searching but never find relief until finally, your alarm goes off.

Alternatively, if you discover hidden doors or rooms in your living space during this search, this could mean you’re gaining access to a new part of your personality, Cutler says.
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You're In An Out-Of-Control Vehicle
Dream characters are terrible drivers. Many of us have had dreams of either screwing up when we’re trying to drive or being in the backseat of a vehicle whose driver is veering off the road. People most often have this dream about cars, says Cutler, since that’s our day-to-day experience. But other vehicles like trains and even roller coasters show up from time to time.
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What It Means
This one depends on your position in the car. If you’re behind the wheel, you may feel like you’re incapable of handling a task delegated to you. If you’re not, someone else may be in charge of something that affects you, and you don’t trust them to do a good job with it. Maybe you’re having issues giving up control and letting someone else sit in the driver’s seat, so to speak. A roller coaster, on the other hand, can symbolize being on an “emotional roller coaster” or just not knowing how to feel about something.
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You're Unprepared For A Test Or Presentation
We probably don’t need to describe this one to you. You’re back in school and you show up to class only to realize there’s a test you didn’t study for, or (the horror) you forget you were registered for class the entire semester and then you have to go take the final.
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What It Means
Since the threat of doing poorly in school is one of our earliest sources of nerves, it becomes a catch-all for all sorts of anxiety-provoking situations in our adult lives. So, those dreaded school flashback dreams are probably a clue that you’re super stressed out.
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You're Naked In Public
We’ve all had this one: You’re about to give a presentation and suddenly realize you forgot to get dressed. Or you have to use the bathroom and your only option is to sit down on a toilet in the middle of the kitchen. These situations are often totally random and usually embarrassing.
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What It Means
Public nudity in dreams indicates that you’re feeling exposed in other areas of your life. Maybe there’s a rumor going around about you at work, or you recently shared a secret with your partner that was uncomfortable to tell. As usual, the emotion you have the dream is probably an exaggerated version of one you’re having in real life.
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