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.