To amplify means to increase, to magnify, to crank it up, and for our purpose it means:
- Amplify parts of a dream you might overlook or fail to recognize for their importance.
- A storytelling device dreams use, especially to counterbalance minimization.
- A technique for finding a dream’s meaning by comparing it with stories from myth and literature.
Beginning with point #2, counterbalancing in the psyche is known as compensation. Amplifying relates to it because dreams amplify when you minimize, such as when you minimize a problem then a stunning dream points out the error. Dreams amplify to compensate.
Compensation is weight put on the other side of a scale to make it balance. It’s a way to balance the psyche.
Or think of it as turning up the volume when you don’t hear something. The more you don’t hear or listen, the louder your dreams crank the volume. When the volume reaches max:
Explore further if you like: Carl Jung’s theory of compensation.
This sort of amplifying in dreams is your inner storyteller’s way of foreshadowing future growth and healing, showing what stands in the way—especially parts of yourself that work against you, such as a touchy ego or bad attitude—and potential that can be actualized. It’s saying there’s inner work that needs to be done. The dream storyteller can only do so much, though, so pay close attention when your dreams amplify.
Amplified dreams say, “We have work to do.”J.M. DeBord
Why dreams amplify
Dream amplify when necessary. You aren’t listening, noticing, or getting the message.
Or you are in new personal territory. A page of the book of your life is turning and new information is only starting to come forward that will shape the next chapter of your life. It’s an important time in your personal growth.
When dreams amplify they emphasize the truth, especially when you minimize and it causes issues, such as when stress eats at you and you say it’s just the price to be paid, or you fail to recognize how your behaviors and attitudes affect people in your life. You then dream about a tornado tearing through your home, an amplified portrayal of the effects of stress. Or a dream shows a loved one bleeding head to toe and somehow you know you did it but can’t remember how, showing the emotional and psychological wounds your behaviors and attitudes inflict.
[While most dreams are subjective, they tend to be objective when they amplify because they need to show you something that’s outside your conscious awareness.]
To amplify or to exaggerate
Amplify and exaggerate (that lesson is next) as tools for dream story analysis are almost interchangeable. The core idea is the same. The difference is found in the purpose. The purpose of exaggeration in dreams is to create memorable symbolism that captures underlying dynamics. The dream imagery and story dramatically exaggerate the situation and your related thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. On the other hand, dreams amplify to convey urgency or importance, or capture a feeling raw and uncut.
Dreams amplify to express feelings and emotions that are especially important to notice, and it shows in how you react to the dream imagery. See Gender-Switching Sex Dream for a dream with urgency and strong reaction. It’ll be obvious why the dream amplifies to get across the message about how powerfully the dreamer really feels.
In my 25 years of interpreting and studying dreams I’ve trained myself to notice subtle differences in how dreams tell stories. Every detail is purposeful. Next, we’ll explore how to spot those subtle differences and understand the purpose.
How dreams amplify
Screaming in a dream is one of the more common ways to amplify. It begs for attention. Dreams scream at you when necessary. You aren’t listening, or you aren’t being heard physically or personally, such as when an important person in your life doesn’t “get it.” Otherwise, dreams use normal tones for normal messages.
Disproportion is another way to amplify. Something is shown as exceptionally big or small. If it’s exceptionally big it can symbolize an idea such as “too big to handle.” If it’s exceptionally small it can mean “overlooked” or “undervalued.”
Depictions as big or small exaggerate the dreamer’s perceptions and it’s just how dreams tell stories, expressing ideas and concepts through symbolism. Dreams amplify these details because they want you to pay close attention. For example, you might overlook a mouse in a dream, but not if it’s big as a house. The mouse could symbolize a big feeling that’s overlooked. You can bet there are good reasons to notice that feeling. Your health, wealth, or an important relationship might hang in the balance.
Caveat: Small or big things in dreams can symbolize the idea of new or old aspects of yourself. Something new about yourself can be shown as something small, probably a living thing, and something old about yourself can shown as full size. New creatures are usually small, and mature creatures are full-size.
Exceptional speed and distance: Imagine that you are involved in a new romantic relationship and it takes off like a rocket. How can dreams amplify to tell the story? By showing you riding a rocket! The symbolism of the imagery has positive ways of looking at it, but consider also that it could mean you feel like the relationship is progressing too quickly, impossible to control, or likely to end in a big explosion. It might be exaggerated to create memorable symbolism, or amplified as a warning.
Example #2: You feel distant from your significant other and dream that the person lives on another continent. It’s a way of saying you are far apart figuratively. It’s exaggerated. And if there’s a warning in the dream, the distance can be viewed as an amplified message to do something before it’s too late.
Heat: The expression “the heat is on” means close scrutiny. A dream can show the situation as a fire getting too close to you. It can exaggerate the heat into a raging fire to describe intense scrutiny.
But what if the person who has the dream doesn’t notice the scrutiny or recognize the potential for personal danger? Then the dream amplifies, and it’ll show in the imagery the dream chooses to get across the message. It’s not just a fire; it’s your house burning down. It’s a blast furnace or the surface of the sun. Get the message before it’s too late, says the dream.
I use many possibilities for negative outcomes in the above examples. Consider also that dreams amplify to draw your attention to the potential for positive outcomes. It means that the decisions and actions you take now are important for the future.
Amplify: nothing overlooked
We know when dreams amplify it draws attention to where it’s needed, a big sign that says, “LOOK HERE, THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!”
Here’s a great example: dream about an encounter with the Grim Reaper. That dream amplifies the dangers of drinking and driving. The dreamer minimizes the risk and his dream responds powerfully.
Dreams amplify to help you notice the small voices in your head and little-but-important things in your life. In my Dream Interpretation Dictionary, I explore a dream about a guy working at Walmart who witnesses a human sacrifice (see the entry for Walmart). The character who is sacrificed is a projection of the dreamer. He truly feels like he is sacrificing himself for his job, but he minimizes by saying to himself that he needs the income. Which is true. He can’t just quit and live on the streets. But he can recognize the need to work in a better environment. He can decide to work toward a better future with a better job.
Until he recognizes what the job is taking from him, he won’t change the situation. That’s the underlying message the man needs to take away, and why the dream amplifies it.
Amplification method vs. free association: magnifying important dream details
Psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung used what’s known as amplification method to focus on a dream detail and draw out its significance. It appears similar to association method at first glance, but is more focused. Instead of freely associating, you could say that amplification method directly associates.
Say that you dream about building a fence and want to understand the meaning of that detail. You could start with a fence’s association with private property, then move on to your desire to own a home. Sure, it’s possible the subject behind the dream somehow connects with the desire to own a home, but when you make the leap away from the symbolism of the fence, which free associations allows you to do, you could miss the true meaning. Instead, amplify by focusing on what a fence does. How would you describe a fence to someone who has never seen one?
You might say that a fence is a divider between what’s yours and mine. Or it creates privacy. Or it keeps or protects something within it, such as pets, livestock, or children. These direct associations are then applied to the dream.
Does constructing a fence in a dream connect symbolically with creating personal boundaries, space, or privacy? Does it mean you are marking your territory or protecting something you value? Or does it mean “fenced in,” meaning lacking options or choices, or “walled off” from the world? Perhaps. You will know when you hit upon the right idea because it gives you a snap of recognition.
You can go further by exploring ways you protect yourself personally or physically. You can find a clue in the fact that you build the fence, it’s not already there, implying a recent or new development. The person who has never seen a fence might wonder why someone would need a fence in the first place, and even that’s a potential clue because it raises the question of why you build it.
Personal narratives in dreams
Amplification helps you recognize the personal narratives (also called scripts) that define your possibilities and boundaries. The person you are is largely constructed around narratives in your head. You are this, you are that, you are from whatever place and are a product of what’s happened so far in your life and what you believe to be true. Some psychologists say we are born limitless then fence ourselves in by accepting limits imposed on us.
Dreams are narratives, and in them you see both the narratives you construct for yourself and those constructed for you through external scripting and programming—especially through your beliefs and attitudes. Dreams help you see yourself from different perspectives by amplifying your personal narratives.
Dreams amplify your narratives so you can more clearly see the scripts you follow. You then have a conscious choice to continue following them, reshape them, or completely rewrite them. Change the script. That’s the first step to changing your life.
In an example mentioned in another lesson, a man dreams about standing around a hole in the ice of a frozen lake and realizing someone must sacrifice himself to save everyone else. He says he’ll do it and jumps into the icy water expecting to die, and when that doesn’t happen he figures he might as well swim back to the surface. If he follows the script he’s always followed, he’ll always sacrifice himself. It’s part of who he is.
But he’s at a turning point in his life, rethinking the roles he plays in his relationships. He doesn’t have to always sacrifice himself. If he does do it, he can make the decision consciously, instead of unconsciously following the personal narrative.
Your dreams provide everything needed to change the narrative. The symbols in your dreams are potential energy—set it in motion! You don’t have to know exactly what the symbols mean, just follow your feelings and work with them in your imagination. Working with your dreams activates and energizes subconscious processes, and the energy feeds back like a loop or vortex.
Your dreams are dramatizations. You aren’t just alive, you’re having an experience of life. In your dreams, you’re no longer just a person, you’re an important character in an important story. You are a living myth, and the story is written a day and a night at a time.
Power of imagination
Directed daydreaming is a potent way of working with your dream symbols and amplifying them. Carl Jung calls it “Active Imagination,” and it’s known by other names such as “Creative Visualization.”
The Resolution chapter offers a detailed subsection about using imagination with dreams. Here are three additional resources:
- Active Imagination explained
- Go deeper
- Read an except on Active Imagination from my book Dreams 1-2-3
You can amplify a dream by stepping into the roles of the other characters and seeing the story through their eyes. You can question how characters are used in the story, and even talk with them directly in your mind. Dream characters are products of your imagination, and it’s not like you must be dreaming to use your imagination.
When, for example, the wolf leads you into a wilderness in a dream, you can ask, while dreaming or awake, where it’s leading you. Ask what its role is in the story, its feelings and thoughts, what it thinks of you. Ask what it can do for you and what you can do for it. Because it’s a dream character and dreams are only for your benefit, it’s there to help you, and your willingness to accept that help and offer it in return sends a very positive message to your unconscious mind. You can even question and encourage inanimate objects to speak from their perspective.
Psychologist Robert A. Johnson says that the unconscious mind has two ways of communicating with its counterpart the conscious mind: dreams and imagination. With your imagination, you can continue where a dream leaves off and reap what it sows. It’s a powerful method to amplify your dream content and tease out the meaning and significance.
Follow your feelings to the meaning of a dream
When you amplify content from a dream, you focus on feelings that could be overlooked or minimized. We cover examples of that in the discussion above. Now I’m going to let you in on a secret known to most dream interpreters:
Feelings can tell you more about a dream than anything else.
A professional analyst who guides you through interpreting a dream will often ask feeling-based, open-ended questions. They pull a detail from the dream and ask how do you feel about that? It works. Oftentimes, getting a person to open up about their feelings in relation to a dream leads to talking their way to the meaning. Voila! That’ll be $250 per hour, thank you.
Or do it yourself. Here’s what you need to know to get started:
Dreams create scenarios that trigger feelings you have recently experienced or expect to experience. The feelings are in response to what happens in your life, to something that happened or something expected. Think of the phrase “just the thought of it makes me nervous.” For example, you dream about being nervous about taking a test. The scenario triggers the nervous feeling, so you step back and ask, is there something I feel nervous about, and does a test symbolically capture the dynamics of it?
- Perhaps you feel nervous about testing yourself by trying something new.
- You feel nervous because something happening at work or school is testing you in the figurative sense, such as “test your resolve” or “test what you’ve learned.”
- You feel nervous because you’re in a relationship that’s facing a test.
I like to use the example of dreams about cheating because they can be powerfully emotional, easily misinterpreted, and connected with a variety of feelings associated with statements such as “I feel cheated,” or “you’re being unfair,” or “I sense trouble coming.” The dream shows the scenario as cheating in the context of a relationship, but means it in the context of how you feel.
Here, read this: cheating dreams explained.
Dreams about teeth cracking and falling out are also instructive for understanding how dream imagery and scenarios connect with feelings.
- If a dream expresses feelings for you, it’s likely to be amplified. Very difficult feelings to handle (here meant as synonymous with emotions) are fodder for your most powerful dreams where feelings are greatly amplified and felt with full force and effect. Thinking-oriented people tend to try to reason with their feelings, but that might be the source of a problem. The feelings are minimized by the rational mind, which means they are maximized by the feeling mind and amplified in dreams where the rational filters are turned off.
- Describe your dreams in terms of how you feel about everything that happens.
- Use what your body says in response to your dreams. Jean Campbell is a foremost expert in dream-body work. The best I can find online is her paper: DreamWork / BodyWork. An excerpt:
A client came in for her regular session, saying she had a dream she wanted to work. In the dream, she’d been looking for her purse.
“That’s about sexuality, of course,” she told me confidently. “Everyone knows that. Freud said so, right?”
I declined to comment, but led her through an hour of work with becoming the major figures in the dream, feeling how they felt, becoming them by assuming their physical attitudes.
Finally, at the end of the session, I asked her to become the purse. She sat, folded over her bent knees. “I’m so heavy,” she moaned as the purse. Then her head jerked up. “This is my depression,” she said with certainty. By then she was paying attention to her body and the information it was giving her, not just to her mind.Jean Campbell
The story of your life
Traditionally, amplification method is used to connect your dreams with literature and myth to understand how it all connects with your life. Anytime a dream reminds you of a story—novel, motion picture, video game, biography, animated series or cartoon, comic book, legend—refer to it for clues to the meaning. There’s no rule in dreamland against building atop the work of other stories.
See this great example, a dream with parallels to the classic novel Crime and Punishment:
These lessons give you three tools to interpret dream symbolism: associate, simplify, amplify. Next, we begin lessons to teach you three tools for dream story analysis: metaphor, exaggerate, comparison-contrast.