Comparison in dreams
Analyze a dream’s story for use of comparison and contrast. It can help you see through the overt imagery to see the deeper meaning.
Comparison is at the heart of most symbolism so it’s likely to be found somewhere in a dream. What is a metaphor? It’s a comparison. What is a symbol? It’s a comparison.
When dreams compare things to create meaning and symbolism, they say that one thing is like another. The dreaming mind is masterful at making comparisons. Oftentimes they are exaggerated and metaphorical and spot-on accurate. For example:
- A man drowning in work dreams about a horse drowning in a pond. He stands by and watches it die instead of helping. The dream compares him to a horse because he’s a “work horse,” someone who can carry a big work load. And when he’s “drowning in too much work” he refuses to ask for help. He let’s himself metaphorically drown in it.
- A woman’s trouble-ridden mother is compared to a walrus because she’s a “load to deal with.”
- A young man’s ex-girlfriend is compared to a Black Widow spider because she weaves webs of treachery and manipulation. Another young man’s grandfather is compared to a dinosaur because grandpa “the old dinosaur” has been poking around in his business and keeping a close eye on him.
- The heat of an oven is compared to the heat of desire to get pregnant. The heat of a raging fire is compared to the heat of intense anger. The heat of strong light is compared to the heat of close scrutiny.
- Marriage is compared to making a commitment to a social cause because marriage is a commitment. When dreams compare marriage to a commitment to create meaning and symbolism, it’s usually used to describe a big commitment.
- Kidnapping is comparable to being forced to do something against your will. It’s exaggerated but it fits. In one young woman’s dream, her father kidnaps her and professes undying love for her. Kidnapping in this dream is compared to the dreamer’s feeling that her father places too many restrictions on her. He’s “madly in love,” an exaggerated way of saying he loves his daughter very much and that’s why he’s overprotective.
- Pregnancy is comparable (in dreams) to being pregnant with an idea or feeling.
Comparisons in dreams stand out for their humor, appropriateness, metaphorical symbolism and so on. I usually find the reason for it in the storytelling of the dream. A powerful comparison draws attention to itself and expresses underlying dynamics such as strong feelings, personal affinity, special talent or ability, importance in the psyche, importance in life, or potential for healing and growth. The clues are subtle but you can spot them once you are familiar with how dreams tell stories.
Spiders in dreams… oh the possibilities for symbolism through comparison:
No stretching of a comparison goes too far. It’s fair game if it creates symbolism and is effective for telling the story. The dreaming mind is not political correct; it doesn’t follow our norms and conventions. It can make comparisons that absolutely shock the pants off you, such as when it compares feeling too close with a family members to incest, or feeling violated or humiliated to rape.
All too often, people who have such dreams go the wrong direction for understanding their meaning. They tend to think literally when the dream is meant figuratively.
Contrast in dreams
Dreams use contrast, too. Contrast can be a satirical way of seeing into your personal blind spots. Such as when a dream character appears to be completely opposite of you, and it represents something about yourself you have trouble seeing or don’t want to know. For example, a dream contrasts an inflated ego is contrasted with characters that are humble or lowly. Or it contrasts a deflated ego with a scene of triumph or public recognition, to build up the dreamer’s confidence.
Contrast is often created through comparison with dream characters—imaginary ones or ones based on people you know—that are opposite of how you behave and perceive yourself. For example, a woman dreams about a co-worker touching her suggestively. She resists at first but it doesn’t take long till she’s completely distracted. The insight that leads to interpreting the dream is found in the contrast between the dreamer and the co-worker. The dreamer has been easily distracted at work lately, and the co-worker is someone she describes as the most focused worker in her office.
Sometimes dreams put dream characters together that contrast with each other. For example, when is young and one is old, one is white and one is deeply colored, one is male and one is female, one is beautiful and one is comparatively ugly or plain. The psyche is made of opposite called archetypes, and archetypes can show up in dreams as opposites pairs of characters.
This is a key insight for interpreting some of the contrasting pairs of characters that appear in dreams. See the bottom of this page for a link to an extended lesson.
Opposites and dissimilar things appear together in dream scenes to create comparisons and contrasts. Your job is to figure out why. For example, a dream creates contrast between a scene outside a building that’s bright and sunny and a scene inside that’s dark and gloomy. It could symbolize a dynamic such as putting on a “sunny face” while secretly feeling depressed or sad.
Dreams can compare and contrast a time in the past with the present to show how the past connects with the present. They can compare and contrast between fantasy, reality, and expectation to show you what’s possible and what’s not; between how you think you are perceived socially and how you’re actually perceived; between your traits and qualities and someone else’s.
Comparison and contrast can create obvious discrepancies with reality, and those discrepancies are indications to look for symbolism. For example, you dream about a mouse holding up an elephant, something only possible in the dream world. It’s obviously symbolism, and it could mean that a person with a huge reputation, symbolized by the elephant, is supported by the comparatively little people around her or him.
An old rule of thumb in dream psychology is people react most strongly to what they see or don’t see about themselves in other people. It can spark an overreaction if they compare themselves, subconsciously or not, to someone or something else and don’t like what they see. For example, a parent harshly punishes a child for a minor infraction, not realizing that they react so strongly to what they see and don’t like about themselves in the child. They then dream about a child killer on the loose, an exaggerated comparison with their behavior that’s in a sense killing their child.
Comparison and contrast in dreams are ideal for showing how close or far apart something is in the figurative or personal sense. Think of when someone says “we’re far apart on this issue.” It means a big difference in opinion, viewpoint, feelings, or perception. A dream could show “far apart” figuratively as physical distance. Contrast is another way to do it, too. Dream characters that strongly contrast with you or each other can symbolize personal distance between people. Contrast can be used to show a wide gap between beliefs, values, principles, desires.
For example, a young doctor dreams about battling a cloned copy of himself that’s exact in every way except for the strong contrast in how it appears compared to the dreamer’s appearance. The clone is clean and angelic, while the dreamer is covered in dirt and grime. The dream shows a strong contrast between the image the dreamer thinks is expected to maintain as a doctor (the clone), and the reality that his job is dirty in the figurative sense. His personality is far from “angelic.” He doesn’t see himself as fitting the “perfectly clean” image.
On the other hand, think of when someone says “we see eye to eye on this issue.” How could a dream use comparison to tell that story? Obviously, through the symbolism and use of eyes in a story, and through showing close physical proximity. It could show it through similarity in dress, appearance, and behavior.
To understand how dreams derive the symbolism, think of when a person might say “we have sharply contrasting opinions.” If you were the dreaming mind tasked with turning that idea into imagery and action, how would you show the idea of contrasting opinions? You could create contrast in appearance, behavior, demeanor, tone, conditions and so forth.
Comparing and contrasting your dream self with your “real” self
I think everyone has noticed how much different they can behave in a dream compared to how they behave when awake. When we enter into the dream space we don’t bring our usual inhibitions, thought processes and self-conception, so we may behave in ways that can be quite shocking and revealing of what we really think and feel.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean if you dream about cheating on your partner or killing a puppy in a dream it means that’s what you really want to do. Instead, you could view such behavior as an expression of how you really feel about something. For example, what if the puppy symbolizes a tendency in you to act docile or obedient? Then you could interpret killing it as meaning you will no longer act docile or obedient. What appears to be an act of brutality that’s strongly contrasted with how you actually behave is actually a brave act of asserting yourself against programmed tendencies.
Or say that you dream about being a tough kid in an urban neighborhood and walk around fearlessly despite the apparent danger all around you. Is there something in how you behave in the dream that you can carry with you into the waking world? Compare the behavior you observe in your dream self with the behavior of your waking self. If there’s a contrast, do you see potential to be more like the version of yourself in the dream?
Now compare and contrast those responses with your daytime responses. Are you docile and obedient instead of what you want to be or see yourself as being? Are you fearless or fearful?
You can learn more about yourself by pondering how you feel and think differently in dreams than in waking life. Dreams project your inner world onto the screen of your mind’s eye for you to experience that world more deeply than while awake. Everything you see in a dream represents something within you, and your interaction with it while dreaming can carry over into your waking life.
As the dream shaman Robert Moss says in his book Conscious Dreaming: “In dreaming, what we identify with is what we become.” For the gamers out there, you can think of it as equipping your character or avatar. A dream is a sort of “options menu” and your choices while dreaming determine which options become part of you.
When a person says in response to something that happened in their dream, “I’d never behave that way” or “I wish I could be that way,” it’s an invitation to dig deeper. They create their dreams to show themselves things, and sometimes what you learn to see in a dream is not shown directly through its content. You learn by noting the similarities and differences between your dream self and your waking self.
This lesson, comparison and contrast in dreams, is the last of D3 Step 2. You’re ready to use what you’ve learned in the first two steps! Next up is Step 3: Connect and Reflect.