Dream characters: they’re all you
Think of your dream as a movie projector, the screen as your mind’s eye, and the film as pictures of your inner world. Everything you see on the screen is a projection from within you, especially the characters, except in rare cases. Parts of you personify, and while they can take form as objects and settings, they usually take form as dream characters. They’re all you.
Or the character represents part of you: a personality trait, thought, emotion, feeling, perception, attitude, behavior pattern, belief — or a whole mess of thoughts, emotions, etc. (see below: “Groups of Characters”).
This lesson is Dream Characters Part II. Before continuing, be sure to read Dream Character Part I:
Think of it this way. You dream you walk into a room full of people who talk and interact. You listen in and hear conversations, and you can tell these people know each other by the way they talk. Now think of it as your head talking with heart, your mind with your body, or your body with its many organs and systems.
Do you hear the guy talking about feeling ill after drinking too much last night? That’s your liver talking when it’s overwhelmed.
The lady wearing the hat that doesn’t fit talks about walking in the rain without shoes. She symbolizes a tendency to do something before you are ready (leave without shoes), and to do things that don’t “fit you” (the hat).
See the person in the corner avoiding everyone? That’s shyness personified, or your powers of observation, or a skill or ability you don’t use
See the person talking and no one is listening? That’s an inner voice everyone ignores, including you.
They’re all you because they’re all products of your imagination giving shape and form to aspects of yourself. In fact, your dreams and imagination share the same brain cells for their processing. Some things in your dreams can originate from outside of you, but one way or another it all has to be received in the mind and turned into dream imagery. Which means it’s all coming from inside you.
Groups of dream characters
A dream is more likely to use groups of characters to represent related groupings. For example, a group of students or co-workers fighting can symbolize turbulent thoughts about something that happened at school or work. But if the dream focuses on a particular student, it’s more likely to connect symbolically with something singular, such as a feeling about a situation or person. It’s a general tendency to note about dream storytelling.
Groups of characters can symbolize ideas like “in general,” “group effort,” and “group opinion.” Our lives are shaped by our roles in society and interactions with groups. Dreams use groups of characters to tell stories about how you interact with specific groups such as family members, friends, classmates, and co-workers.
A group of co-workers can symbolize something about work such as how you feel about it in general. But think broadly and with the insight that most dreams for most people are focused on their inner life. So think of the aforementioned group of co-workers as combinations of personal traits you use on the job: drive, discipline, creativity, social skills, time-management, organization.
Or as the co-workers of the intellect: rationality, intuition, skill, factual perceptions.
Or as the co-workers of the spirit: honesty, restraint, dedication, love.
Groups of dream characters can be used to show you how you act and react among groups of people, or where your place is among the masses or within a particular group such as a social circle. For example, if a dream wants to address the subject of your place in society, it can show you among thousands of people in a stadium and they all play one role: to represent society.
Group vs. singular
Different dynamics can be involved with a singular dream character, such as when you dream about a specific co-worker and that person is a main actor in the story. The subject of the dream could involve your work relationship with that person, something you share in common such as work situation or position, or something you see reflected about yourself in the person. You could say that the symbolism is more personal than with groups of characters, but I want to remind you that any advice or teaching I offer is based on tendencies I’ve observed about dreams, not hard rules.
Here’s an example of a dream character that straddles the line. A woman has recurring dreams about striking up an office romance with a co-worker. He’s someone she works with closely in waking life, and she’s bothered by the implications of her dreams because she has a personal rule to never get romantically involved with people at work.
But the dream romance is an exaggerated dramatization of her feelings about working well with her co-worker. They have chemistry — work chemistry. There doesn’t have to be anything romantic about it. Romance is a symbolic way of capturing the dynamics of the situation. It’s metaphorical.
The man in her dream is based on the man she works with. The situation with him is the subject of the dream, so when she thinks of him as a dream character she’s reaching into her work life and specifically to the situation with him. But he’s still depicted in her dreams based on her thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. The dream character is represented subjectively.
Other dreams can be more direct, such as when you dream that a co-worker is about to quit or get ill and it really happens soon afterward. It’s possible that you pick up information subconsciously or just through observation and it’s woven into the story, or you could say it’s ESP ( or “PSI,” the term used in the scientific study of such phenomena). In such a case, when you see that person in a dream you can think of the character as a direct representation.
When you dream about groups such as families, co-workers or classmates, people you know from those groups can be cast as characters in the story. It’s a clue to look at your life involving those people for the source of the dream: recent events, situations, and circumstances and/or your thoughts and feelings about them.
But here’s a twist we’ve all experienced. You dream about being part of a family that’s imaginary, and you accept them as your family. Or you dream about friends but they aren’t people you recognize. These characters are likely to represent related subjects or ideas, such as when you call your teammates your “family.” Or think of the personal qualities a person possesses that makes them “friendly.” If it’s more than one quality, a dream presents the qualities as a group of friends.
The rule of hand is, if the dream populates the story with groups of people you know, look for the subject or source of the dream first in your outer life events and circumstances with them. Then explore your inner life thoughts and feelings. Fictional characters are more likely in stories that begin with inner life and go deeper into the roots of your mind and psyche. Specific people tend to connect symbolically with specific subjects, and people in general tend to connect with general subjects.
Dreams can use a storytelling tactic where some members fill in for the entire group, such as when one member of a family represents all of them (usually the youngest, oldest, or most identifiable member.) A dream could use a coach to represent an entire team, or a pastor to represent the congregation. In a very memorable dream I helped to interpret, the dreamer dry humps her cousin as every other cousin from her large family looks on. It symbolizes her feeling that her cousins know every intimate detail about her life. They’re presented as a group to mean “all my cousins.”
A construction manager dreams he’s driving high-speed while rounding a sharp curve. He looks over and sees a group of contractors he manages at work driving alongside him. The main guy reaches through his window to grab his steering wheel. He fends off the contractor while barely staying on the road. The dream symbolizes a situation where the contractors he manages are constantly trying to dictate to him how to do things, and he has to fend them off while keeping control of a fast-moving project. The dream sums up the situation in the image of the main guy trying to grab his steering, meaning take control. The dream picks one group of contractor to symbolize all of them.
You are a character in the story
You are a character in a dream’s story. You have a role. You act that role and follow a script. Sometimes the script is written to present a scenario then allow you to react, and your reaction determines how the rest of the story unfolds. Other times the role is scripted beginning to end and you follow it subconsciously. Sometimes the role’s a portrayal that sticks closely to waking life reality, and sometimes the role is a characterization, completely imaginary.
Understanding the roles you and other characters play is important for understanding dreams. Here are two extended lessons.
What dream characters symbolize
The spectrum of what dream characters symbolize is as broad as an ocean. Be sure to read the chapter on dream symbolism to get the gist of how it works. Here’s a quick rundown. These interpretations are understood in the context of an overall dream and the person’s life, and are summaries.
- A walrus in a cage in the dreamer’s garage. The walrus represents her mother, who’s a “load to deal with,” especially when she visits the dreamer’s home. The dreamer would like to keep her under control and at a distance, symbolized respectively by the cage and the garage. The walrus is a satirical representation of the dreamer’s mother.
- The Grim Reaper: Tied to an experience of toying with death, a message that’s amplified.
- A man with gun shoots dreamer in the head and kills him. The man symbolizes the dreamer’s deep desire to change himself. He’s stuck and needs a dramatic jolt.
- Charon the Ferryman: Symbolizes the idea of moving on from the past.
- Mom dies multiple ways: The relationship between the dreamer and her mom is changing.
- Hitting father in dream: The character represents the dreamer’s father, basically, and is used in the dream to help her work through issues from their past. The character in the story is “bad dad,” and while based on the actual person, it’s still a portrayal.
- Donald Trump: The link takes you to a post that gives a few examples. In one dream, Trump is a projection of the combative side of the dreamer’s uncle (a big Trump fan). In another dream, Trump represents hatred of Mexicans. Be sure to read about the dream where Trump is a young woman’s new gynecologist. In that dream, Trump symbolizes Big Business and heartlessness.
- Adele: The dreamer volunteers to become Adele’s new stylist. Adele represents a side of the dreamer that wants to be seen but fears being judged. By assuming the role of Adele’s stylist, the dreamer is saying to herself that she can be comfortable in the spotlight by showing her personal style.
- A cute grey kitten: Represents the dreamer’s unborn son. The dream convinces her to keep the baby rather than abort the pregnancy.
- Animals and creatures: They symbolize personal qualities, traits, instincts, and much more.
- Dad dies and sister is in a pageant: The dream characters and what happens to them in the dream personify the dreamer’s observations.
- Soulmate: This person dreams about her soulmate then meets him in waking life.
Notice the variety of ways characters are used as symbolism in these dream stories. It’s why understanding dream characters AND symbolism are vitally important.
Characters can symbolize something intangible such as authority or ambition. In which case, the character is a physical representation of something deeper. It’s like a costume. For example, principals and police officers are authority figures and can be used to represent authority. A celebrity can symbolize ambition because becoming a celebrity often begins with the ambition. Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, can symbolize intelligence — he’s well-known for his intelligence. Donald Trump can symbolize bluster.
Notice how dream characters act
Some characters no real intelligence or ability to anything beyond the narrow role scripted for them. I call them “extras,” like people in the background of a movie. But some are distinctly intelligent and able to think and react on the fly. You can say or do something unexpected and these intelligent dream characters react with intelligent, wisdom, cleverness, erudition, and even humor and satire. But the “movie extra” characters do not react well to the unexpected.
Dream characters can know more about you than you do and even be knowledgeable about subjects you know nothing about consciously, a sure sign of something deeper at work. Noting these differences between characters is essential to understanding their symbolism. Characters with distinct intelligence are more likely to represent an aspect of yourself personified, a part of the psyche, the Self archetype, another archetype, or even something beyond you.
Anima and animus are two such characters:
Shadow is another autonomous part of the psyche brought to life in dreams:
These parts of you are able to draw from the intelligence of the whole and even tap our collective knowledge and wisdom (the “collective unconscious”) and other dimensions of reality. They’re autonomous and have their own viewpoints, opinions, agendas and knowledge.
Archetypes, by definition, originate from outside of ordinary space and time. It’s a little-known part of the theory originated by Dr. Carl Jung in consultation with Wolfgang Pauli, a Nobel Laureate physicist. When these characters take form in your dreams, they show outside forces working through you that tap into timeless wisdom and knowledge, and they appear in dreams as distinctly intelligent and aware.
On the other hand, characters that act programmed are more likely to represent something such as a function of the body that’s way outside conscious control: digestion, circulation, organ function. They can represent autonomous functions of the mind such as vision and hearing. Or they can represent a subject, idea, pattern, wish, and so on.
Dreams can use characters just to fill a scene and create atmosphere like movie extras, less important in the scheme of things. They don’t veer off-script and can’t answer pointed questions very well.
Dreams create virtual realities to help you better understand yourself and your life, answer questions and work through issues. Some dream characters are invented simply to populate the environment. They’re part of a simulation. These characters have no real autonomy and act programmed when observed closely. Remember, though, that the virtual reality of dreams can also include dream characters that are distinctly intelligence and able to react on the fly.
Even if a dream only refers to a character or type of character, analyze it as part of the story. ”Everyone hide, the police are coming!” If that’s part of a dream, the symbolism of a police officer comes into play.
Other techniques for dream interpretation and story analysis
Everything in dreams, including dream characters, is understood in context.
Connect the dots between the details of a dream. You can find out what characters symbolize by how they connect in the story with other story elements and narrative components.
Reflect on your life and zero in on recent events in your life — outer and inner life — if the people who appear as characters in your dreams are part of them. It’s a clue that the dream is processing a memory associated with the event.
Watch out for wordplays and other storytelling devices.
And be sure to note when comparisons and contrasts are made. See the second link below for more on that subject.
Next Lesson: Dream Symbols