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Dream Characters

Exploring the reasons we bring certain people into our dreams

By Susan Baragia

One of the more confusing and fascinating images that our dreaming brain creates is dream characters. How often have you woken up from a dream and asked yourself "Now, why on earth did I just dream about my old boyfriend from high school?" or "why would I dream about my first grade teacher?" Dream characters can be people we know, people who have died, public people, combinations of people, shadow figures, or even archetypal characters. The important point is that your unconscious chose to bring them into your dream for a reason. Sometimes the reason seems not only puzzling, but totally incomprehensible. I once dreamed of Ringo Starr from the Beatles! Now why on earth did I bring him into my dream? I'll attempt to explain why we bring in various dream characters and how, once examined, our characters reveal the hidden messages intended to help us in our daily lives.

Dreams are our way of maintaining balance in our lives. They help us sort out problems, present solutions, reveal creative ideas, and can symbolically alert us to current social, physical, and spiritual issues. Because our right brain is engaged in dreaming most of the time, our dreams have to present information symbolically and metaphorically. One way our dreaming mind does this is through dream characters. Some dream theorists believe dream characters are always parts of us and don't really represent the actual character. I don't believe it is that simple. I believe the dream character can be parts of ourselves, parts of other people we admire, envy, respect or even disdain. Dream characters can occur in dreams simply because of what their names symbolically represent.

In Our Dreaming Mind (Robert Van De Castle, 1994) a study is mentioned by C. Brooks Brenneis who examined differences between the characters in male and female dreams. Male students surveyed usually plaid a pivotal role in their own dreams, while females seem to create an atmosphere of personal closeness full of people they know. In my work with both male and female dreamers, I notice males often have dreams full of action and aggressive acts, while females often dream inside structures, with groups of people that they know or don't know, but seldom report dreams without other characters. Ultimately every dreamer is unique and individual, so we need to be careful about any assumptions or generalizations we make about gender dreams.

Let's examine how characters carry messages to the dreamer. Imagine a dream where the dreamer is carrying on a conversation with a friend from her past. In the conversation the dreamer is angry, and is telling the friend that she hurt and humiliated her. The friend is looking at the dreamer with a smirk. The dreamer says "listen to me!". The dream ends.

When the dreamer reflects on the dream, she remembers the old friend as kind, caring, and a wonderful listener. Why did she bring this friend into her dream? Here are some questions the dreamer could ask herself:

How would I describe my friend? Do I share any of my friend's characteristics?

Does this friend remind me of anyone in my waking life currently?

If this friend were a part of me, and if I was actually talking to myself in the dream, what part of myself am I not listening to?

Is this friend symbolic of someone in my life who I am shutting out; someone I am not listening to?

Dream characters can pop up in dreams simply because of their names or their positions socially. Perhaps Ringo Starr came into my dream to connect the words ring and star. Is there a reminder I need about a ring. Does the word ring represent something I need to think about? Or perhaps the word Starr is the trigger. Remembering that dream characters are seldom about the actual character, but are more about what your associations are with the character is important. Once you begin to analyze this, you will begin to reveal the dream's hidden message.

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