Why do we dream?
  The expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming
sleep and dreams

Dream examples

On this page are dream examples followed with interpretations from the expectation fufilment theory, so you can see how our brains work metaphorically and perhaps understand better how you can use this theory to interpret your own dreams and use their meaning constructively.

The chocolate aunts

We are going to a party. My family is there. I am walking along the road with my cousin and all our aunts and uncles. We call into a shop for sweets. My cousin gets served but the girl behind the counter doesn't seem to understand my instructions. She keeps getting the wrong bar of chocolate and seems very rude. We go into another shop and I get an old-fashioned bag of Maltesers and we eat these small balls of honeycomb covered in milk chocolate.

We then see other aunts and my mother walking up the road. All of them look as though they have been put through a chocolate machine; they all appear as different types of chocolate. I notice that my mother appears as my favourite chocolate. She is some distance behind my aunts. I am annoyed that they are not waiting for her. My family are talking about a skirt that had been given to them by granny. It is decided to give it to me. I try it on and it fits me perfectly.

This dream was told to Joe Griffin by a nurse and is based on the following waking experiences:

1. A member of the dreamer's family had invited her to a party the previous day. The anticipated party provides the setting for the dream.

2. A senior nurse, on her ward round the previous day she had been accompanied by an inexperienced junior nurse who seemed unable to carry out correctly the instructions she gave her and had been rather insolent. This is represented in the dream by her difficulty in getting served by the rude shop assistant.

3. The old-fashioned bag of chocolates relates to her weakness for chocolate (she had actually bought some on the way home from work the previous evening). The 'old fashioned' relates to her view that this weakness is handed down through the generations in her family.

4. The image of her aunts and mother as bars of chocolate relates to a conversation she had had a couple of days earlier with her boyfriend, concerning her diet and weight. He had said that, unless she was careful, she would continue to put on weight, as all her family were overweight — hence her perception of her aunts and mother as bars of chocolate. These ideas were restimulated (i.e. introspected about) by her guilty feelings at buying chocolate on her way home.

5. Another dream theme is the annoyance she feels when she sees her mother falling behind her aunts and her aunts not waiting for her. This reflects her concern for her mother, who had recently had heart trouble. She felt annoyed when she learned that her aunts were rushing to their doctors to have their hearts checked without waiting to see how her mother got on. Thinking about weight had led her to recall her annoyance at her aunts' recent behaviour.

6. The final theme is that of the skirt given by her grandmother which fits her perfectly. Her aunts and her mother inherit their
figure from her grandmother. The 'perfectly fitting' skirt is an analogy for inheriting the family 'figure', caused by liking sweet things, which she thinks she has inherited.

What is really interesting about this dream is that, at first sight, it seems to be an exception to the rule. All our examples of dreams so far have illustrated the rule that everything perceived in a dream is a metaphorical representation of something else connected with a waking event. (This rule is not, of course, contradicted by those dreams where the dreamer is aware of a person's presence without actually perceiving them in a dream.) The difference with this dream is that the dreamer's mother and her aunts actually appear as themselves, but the dreamer's introspection of them as being overweight as a result of their liking for sweet things has — bizarrely — metaphorically transformed their bodies into different types of chocolate bars.

This makes it clear that what is going on in the dream is not a symbolic replacement in order to disguise identity, à la Freud, but rather a metaphorical manifestation of the introspected waking perception. Usually this involves replacing a real person with someone else who stands in a metaphorically similar relationship to the dreamer, but in this case it was the bodies of the people that were introspected about when awake that were used to express the analogy, whilst leaving the aunt's and mother's perceived identities intact.

The Stalker

There is an old castle with a central courtyard. I am three storeys high on an external stone landing that runs around the outside of the building. I am running away from a man who is following me. Part of the pathway ahead of me has collapsed. There are some stones lying around. I am trying to make my way past the broken part of the landing by walking close to the building.

If we examine the above dream from the point of view of an analogy or metaphor for the way this woman views something that is happening in her life, then the dream obviously relates to a recurring anxiety she has. In it, she is under stress from two scources: her unknown pursuer and the collapse of the pathway ahead of her. The fact that this dream has repeated itself for a number of years indicates either that a particular situation keeps recurring or that the dreamer has a characteristic way of percieving challenging situations.

In either case, the dream gives a picture of how the dreamer sees herself reacting in certain situations - a picture that straightforward questioning within a therapy session would probably not reveal. The dream is not only an accurate metaphor of a given situation in the dreamer's life; it also presents a powerful metaphor that can be used therapeutically. For instance, through guided imagery, a therapist might encourage the woman to see the stairway leading up or down, representing the idea that most problematic circumstances aren't either/or situations: there can be other options. In this way the dream is interpreted metaphorically and used constructively.

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> How to interpret your own dreams

> Summary of the theory


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© Copyright Joe Griffin and Human Givens Publishing Ltd. 2007