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

Dream interpretation

The strangeness of dreaming, despite it being a regular biological function, encourages myths and fantastic explanation. Our bizarre night-time visitations seem so intensely real and full of meaning when we are having them but remain mostly unfathomable to our conscious mind and are usually quickly forgotten.

Through all historical periods humanity has puzzled over the meaning of remembered dreams and dream interpretation industries have flourished with promises that they can satisfy our natural longing to understand the mysterious 'messages' that dreams seem to carry. The 21st century is no exception, bookshop shelves groan under the weight of dream ‘dictionaries’ and dream interpretation material. And type ‘dream interpretation’ into Google and more than two million results come up.

Much of the fanciful dream interpretation industry, including the ever-popular content of dream dictionaries, is harmless fun, not unlike astrology, but not always. The influence of the idiosyncratic confabulations and fantasies of Freud and Jung for example permeate our culture and have, in some cases produced virulent results, as when therapists interpret dreams as revealing repressed memories of abuse, without any corroborating evidence, and highly suggestible patients, misguided by ignorant ‘therapists’, begin to think that perhaps they were abused.  This is called false memory syndrome.

A real guide to interpreting your own dreams

The ultimate test of the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming is if you are able to use it in your life and, like any truly curious person, we would expect you to test the theory for themselves. What follows are a few pointers as to how to do this.

The first requirement of course is to remember a dream. Dreaming is predominantly a right-brain, metaphorical activity and so the first step is to give voice to it straight away. Write it down, record it on tape or tell somebody about it quickly.  By doing this you activate the parts of your brain that create narrative and memories, predominantly this is a left-brain activity. Otherwise the dream will quickly fade away.

Let’s assume you have remembered a dream. It is rare that a dreamer can see immediately what the dream was about and often, if you tell it to someone who knows you and who is aware of what was going on the previous day, that person will see the metaphorical connection quicker than you will.

There are three main reasons for this. Firstly, on awaking one is still close to our metaphorical mind and that cannot easily ‘read’ itself. Secondly, the arousal in you that produced the dream imagery is now dearoused so it is harder for you to remember what you were worked up about the day before. And, thirdly, we evolved to forget our dreams because we need to be able to distinguish between the metaphorical world of the REM dream state and the ordered reality we see when we are awake. So nature is working to draw a veil over them. (If we didn’t do this we would all suffer from permanent psychosis.)

Once you have the story of a dream secure you can begin to self-reflect in order to grasp its meaning. To create the dream your brain is able to draw on memories and information from any part of your life: childhood events, people you’ve interacted with, or imagined interacting with, characters from books, films and TV programmes, news stories etc. The dream might include puns and wordplay. 

The key to identifying what the dream was about is its emotion.  The emotion in the dream story is always connected to what you felt but did not act upon the previous day.  So you have to make a self-reflective journey back over the story of what happened to you the previous day to discover that connection. Not everyone finds this easy, particularly left-brained people, but those who succeed are able to internalise the truth of this theory and gain a precious element towards self-understanding.

Once you discover the connection to the aroused expectations all the characters and elements of the dream will reveal themselves.

Recurring dreams

If you find yourself having a recurring dream it is because you keep finding yourself in a similar situation, perhaps being bullied or tested in some way, and the brain is using the same or similar metaphor to dearouse you.  Nature is very economical like that and wouldn't keep inventing new metaphors to dearouse the same pattern of behaviour.

How this theory explains other dream theories >

Return to top




> How to interpret your own dreams

> Read some dream examples

> Two houses of cards collapse:
    the seminal dreams of Freud
    and Jung reinterpretated

> The dream of Irma's injection:
    Freud reinterpreted

> Jung's house dream reinterpreted

> Frequently asked questions

> Responses to the theory


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© Copyright Joe Griffin and Human Givens Publishing Ltd. 2007