The meaning of dreams according to Jungian psychology

From antiquity to the present day, various cultures have regarded the dream as a door to a magical dimension that allows them to predict the future or to communicate with spirits or other intangible entities. Many of these beliefs are still part of contemporary popular culture still in the West..

In 1900, the creator of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud published his book The Interpretation of Dreams, introducing its study into modern science no longer as a form of communication with metaphysical entities, but as a symbolic expression of the unconscious of individuals.

Based on Freud’s pioneering research on dreams, methodologies and conceptualizations linked within certain psychological schools were developed, such as Alfred Adler’s individual psychology or Gestalt psychology; but Carl Gustav Jung’s Jungian analytical psychology is probably the perspective that has come to place more emphasis on the interpretation of dreams as a fundamental part of the psychotherapeutic process. Let’s see how the subject of dreams is approached from this school.

What is the origin of dreams?

In Jungian psychology, dreams are considered products of nature; emanations of this creative force implicit in the conformation of cells, in the tissues of the leaves of trees, in our skin and in cultural and artistic expressions. They are therefore attributed an intrinsic wisdom which is expressed through symbolic images.

For Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, creator of analytical psychology, this creative force uses waking impressions, daytime debris, and our life experiences to construct the images and stories of our dreams.

The matrix of dreams: the archetypes of the collective unconscious

According to Jung, the Freudian approach to the unconscious as a reservoir of repressed sexual desires was not sufficient to account for these contents unrelated to the personal history of individuals.

Jung noticed that often in the delusions and hallucinations of his psychiatric patients, as well as in the dreams of people in general, themes, stories and characters spontaneously emerge which, when examined and interpreted, come to save a similarity. striking with the mythological accounts. who have accompanied humanity at different times and places. Jung argued that this similarity cannot always be attributed to a direct or indirect contact between the individual and these ideas during their daily actions, so he deduced that these stories and symbols emerge from a common creative source, to which he called the collective unconscious.

The typical motifs of mythological stories, delusions and dreams for Jung they are symbolic expressions of universal models of behavior and meaning that we have inherited from humans as a species, which he called archetypes.

Archetypes are considered to be the psychic correlates of biological instincts and would function as mechanisms for self-regulation, integration and promotion of psychic development. They are also considered to be containers and transmitters of wisdom common to all mankind.

Dreams as a representation of the hero archetype

The archetypal myth of the hero’s journey (humble and miraculous birth, individual called on a mission, meeting with the master, interaction with allies and adversaries, trials, struggle against evil, descent into hell, meeting with the treasure, marriage with the princess, etc. ..) which is in the structure of many ancient and contemporary stories, it is considered to be the symbolic manifestation of the process of psychic transformation that all individuals they are driven to perform throughout their lives.

This transformation aims at the deployment of the unique potentials of each individual, the experience of his most authentic personality, his vocation, his unique contribution to the world. Accompanying this process of transformation, called the process of individuation, is the goal of Jungian psychotherapy.

From Jungian theory, variations and fragments of the hero’s mythical tale are portrayed every night in our dreams through the way the archetypes are embodied in individuals i.e. the affective complexes.

Dreams as the personification of affective complexes

Complexes are a set of emotionally charged ideas and thoughts that form from personal experiences related to the theme of an archetype. The father complex, for example, is nourished by the personal and singular experiences we have had with our own father and other father figures, always within the framework of the archetype of the universal “father”.

Still according to Jung, complexes are the building blocks of our psyche and behave like sub-personalities which are activated under certain circumstances of the external or internal world. Thus, an emotion disproportionate to the context (jealousy, desire for power, envy, falling in love, fear of failure or success) could indicate that we are acting under the influence of a complex, and that our interaction with the reality is publicized. . The intensity of the activation of a complex conditions the degree of subjectivity we project on people and external circumstances in a given situation.

The role of complexes

Complexes have the power to be personified in our dreams, And are formed according to Jung in the writers, directors, actors and screenplays of our dream world.

While we are dreaming, we can then converse with an old sage represented by a teacher or teacher whom we admire; we are confronted with our shadow under the clothes of an acquaintance or a neighbor who finds us irritating; we have received miraculous help from a silent childhood companion. The archetype of the shaman or healer can be represented by a doctor or our therapist.

We have erotic relationships with contemporary heroes or heroines. We overcome obstacles, we flee from murderers, we are victims and perpetrators; we want, we have climbed sacred mountains; we get lost in labyrinths, our house is destroyed by an earthquake, we survive floods, we die and sometimes we are also reborn with another body; we go back to university or college again and again to take an exam on a subject that we have left hanging. All experiences as real as those of waking life.

We then consider that in most of the time, the characters and situations in our dreams represent aspects of ourselves which must be integrated and recognized.

A constant journey

From Jungian psychology, the dream is the dramatization of our journey to the depths, in search of our treasure, of our most authentic being. It is in a series of dreams, rather than in an isolated dream, that the different stages of this journey are shown.

Outraged, Jung realized that the process of psychic transformation, besides being expressed in the hero myth, also had correspondences in the descriptions of the alchemical transformation.Images sometimes arise spontaneously in dreams as well.

What are dreams for?

According to Jung’s ideas, dreams allow us to access the symbolic and deep meaning of our life experiences. They would be a symbol, in the sense of reunion, of bridge, with the singular needs of the psyche, and for this reason Jung believed that they transmitted possible modes of action before the questions that have accompanied humanity since its beginnings. .

In Jungian psychology, therapeutic work with dreams is offered as a tool which helps in the identification of our complexes and their progressive awareness. From this stream, it is believed that working with dreams helps to recognize patterns of behavior and relationships that may be problematic.

How do dreams work?

For Jungian psychology, the psyche works as a self-regulating system with a tendency to balance opposing elements (conscious-unconscious, chiaroscuro, feminine-masculine) in increasingly complex and integrated states. Dreams, like any other expression of the subconscious, like symptoms, they would have a goal and a function in this process of integration and psychic evolution.

In view of the above, Jungian psychology does not focus on the origin of dreams, for example a repressed desire, but on its purpose. In other words, it calls into question what a certain dream seeks to affect in relation to the psychic development of people.

Archetypal dreams

Archetypal dream images are more obvious, and those who have difficulty finding personal associations were referred to by Jung as big dreams. According to his ideas, big dreams or archetypal dreams often precede vital circumstances that involve big qualitative transformations such as adolescence, maturity, marriage, serious illness or death.

Archetypal dreams can sometimes be more related to collective phenomena than with the subjective life of people.

How are dreams interpreted?

A characteristic of dreams is that we find them confusing and irrational. However, for Jungian psychology, dreams do not conceal, keep or censor the contents they transmit, as Freudian psychoanalysis considers, but express deep, complex and paradoxical knowledge inaccessible to the rational approach to through metaphors, analogies and correspondences of his images. .

To express oneself through symbolic language, its translation or interpretation is necessary. Jung considered that dreams perform their function even if we do not remember or understand them, but that their study and interpretation increase and accelerate their effectiveness.

Beyond that literally

The interpretation of dreams involves an openness to symbolic consciousness, Also called poetic, which allows access to the deep dimension of events, both internal and external, beyond their literalness. This idea is maintained throughout the dream interpretation phases described below.


Since the unconscious is considered a compensating factor for our conscious attitudes, the first step in the interpretation of a dream from Jungian psychology is the contextualization, Which involves investigating the dreamer’s conscious thoughts, values ​​and feelings in relation to sleep-related issues.


later we proceed to the identification of personal meanings and associations which evoke in the dreamer the images of his dream.

The fact that images in a dream have individual meaning depending on each person’s personal history, is one reason why from the Jungian point of view, the use of dream meaning dictionaries is discouraged.

Although there are typical patterns in dreams, these need to be addressed in the particular context of each individual. Schematic meanings, rather than widening the gaze of comprehension, tend to limit it and make literal what is quite toxic.


Contextualizing and identifying personal meanings lays the foundation for choosing symbolic material from mythology, folklore, and art that may be conducive to amplifying the sense of sleep.

Amplification consists of go to images of universal symbolism related to sleep, Provide meanings that expand the overall framework of our personal dramas and offer possible courses of action based on human experience accumulated over thousands of years.


We then try to synthesize the multiple meanings that have emerged in the process. Given the polysemous nature of dreams, interpretations provisional hypotheses are proposed which can be more or less confirmed through a series of dreams.

The role of the therapist

In addition to employing knowledge in mythology, folklore, comparative religions and the psychology of peoples, Jung felt that in order to correctly interpret dreams, analysts had to undergo didactic analysis so that their own complexes did not interfere with interpretations. dreams of their patients. Dream interpretation is an activity carried out jointly between analyst and patient and only makes sense in the context of this interaction.

In the early stages of a Jungian analysis, the therapist usually takes a more active role in this activity, but openness and permeability to the content of the unconscious should be one of the learnings that patients deploy throughout. analysis. The symbolic perspective that allows us to understand the messages of our dreams is then seen as a resource that patients can rely on once the psychotherapeutic process is completed.

Bibliographical references:

  • Francesc, ML (1984). On dreams and death. Barcelona: Editorial Kairós.
  • Francesc, M.-L.., Et Boa, F. (1997). The path of dreams: Dra. House-Louise von Franz in conversations with Fraser Boa. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Four Winds.
  • Jung, CG (1982). Psychic energy and essence of sleep. Barcelona: Paidós.
  • Jung, CG (1990a). The relations between the Self and the Unconscious. Barcelona: Editorial Paidós.
  • Jung, CG (1991a). Archetypes and the collective unconscious. Barcelona: Editorial Paidós
  • Jung, CG (2001). The complexes and the unconscious. Barcelona: Editorial Alianza

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