Jungian Dream Interpretation

Carl Jung taught that the structure of a dream is similar to that of a drama, comprised of four different stages:

  1. Exposition: The opening scene, which introduces the place, characters, and situation that the dreamer will face–the issue or problem as expressed through metaphor.
  2. Development: The emergence of the plot.
  3. Culmination: Something significant occurs, and the main character responds.
  4. Lysis: The result or solution of the dream’s action. The lysis signifies how the dreamer might deal with the problem or issue that was expressed during the exposition stage. In effect, the work of the dream has produced a solution or result for the dreamer.

Jung considered the lysis the most important part of the dream because it showed where the dreamer’s energy wanted to go. Daryl Sharp writes, “Where there is no lysis, no solution is in sight” (Jungian Psychology Unplugged).

While some dreams are too short or fragmented to lend themselves to interpretation, the manifest (or remembered) dream can be important. Such a dream contains within itself the actual meaning of the dream; one needn’t understand its esoteric symbols in order to glean the meaning. The dream is a message from the unconscious, spoken through symbols meaningful and peculiar to the dreamer.

A person wanting to interpret a dream may, like Jung, use the method of amplification. This involves elaborating on a dream image in order to find its significance through association. Ask the dreamer the following questions:

  1. What personal associations do you have with the image or symbol? What does this image mean to you? What else? And what else?
  2. What feelings do you have associated with this symbol/image/person in the dream?
  3. What hidden parts of myself might this dream image represent?
  4. Is there a cultural significance to this dream image? If so, what is it?
  5. Are there any archetypal meanings to this image? If so, what are they?

The conscious situation of the dreamer is also quite important. The dream is not an isolated event and cannot be detached from the dreamer’s everyday life. Therefore, a number of conscious attitudes will begin to cluster together within the unconscious. Dreams tend to compensate for these conscious attitudes or personality traits, which will otherwise be repressed, hidden, or forgotten. For example, if the dreamer is repressing his feelings of anger or rage in waking life, he may dream rage-filled, angry dreams to compensate for this. The dream has a balancing effect by producing another point of view for the dreamer. 

Another method of Jung’s that helps with dream interpretation is that of active imagination. The dreamer, once awake, meditates, concentrating on a specific dream image. He then allows the image to develop freely without making a conscious effort to change it, in effect “dreaming the dream on.” This method is particularly helpful when a person is dealing with a series of dreams, or a recurrent and troubling dream.

Finally, one should look at the people in his dreams, because dream people are personifications of one’s complexes. As such, they show our complexes at work in determining our attitudes, which in turn cause our behaviors.

Resources. Dream interpretation isn’t as simple as Googling symbols. In fact, dream interpretation from a Jungian perspective is as complicated and unique as the individual himself. One of the best sources for interpreting dream symbols and images from an archetypal position is Jung’s last psychological work before his death, Man and His Symbols. Anyone wanting to establish good insight into symbolism ought to own this book.

<| Dream Analysis | Freudian Thought |>

9 responses to “Jungian Dream Interpretation”

  1. Phil Lamb Avatar
    Phil Lamb

    I agree totally with John. I find the shortest of dreams take longer to interpret and can throw up the most meaning. Maybe it is a form of active imagination. For me, the dream says as much it as little as it needs and is complete whatever, even if you feel it was cut short by being woken up.

  2. John Avatar

    Oh and a PS, … I’ve not heard of the third stage being called “culmination” … my understanding of it from Jung/Jungians is that it is the “crisis”. To me “culmination” suggests the end of something or pinnacle … yes, I know, it seems like semantics but words are important are they not? I would suggest that the culmination is reached if you “get” the “lycis”

  3. John Avatar

    realise that this is an old thread but in working with clients’ dreams and my own, I have never come across a dream that was too short or brief to work with. I’ve worked with a few lines and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, it can be, “How deep do you want to go?” Psyche has no bottom or boundary … it’s a universe of infinite possibility.

  4. memoirs_still in my hideaway, ghostly dreams « sarah nean bruce ~ living in urbia… Avatar

    […] Jungian Dream Interpretation (The Third Eve) Rate this: sharing {a social media Butterfly Affect}EmailTwitterFacebookMorePrintDiggRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tagged: dream, eX, fiction, Gestalt Therapy, Memoirs of an Angel Faery Witch by s. nightfeather bruce, short story, storyteller, Words Of Wisdom Posted in: Storytelling, Urbia ← the incredibles_west hollywood library architectural wonder with children’s theatre, adjacent park, and library cards One Response “memoirs_still in my hideaway, ghostly dreams&#8221 → […]

  5. sarahneanbruce Avatar

    please read a short faery-tale…by s. nightfeather bruce {me}
    “memoirs of an angel faery witch”
    still in my hideaway, ghostly dreams
    ~> http://wp.me/pSiBm-Jz <~

    i added a link to this most excellent article & an excerpt
    of the "structure of a dream is similar to that of a drama, comprised of four different stages" since i am a storyteller (film, television, books, new medias) and this seems so apropos to me!

  6. dreamcatcher Avatar

    thank you for such an insightful analysis, I remember having recurring dreams about my grandparents’ house; where I spent a lot of time as a child.
    here is a tip for easy dream interpretation : if you have trouble remembering your dreams, keep a notepad next to your bed and when you wake up in the morning, write down what you remember as fast as possible, as you get into the habit, you will remember in more detail and you will remember all your dreams.

  7. ollda97 Avatar

    Thank for this. It lends better tools for dream interpretation.

  8. My Animus and I Go to Drawing Class « The Third Eve Avatar

    […] in my life. If this is your first visit to the blog, you may want to read my first post about Jungian dream interpretation before […]

  9. […] important symbols in a person’s life. You can read about Jungian dream interpretation on the blog The Third Eve and more about dreams as theatre here. There are even people who believe dreams are a way to […]

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