What is a recurring or reoccurring dream? Why do we have recurring dreams? What are the most common recurring dreams, and what do they mean? How can you stop an upsetting dream from recurring?
You’ve probably noticed that most recurring dreams have unsatisfactory endings or unresolved endings. Even the good ones are sad to leave behind, leaving you feeling unsatisfied when you wake up. Something always feels unfinished, unaddressed, or conflicted. These dreams reflect something in your waking life that feels unresolved, unfinished, unaddressed, or conflicted. Each time that situation or issue comes up in your waking life, so does the dream. This is how it works:
All dreams reflect what’s been going on for you during the last 24 – 48 hours. Your dreaming mind is sorting through all your experiences – the conscious ones and the unconscious ones – comparing them to your past experiences and memories (which is why you often dream of the past) and generally updating your beliefs about the world and your place in it. It’s a bit like updating your hard drive, where your hard drive is everything you think, feel and believe about the world, consciously and unconsciously.
So, what your dreams do is give a picture – in bizarre symbols – of who you feel you are and how you feel and think. So, whenever things don’t seem to be working out well for you in one area of your life, your dreams will often show this in the form of a story where things don’t work out well for you. The details of your dream story, once interpreted, show which areas of your life are not working out well and – more importantly – why. Once you know WHY something is not working for you, you can move on to make the changes that will result in more positive waking life results. Another way to express this is to say that these kinds of dreams reveal your blocks and limiting beliefs. Once you know about these blocks and limiting beliefs, there are techniques you can use to clear your path and transform your unconscious beliefs. I call these techniques Dream Alchemy Practices. I can create these, based on your unique dreams, for you to do, or you can learn how to create them for yourself.
So, recurring dreams keep repeating because YOU keep repeating the same old pattern or meeting the same old blocks, stopping yourself from moving forward to a more positive, rewarding outcome.
Understanding your recurring dream: the first key
As each dream reflects what’s been going on in your life for the last 24-48 hours, keep a diary of events, feelings and any issues or conflicts that come up each day. The next time your recurring dream comes up look back over the last two days in your diary. Do this for the next recurrence of your dream and so on until you notice a pattern. You’ll notice that your recurring dream usually comes up after a certain issue, conflict, feeling, event or – probably – non-event of the stuck or frustrated kind. Even without your dream being interpreted you will have pinpointed the likely cause of the dream and that’s a good place to start.
Understanding your recurring dream: the second key
Ask yourself how long your recurring dream has been with you. When did it first start? As you will probably have guessed by now, your recurring dream started when the recurring issue first started. So, if you answered, for example, “My recurring dream started in the winter of 2008”, then ask yourself what changed for you in the winter of 2008. Sit with it for a while and a memory will emerge. It might be obvious, for example you might have experienced a relationship break-up then, or it might be more subtle, for example, you might have missed out on a promotion at work and thought nothing too much about it, not realising that the event has had an enormous impact on your unconscious mind and created all sorts of blocks for you since.
What can you learn from your recurring dream?
When your dream is interpreted you can learn which belief, issue or conflict in your life now is holding back your progress or making things more complicated than they need to be. Because your dream is recurring you know that your waking life situation will also keep recurring until you do something about it, so understanding your dream is the key to success.
Recurring dreams help you to learn that the approaches that worked well for you in the past may be working against you now.
How can you stop a recurring dream that is upsetting you?
The only way to stop a recurring dream successfully is to understand the pattern in your life that is causing the recurring dream and the recurring life situation. Armed with this insight changes can be made. The recurring dream stops when you break through the old pattern and the recurring life situation stops. It may sound difficult but it is actually surprisingly easy once your dream is interpreted. You can speed the process by doing Dream Alchemy Practices that I can design for you or that you can learn to design for yourself.
For example, if you have a recurring dream of being chased by a shadowy figure, a suitable Dream Alchemy Practice is to visualise, while you are awake, having the courage to turn around and face that shadowy figure. You picture the shadowy figure transforming into a beautiful glowing, loving person and then you embrace that transformed person. (I’ll describe what this kind of dream means and why this exercise works to stop the recurring dream, further in this article.)
When you start to work with your recurring dreams in this way, what will usually happen is that your recurring dream will begin to change over a short period of time until the dream’s ending changes indicating that the desired change has also occurred within you.
There is another way to stop a recurring dream but it is not advised in the long run. Parents do it to young children all the time with the best of intentions. They try to reassure a child that their scary dream was “only a dream”. What they’re really doing is giving the message that dreams are not important. What happens is that the child eventually learns to NOT recall his or her dreams. (Read more about children’s dreams and nightmares, including practical steps to take to help your child.) The interesting thing is that we do all dream every night, but many of us have turned off our dream recall for exactly this kind of reason. So, you may stop the memory of the recurring dream but it is still happening at a deep level for you each night and – most importantly – you are not giving yourself the opportunity to get the message and find a solution. So – my message to you is: know that your dream is important and work at remembering as many details as you can – even if it’s scary – because it’s the most direct and accurate way to get to understand and solve the waking life situation that is not working well for you.
COMMON RECURRING DREAMS
Let’s look at three common recurring dreams, what they mean, and what you can do about them. They are: being chased, being naked in public and losing teeth.
The Being Chased Dream
The details of your dream will be different from everyone else’s but the common theme is that you are being chased by a person, animal, shadow, ghost, monster … or something else. You are either running away or looking for somewhere to hide.
What does this recurring dream of being chased mean?
It’s important to look at everyone and everything in your dream as representing something about you. This kind of dream happens when you are running away from or trying to hide from something you need to face. Usually the thing you need to face is a feeling you are avoiding, a conflict you don’t want to handle or a difficult memory you would rather forget, but sometimes the thing you are running away from is something very positive, like a talent you are not acknowledging or a feeling of love you are not ready to admit.
How you see the thing chasing you gives you clues. For example, if it is a ghost it may be the ghost of a memory that is still haunting you. A shadowy figure chasing you may represent parts of yourself that you do not approve of, that you keep in the shadows or that you judge as being shady. For example, you may feel guilty about the part you played in a relationship break-up and you prefer to keep this feeling of guilt in the shadows – it is a shadow side of yourself you don’t want to admit to. Of course, when you realise from a dream that you never escape from this shadowy memory you can see that the only real solution is to stop running away and to start confronting your feelings about it. That’s where the Dream Alchemy Practice of visualising, while awake, turning around to face what is chasing you and transforming it into something beautiful that you can hug works. In this example, when you turn around and look at why you judged yourself as guilty in the relationship break-up, you look at yourself with love instead of with fear, hugging the old you, forgiving yourself and discovering all the beautiful lessons of life that your relationship break up really offers you for today and tomorrow.
When you have a chasing dream interpreted, the other details in your dream help to identify exactly what it is that you are running away from or hiding from, and from there you can take action to turn things around for yourself.
As the dream shows, whatever you run away from or try to hide from never disappears. It just keeps coming back until you face it. It’s our fears we mostly don’t want to face, but the amazing thing is that once you face a fear you usually discover love. Until then, your fears in waking life will keep you on the run, a long way from finding peace.
The Naked in Public Dream
The details of your dream will be different from everyone else’s but the common theme is that you are in public, for example, at work or in the street, when you suddenly realise that you are naked or partly naked.
What does this recurring dream of being naked in public mean?
It’s important to ask yourself, first, how you felt about being naked in your dream. Did you feel horrified or did you feel good about it? How you felt, as with all dreams, can change the interpretation. Feelings in dreams are extremely important.
When you are naked in a dream you are revealing your feelings about your true self. There’s no hiding behind clothes, even though you may try, in your dream, to cover yourself up with whatever’s around. Your true self – or how you see yourself – is exposed.
This dream is all about feeling exposed and about how confident you do – or don’t – feel about your true self being seen in public. If your dream is set at work, for example, it is about how you feel about your work colleagues seeing right through you – to the real you, as you imagine yourself to be. If, in your dream, you didn’t like the feeling, then this dream is about your uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability about being exposed. If, in your dream, you felt comfortable being naked, then this dream is about your comfort with people seeing the ‘real’ you.
The details in your dream, once interpreted, pinpoint the actual situation this issue of exposure – of vulnerability, truthfulness and trust – is about.
A radio presenter once told me that he had the Naked in Public dream frequently and always felt distressed about finding himself exposed in his dream. Once he understood what his dream was about he said he related it to being a radio presenter and worrying about how to keep his personal life and views separate from his working persona. He thought about this and decided that as his feelings of discomfort and vulnerability weren’t doing him any favours, he chose to simply be himself from that moment on, whenever he was on air. He decided that if the listeners or his employers didn’t like it, that was their problem. As a result he enjoyed his job more, his worry disappeared along with his recurring dream, and his listeners enjoyed his show more.
Another person with this kind of dream might have decided to be more protective of their private life. The details of your unique dream usually guide you towards your decision and that decision is always yours. Being able to make such decisions based on fresh and accurate insight into yourself from a dream is powerful.
The Losing Teeth Dream
The details of your dream will be different from everyone else’s but the common theme is that at some point in your dream you lose some of your teeth. Sometimes it’s just one or two teeth, sometimes many. Sometimes you spit the teeth out, sometimes they crumble and sometimes you just look in a mirror and notice that teeth are missing.
What does this recurring dream about losing teeth mean?
We all have memories of losing teeth when we were children losing our milk teeth. During those years we were facing a lot of changes in school, growing from being a tiny child towards a more responsible one and so on. Do you remember talking to people while you had gaps in your teeth? People often joke to children about their gaps and it is quite difficult to talk properly when you’ve got a wobbly tooth or a gap – you lisp and adults and other children sometimes laugh.
You may have emotional memories of not being able to talk properly, not being able to get your message across, not being respected by adults when you’re trying to be more grown up and so on.
When you dream of your teeth falling out it is often because you are feeling similar emotions in your waking life to those you felt as a child. Your dream uses the lost teeth symbol as a kind of shorthand for all those feelings and memories you had back then.
These dreams often feature trying to talk to someone or not being heard, emphasising the interpretation. In waking life people sometimes say, “Come on, spit it out!” when they are getting impatient with you for telling a long story or for holding back from expressing yourself. This often results in dreams of literally spitting your teeth out, as if your teeth are words and you’re frightened to say what you really feel because you’ll never be able to take the words back – never get the teeth back. (You may also have this dream when you tend to speak before thinking during an emotional outburst, and feel you can’t take back those words, that something valuable has been lost, that you’ve ‘lost face’ perhaps.)
When you have this dream, ask yourself where, in your waking life, you are not expressing yourself, or where you are holding back from speaking out, or where you are not being heard or where someone is belittling you and treating you like a child, not respecting your views. Or where you feel that you can’t take your words back. One of these is likely to be the case.
Once the details of your teeth dream are interpreted, the actual situation can be pinpointed and your fears and beliefs more clearly identified. Armed with that information, changes can be made to put all of this right.
Dreams featuring losing teeth can have other meanings, as each dream is personal to the dreamer and needs individual interpretation, but the meanings I have discussed are the main ones.
Other common recurring dreams
Which of these common (often recurring) dream themes have you experienced?
These are all explored in depth in my book, The Dream Handbook (published by Hachette Australia, and Little Brown Piatkus UK), alongside our not so common dreams. In this book I show you how to explore your unique version of these dreams, and how to create dream alchemy practices.
• You’re flying
You are flying, floating or hovering in the air, either unaided or with a bizarre prop.
• Dead body discovered
A body that has been dead and hidden is discovered or is about to be discovered. You feel guilty or responsible for the death.
• Teeth falling out
One or more of your teeth start falling out.
• Tidal waves and tsunamis
You see a huge tidal wave or tsunami rolling towards you or flooding an area.
You are surprised to discover you are naked or semi-naked in public.
• Lifts and crazy stairs
You are trying to get to a floor or level in a building, but there is a problem with the lift or the stairs.
• Losing or forgetting the baby or child
You lose your child or a dream child, or you keep forgetting that you have a child or baby to look after.
• Who’s driving this car?
The dream features a car journey. You are either the driver or a passenger.
• Late for the appointment
You are running late for a meeting, appointment, train, boat or plane.
• Unprepared for exam
You are about to sit an exam or give a lecture or presentation and you realise you are totally unprepared for it.
• Back at school
You’re either at your old school or at a dream school.
People are trying to break into your house, or you may wake up thinking there really are strangers in your home.
• In a wheelchair
You find yourself in a wheelchair because you are unable to walk in your dream.
• Bags, baggage and cases
You are carrying or responsible for bags, baggage or cases. Your progress is made difficult or delayed because of this.
• You had sex with …!
You have sex with someone other than your partner.
• Slo mo running or walking
You are running or walking in slow motion as if with gluey feet. Every step is hard. You feel as if you are moving against a huge resistance, putting in a huge amount of effort but achieving little progress.
• Aliens and UFOs
There are aliens, or UFOs are around – seen or unseen.
• Beautiful stranger
You meet a very beautiful stranger, male or female. You feel totally beguiled and enlightened in the stranger’s presence. It is as if you have known this person forever.
• A scary presence in the room
A scary presence is in the shadows or hanging over your bed. You may wake up feeling the presence is still there. Often the figure appears dark and hooded.
• The awesome wild animal
A wild animal appears larger than life, either in actual size or in presence. It is awesome.
• You’ve lost your way
You can’t find your way through the city, a big building or the countryside. You’re lost and you know it.
• Can’t find a suitable toilet!
You are searching for a toilet, but if you do find one it is unsuitable for you to use.
• Revisiting a past home
You return to a home or neighbourhood where you once lived. Things might or might not have changed.
There is a snake, or several snakes. How are you going to handle this situation?
• Cuts, wounds, blood, guts and vomit
Blood, guts or vomit feature in your dream, or a body is cut and wounded.
• Wow! Extra rooms!
You discover, to your complete surprise, that a house has extra rooms you never knew existed!
• Was that a past life?
Everything about your dream – the clothes, the setting – seems to point to a past era. If, added to that, the ‘you’ in your dream is a different you or a different sex, then you may be left wondering, ‘Was that dream a past life?’
• Doing yesterday’s work
You dream of repeating the work you have already done during the previous day. It is usually repetitive work and, on top of that, you repeat it over and over in your dream. You wake up feeling tired.
• Renovations and house hunting
You are looking for a new house, moving in or renovating.
• A visit from spirit?
Someone who has died appears to you in a dream.
• You’re being chased or followed
Someone or something is on your tail and you know it.
• The talking baby
A baby or small child speaks wisely, using adult vocabulary.
• Trapped and under attack
Someone or something has trapped you or is attacking you.
• On the cliff edge- or falling
Whether you are standing on the cliff or hanging from your fingertips from the edge, you can see and feel the drop. Or you may be watching someone else on the cliff edge about to fall. You or someone else may also fall from a window, plane or other high place.
• You’ve lost your handbag, wallet, jewellery or …
You’ve lost or misplaced something personal and of great value.
• Paralysed – can’t move, can’t shout!
You are scared and feel paralysed. You can’t move or shout out for help.
• You can’t see clearly
You can’t see clearly. Your view is clouded, blocked or you are blind.
• Stormy weather
Dark clouds or a storm gather on the horizon, or are advancing towards you.
You see a headless body or a decapitated head.
• Plane crash
A plane crashes, or people or things fall from a plane.
• Death and murder
Someone dies a natural death, is killed in an accident or is murdered.
Discover what these dream themes mean, how to explore and understand your unique version of the dream, and how you can use this insight to gain more positive and rewarding life outcomes, in my book, The Dream Handbook.
Or ask me about your recurring dream
You can book a consultation with me to get to the bottom of your recurring dream and the associated recurring life issue, and have it resolved, so you can move on in wonderful ways.