Health: Decode dreams to help you face up to emotions

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Dream psychololgist Ian Wallace talks to Abi Jackson about their meanings

Dreams can be bizarre and baffling, but unlocking their meaning could be a useful guide for waking life, according to dream psychologist Ian Wallace.

Dreams have fascinated us for centuries. As far back as 3,000 BC they were documented on clay tablets, and countless philosophers and scientists through the ages have written about them, attempting to dissect and explain them.

Our curiosity still endures and a recent survey by ibis Hotels found a third of under-35s let dreams guide their way and influence their decisions, while one in five claimed they’d made a life-changing decision based on a dream.

The survey, which quizzed 2,000 British people, revealed almost a fifth had gone travelling after dreaming about it, while nearly one in 10 had made decisions about buying a house, getting married and having a baby.

Dream psychologist and author of Top 100 Dreams, Ian Wallace, has no doubt that our slumber-induced visions are meaningful.

“We use dreams as a sense-making process,” says Wallace, who has analysed over 170,000 dreams in his 30-year career.

“Every day, we absorb millions and millions of pieces of information unconsciously that we can’t consciously process, either because we don’t notice them or that they’re too confusing or paradoxical. Dreaming’s evolved as a way of making sense of all the information we unconsciously absorb, and all the experiences and emotions that occur during the day.”

While some dream analysts focus on more spiritual theories or some solely on lab data, for Wallace language is key to unlocking their meaning – in a nutshell, how language translates to the imagery we see in our sleep.

“What happens in a dream is very often not what it relates to in real life,” he explains.

The process is instinctive and emotional, and these emotions, in our sleeping heads, are symbolised through language and imagery.

For example, if our subconscious mind is focused on achieving a goal, our brain might highlight the word ‘pursuit’, and this could translate to recurring dreams about being chased.

Interestingly, Wallace believes dreams do portray meaningful elements of our realities and futures.

While the ibis Hotels revelation that one-in-five have made big life decisions based on dreams may sound high, Wallace thinks far more of us are influenced by our dreams – but probably don’t realise it.

“I always say to my clients, a dream’s just a dream until you put it into action,” he says.

‘Action’ doesn’t have to mean big life decisions, but simply listening to what your subconscious is revealing about your emotions. Doing this, though, requires us to remember our dreams. Wallace has a tip for this.

“Think of three words: will, still and fill,” he says.

“Before you go to sleep, tell yourself, ‘I will remember my dreams’. Then as soon as you wake up, lie completely still.

As soon as you start moving your muscles, brain chemistry changes and this causes the dream imagery to start disappearing. Then, as the dream comes back to you, try and fill in any gaps, until a full picture emerges.”

PIC: Simon Hulme

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