What Do Dreams About Family Mean?
By their very nature, our dreams are divorced from the mundane reality of our waking lives, which is why they feature so many giant talking spiders and cameo appearances by Jaden Smith (just me?). But every so often, the people who occupy our conscious minds leak into our dreaming minds, which is why most of us have had dreams about our parents and family. Whether we love them, hate them, or just wish they'd stop including us on so many email chains about inspirational YouTube videos, our families occupy a key place in our subconscious. And when they show up in our dreams, they don't just help us better understand what's on our minds — sometimes, dreams about our families help us better understand our relationships with our families themselves.
So what do dreams about our family mean? Unfortunately, there isn't one set of meanings we can use to interpret every dream — dreams are personal, especially when it comes to something as personal as family. But according to George Oliva, publisher of DreamDoctor.com, there are some tips you can use to interpret what your own family dreams mean to you.
Dreams Express Your Feelings At The Moment
Oliva tells Bustle that dreams are "expressions of the dreamer's feelings, thoughts and awarenesses (including intuition) about their waking life at the time." This means that symbols in your dream don't have static, set meanings that carry over from one dream to the next — your mom could be a symbol of comfort in one dream, after you spend a nice weekend together; then, after you have an awful fight with her, she could be a symbol of pain or anxiety in a dream.
So in order to understand your family dreams, you'll have to dive into your feelings about your family at the moment.
Pay Attention To The Details Of Your Family Dreams
Even if it feels like the only important part of a dream is that it featured your weird first cousin Ed, try to remember as many details as you can, including where you were in the dream. According to Oliva, "to understand the meaning of any dream, you have to take into account who is in the dream, what happens, where it happens, the symbols (that which stands out as odd/out of place) & how the dreamer feels IN the dream."
So your weird first cousin Ed's presence was only one element you need to interpret — you'll also want to try to remember where you were and what you were doing, as well as your feelings, both in the dream and now that you're awake. Was Ed setting off firecrackers in your elementary school parking lot? Did you feel annoyance in the dream? Fear? Child-like wonder at the pretty, sparkly lights?
Notice How You Felt In The Dream
According to Oliva, "how the dreamer feels IN a dream is exactly how the dreamer feels (at the time of the dream... because feelings over time change) about the subject of their dream...So, for instance, if the dreamer feels afraid in a dream, he/she should try to ID where he/she is feeling afraid in their waking life. The dream contains all of the clues."
By this thinking, your dream feelings are a jumping off point. Let's say that you dream your mother is trying to murder you — freaky, yes, but common. The fear you feel in the dream likely doesn't mean that in real life, you're actually afraid your mother is going to murder you. But it does likely mean that you're experiencing fear or anxiety about your relationship. "It reflects the dreamer's feeling (at the time of the dream) that the mother wants the dreamer out of her life," says Oliva. "The dreamer may have gotten into an argument with the mother or gotten a disapproving response, look or attitude that made [them] feel as if their mom wanted them 'gone.'"
Use Your Feelings About Family Dreams To Work On Family Issues
Well, maybe you don't want to work on your relationship with weird first cousin Ed. But your feelings in dreams can be revealing, and give you an opportunity not just to face uncomfortable feelings about family members — but begin to heal from them. "How the dreamer feels about that IN the dream (shocked, scared, unsafe, incredulous, threatened) is how the dreamer feels about his/her mother at that moment in time," says Oliva. "Knowing that, the dreamer can take steps to improve the situation or relationship."
Dreams can offer us an opportunity to face emotions we may be working hard to suppress in waking life. For example, I'm estranged from my mother, and in my conscious life, I believe I don't have any unresolved feelings about her; however, a recent dream where I was mourning her after her (non-existent) death showed me that perhaps I have a lot of sadness about our relationship that I've never faced.
Of course, you're the ultimate judge of how to interpret your dreams; you're also the only one who can decide what improving a family situation means to you. But know that dreams might offer you access to your most honest feelings about your family, if you want to actually understand them.
And remember what Tolstoy said: "Happy families are all alike; but every dream family is super bizarre in its own way."
This post was originally published on Apri 24, 2015. It was updated on July 3, 2019.