You really have to pee. You're searching for a bathroom, and when you finally find one, it's unusable. Maybe the toilet is filthy or has no privacy. Your, um, situation starts to get urgent until... you wake up in your bed. Sound familiar? Then you're no stranger to recurring nightmares about having to use the bathroom. But what do dreams about going to the bathroom mean? As it turns out, they can give you a window into a lot more than just your bladder.
Dreams are images or experiences that your mind creates while you're asleep. And everything within them, from characters to random objects, can represent a part of your life, says certified dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg. "The subconscious speaks to us symbolically because our brain is working differently when we sleep," she tells Bustle. "Your dream is showing you what your psyche looks like when you don't release your anger, frustration, or guilt." And science suggests that if you're stressed, you spend more time in REM sleep where your most vivid dreaming takes place.
If you're all too familiar with the distinct displeasure of a bathroom nightmare, interpreting the dreams can help you uncover and address the underlying causes, says Loewenberg. Here's what your bathroom dreams mean (and tips for how to snooze pee-free), according to dream experts.
Why You're Having Dreams About Going To The Bathroom
You're likely having unwelcome bathroom dreams due to negative emotions or experiences in your everyday life, according to Loewenberg. "It's important to pay attention to whether this is a recently recurring dream, or a dream you’ve had your whole life," she tells Bustle. "If it’s more recent, that means it's connected to a current issue that has yet to be resolved. If you've always had this dream, it's connected to a lifelong behavior pattern of not airing your grievances."
Perhaps you're frustrated with a friend over their pandemic decisions, or maybe you've always held your tongue at work for fear of being labelled bossy. Regardless, your mind can bottle up this negativity and then sound the alarms while you're in dreamland, says Loewenberg. So if you suppress unpleasant thoughts while you're awake, they'll often pop up in your mind when you're snoozing.
Of course, dreams are rarely straightforward and sensical — so rather than having one where you literally confront your friend or boss, your psyche can talk to you in potty allegories. "Your mind's job is to make sense of your world. If it spoke to you in mundane terms, like 'release your anger,' you may not get the message," says Dr. Nancy Irwin, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. "But if your mind presents you with an ugly, scary, farcical, or absurd image, you'll get the message if you know how to crack the code."
What Do Bathroom Dreams Mean, Then?
In the case of bathroom dreams, a toilet is worth a thousand words. "The toilet represents your ability to relieve yourself — to flush away — negativity, frustration, that which you no longer need," says Loewenberg. "It's usually a negative emotion that you’ve been holding in, just like you're holding in your pee in the dream."
These dreams come in many different forms, but one common iteration involves really having to use the bathroom, then finding a clogged toilet, says Loewenberg. "This is your subconscious showing you that you’re not using your psychological plumbing correctly, [and] that you’ve allowed it to clog up by holding in your frustrations," she tells Bustle. "The clogged, filthy, overflowing toilet is a brutally honest reflection of what your psyche looks like when you hold on to your crap."
Similarly, some people have dreams where the toilet is unusable, where there's no hole in the bowl or no way to flush. This can indicate a deeper issue with your emotional plumbing, says Loewenberg, and could be a sign of long-term issues with processing your feelings.
Another frequent bathroom dream involves finding a toilet but having no privacy to use it, like entering a public bathroom that has no stalls, according to Loewenberg. These dreams signify that you’re anxious or concerned about how others see you, she says.
If you actually go to the bathroom in your dream, whether you're going number one or two can help you unlock meaning, says Irwin. "If you're urinating, the dream could be about releasing some anger, like letting go of what is pissing you off," she tells Bustle. "If you're defecating, it could mean you're releasing some sh*t from your life."
How To Take Control Of Bathroom Dreams
If you're ready to kiss these unpleasant dreams goodbye, start by assessing the root cause of your negative emotion, recommends Loewenberg. Is it a recent conflict with a family member? Are you coping with COVID guilt? Or do you have a lifelong habit of holding in your anger? While there's no foolproof way to ensure you'll never have another toilet-related dream, identifying the reason you're feeling off and then processing those emotions can help, according to Irwin. In fact, avoiding the cause of your inner turmoil can actually encourage more unpleasant dreams because your subconscious will try harder and harder to call attention to repressed feelings, she says.
If the reason you're upset is due to a recent incident, do your best to resolve it, says Loewenberg. Confront the person causing you stress, or, if that's not possible, vent to a trusted friend, she recommends. Getting your feelings out in the open can help you overcome stress and restore your mental plumbing, she says, or you can turn to exercise to release stress and anger from your body. There's nothing like throwing some punches during a kickboxing class to let out some aggression.
Are your bathroom dreams more likely due to longstanding patterns of suppressing your emotions? Lowenberg says this might call for an overhaul. Her tip? Find a therapist to help you cope with your frustrations, or develop healthy habits like exercising to give yourself a regular opportunity for physical release.
Dr. Nancy Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht, clinical psychologist
Lauri Loewenberg, certified dream analyst
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