There's nothing worse than randomly bumping into someone in your dreams, when you're happily enjoying your REM cycle and drooling on your pillow. Whether you totally forgot about that person you kissed by the lake at summer camp or still feel embarrassed about the big fight you had with your high school best friend, it can be totally unsettling when people from your past show up in your dreams.
Your dreams may seem completely random or baseless (cue you skydiving out of a cartoon airplane into a pile of spaghetti), but Lauri Loewenberg, a professional dream analyst, tells Bustle that looking at your dreams with a metaphorical approach can allow you to tap into what your subconscious is trying to convey. Rather than trying to find the literal or logical meaning behind the people or places in your dreams, Loewenberg suggests following your emotions and intuition.
A surprise metaphysical visit from your old college roommate or your mean boss from your old internship popping up out of nowhere may seem completely non-sensical, but Loewenberg says that there is always a deeper reason behind everything in your dreams.
"The subconscious mind will often pull a particular memory or person, etc. from our past when something is happening in our present," Loewenber tells Bustle. "There was a lesson from then we need to apply now."
According to Loewenber, your subconscious mind is a total packrat. It stores every experience, thought, emotion, and encounter — even if you don't consciously realize it. If you've been actively thinking about someone from your recently or someone brought them up in conversation, it may be more obvious why they are popping up in your dreams.
Whether this person has been on your mind for a week or you haven't thought about them in ages, Loewenberg notes the importance of taking a moment to examine both the dream and your feelings.
"Our dreams are very good at warning us when we fall into the same old patterns or when we get into the same type of relationship," Loewenberg says. '[They] speak to us in order to guide us, advise us, and warn us so we can get it right."
According to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear, your dreams can be an invitation to heal a piece of the self that's been hurt or to learn something new about who you are, or who you want to be.
"In Jungian psychology, every person in a dream represents some aspect of the dreamer," Dr. Manly tells Bustle. "The person who 'shows up' is generally symbolic of some aspect of the dreamer’s self; other people are simply conjured up by the psyche to offer a symbolic representation of a certain theme or issue."
If you always felt judged by your high school choir teacher or never knew how to talk to your best friend's older brother, seeing them in a dream may be a reminder to be more confident in your next staff meeting. Perhaps you were too nervous to tell your middle school crush how you felt, and seeing them in a dream inspires you to ask your cute coworker for a coffee. Or maybe you see a girl you weren't super nice to in college, and you make a mental note to be kinder to your little sister. Dr. Manly says that seeing people from the past in a dream means there's a lesson to be learned in your present.
Of course, it's not always easy to know exactly what that lesson is. When you wake up scratching your head, completely confused why you just dreamed about your ex-boyfriend's mom or the editor from your college newspaper, Loewenberg suggests asking yourself for the three adjectives that best describe the person's personality or nature.
"Of the three descriptors you chose, do any of them fit you right now? Or fit someone you are involved with right now? Determine if this is a good or bad thing," Loewenberg says.
Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, and author of Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life adds to think about what those descriptions or qualities mean to you in the present, are these qualities something you are looking for in people? Are they things you're missing currently? Are they things you're never trying to engage with again? If you're getting lost in your own thoughts, Habash suggests journaling to help you slow down and really reflect.
Additionally, Loewenberg suggests thinking about what you remember most about the relationship you had with the person from the past and thinking about if you have any current relationships that are similar.
"Sometimes dreams will use people from the past as a friendly reminder to tell us: 'Remember this? Let's not repeat it'" Loewenberg says.
Habash continues that it can be helpful to think about what this person meant to you and if you feel like you have anything unresolved with them. "You’ll know by the intensity of imagery and feeling when it’s one that’s worth the time and effort to explore," Habash says.
While it may be your first instinct to reach out to them, Habash suggests taking a moment to really collect your thoughts.
"Take some time to work with the symbolism and do some inner exploration on what that person means to you before you decide to reach out," Habash says. "Often, they are representing something for you that has revived importance in your current life, and you can work with the representation rather than the need to track them down."
Lauri Loewenberg, a professional dream analyst