Recurring dreams: what do they mean? Pretty much all of us all have them (apparently, 60-75% of us). For some, chronic nightmares can be really debilitating – in a recent study, scientists actually found that we can manipulate upsetting dreams by using sound therapy.
Earlier this year, ThePleasantDream – one of the best websites on dream interpretation – conducted an online global survey of “recurring dreams.” The survey included 506 participants and it highlighted that 71.8% of participants had recurring dreams and the prominent dream theme was – “You’re taking a test in school,” followed by “Being chased or attacked” & “Falling endlessly.”
There are plenty of common themes. Whether it’s about your partner cheating on you, someone you love passing away, or your teeth falling out, they can be very distressing, especially if they keep happening very regularly. But what do these recurring dreams actually mean?
The recurring dream I always seem to have is sitting my A-Level in Fine Art. I’m in my old art classroom at school, my classmates around me are producing Picasso-level artworks, and I’m sat starring at a giant blank canvas. There’s only an hour left on the clock, I don’t have any materials, and I have no idea what I’m going to paint. Cue waking up in an anxious sweat before I realise it’s been a very (very) long time since I left school.
Recurring dreams can be alarming in the moment, but can also leave us wondering: what is our subconscious trying to tell us?
“It is not unusual to have recurring dreams – most of us will have them at some point in our lives,” says Theresa Cheung, Sunday Times bestselling author of The A to Z Dream Dictionary . “They are highly significant and valuable for your personal growth, and potentially psychologically healing gifts from your dreaming mind that should never be ignored.”
According to Theresa, it’s only when we understand the meaning of our recurring dreams that they will stop, because our dreaming mind uses the power of repetition to get our attention.
“Recurring dreams are not a sign of impending doom or poor mental health, so if your recurring dream is frightening, please don’t panic,” she assures. “Their purpose is to comment on what is going on in your waking life, and to help you see the bigger picture that you might not realise when you’re awake.”
Here are some of the most common recurring dreams, and what they mean, according to Theresa…
Falling is not just the most common recurring dream; it is the most commonly-reported dream. If you keep dreaming of falling, think about your waking life and whether you feel supported or not. Or do you feel a loss of control due to current stress and confusion? Your dreaming mind wants you to take time out to pause and regroup. Pay attention to how you feel when you are falling. If you feel content, then perhaps you just need to trust in yourself more and go with the flow.
2. Being back at school
If you find yourself back in the classroom in your dreams, this is all about challenging and testing situations, typically social ones and anxiety about performance or where and how you fit into a hierarchy or at work. You don’t want to slip up or draw attention to your insecurities, but your dreaming mind wants to remind you that making mistakes – and learning from them as you go – is the only way to learn. The road to success is paved with failure.
3. Being unprepared for an exam
Being unprepared for an exam is a dream that many high-achieving people often report; the people who you would least expect to be unprepared for anything. It is your dreaming mind drawing attention to the high expectations you have of yourself and reminding you that while perfectionism is admirable, sometimes ‘good enough’ is good enough. Since failure is not an option for most of the people who have this dream, it shines a spotlight on accountability and the belief that preparation and self-discipline is key to success. However, the dream may be reminding you not to push yourself too far, and that being happy with who you are trumps being happy with your ‘performance.’
4. Death of a loved one
The death of a loved one can be an extremely upsetting dream theme. You may wake up in a panic and worry that something terrible is going to happen to someone you care about. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, death dreams simply point to relationship dynamics changing. Many parents have these dreams about their teenage children when they head off to college. The dream is reminding them that one phase of life is ending, but with every ending, there is always an exciting new beginning. The dream may also not refer to a relationship with the person who dies in the dream, but to the relationship you have with yourself, and what aspect of yourself that person represents. For example, if you dream of your mother dying, the dream could be highlighting that you are not nurturing or mothering yourself enough.
5. Partner cheating
I’ve lost count now how many times people asking me the meaning of this recurring dream. My answer is always the same. It does not mean your partner is cheating. This dream is all about you and how you feel about yourself. Ask yourself what cheating means to you. Have you let yourself down in some way? Are you taking short cuts? Are you not fulfilling your potential in some area of your life? Or are you cheating yourself of quality time with your partner, or do you feel that your partner is preoccupied with work or an interest, and that adventure, fun or simply quality time together is missing from your relationship?
6. Being chased
What are you not facing in your waking life that you need to understand and resolve or take accountability for? The monsters and faceless shadows that stalk us in our dreams typically represent tensions in your waking life rather than people. These dreams are a really good indication of your current stress levels and how well you are coping. If you can find a way to deal with the inner tension driving you and making you react or run away from dealing with situations in your waking life, you can become more aware of your emotions and start to manage them to your advantage.
7. Teeth falling out
Teeth in dreams represent concern with appearance and in today’s society, ‘teeth falling out’ dreams have unsurprisingly become even more common. Are you worried about how you appear to others? Or as baby teeth falling out is a sign of growing up, perhaps this dream suggests a fear of ageing? It can also represent how true you are to your values and feeling compromised, or that you have to go along with others, or a situation that isn’t quite true to who you are.
8. Forgetting lines on stage
Many people who are in the public eye have this dream suggesting a dissonance between their public persona and their private identity. Or perhaps it relates to a pressure you feel to perform for others in some way? Or fear that others are watching your work or what you do? Whatever the personal circumstances in your waking life, this dream is all about your current stress levels being heightened by feelings of anxiety about others judging or noticing you.
Dreams about drowning are very common and can be disturbing, however, they’re usually a sign that you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Water in dreams is a powerful symbol of emotions and your current emotional state so pay attention to the quality of the water and whether you are swimming in it or drowning in it. A tsunami or tidal wave suggests emotions are making decisions for you in your waking life and you need to learn how to manage them better. Water is also cleansing and healing, and a waterfall suggests inner peace.
10. Being friends with famous people
When a celebrity or famous person appears in your dream, they represent some personality trait that you aspire to or need to discover within yourself for your personal growth. Dreaming of befriending a celebrity can be a sign that you’re trying to process unconscious thoughts about the parts of yourself that remind you of this celeb. Reflect on whatever feelings that celebrity inspires in you. If you don’t know who the celebrity is in the dream, this suggests a need for more validation or recognition in your life. If you’re finding this person pops up repeatedly in your dreams, it can be a sign that you feel you’re capable of embodying their ideal character traits and working towards that.
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