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Common Symbols in Dreams and How to Change Bad Ones

Laura is a freelance writer living in Florida. She has a Master's degree in English.

What do symbols in dreams actually mean?

What do symbols in dreams actually mean?

Symbols in Dreams

Dreams and their meanings have fascinated humans since ancient times. The land of the dreamer is very often out of that person's control. Because of that, what goes on in the mind while he or she sleeps may tell us how someone feels, who they love, and what they fear.

Because our unconscious often speaks to us in symbols, it's important to analyze detailed or troubling dreams to figure out exactly what they mean.

Since people are unique and their experiences are unique, different symbols may mean different things. Here are some common symbols and possible explanations for their meanings.

Animals in Dreams

Some people experience animals in their dreams. These animals may act like regular animals or take on the characteristics of humans. Based on the animal, the situation, and what's going on in your life, you may be able to figure out what your dreams and your unconscious are trying to tell you.

According to a Huffington Post article by Tracie Handley, animals in dreams are often primal and reach towards the spiritual side of our consciousness.

If you are facing difficult times, animals may start appearing in your dreams.

As the dreamer, you should write down what you dreamed about and note how the animal was acting and what it was doing.

Does the animal symbolize you? Someone you know? Is it a metaphor for the problems you are facing right now?

Common Dream Animals and Interpretations

AnimalPossible MeaningsReal Life Interpretation


Needing independence, feeling protective

Is there something in your life that is threatening your independence or your loved ones?


Strength and Confidence

Are you worried about a public presentation, a project, school work or a job?


Feeling caught or trapped

What do you feel helpless to change in your own life?


Looking for a group (herd)

Are you having relationship troubles? Problems with a friend or significant other?


Happiness, loyalty, comfort

Do you finally feel at peace with your life, life choices or the people that you are with?

Dolphins or Whales

Transitions, peace or seeking peace.

Water is often a symbol of transition, so decide if you or someone you know is symbolized by the animal in the water?

Animals in dreams can also be sick or dead. If they are, it likely symbolizes the opposite of whatever the predominant trait of the animal is. For example, if the spider in your dream is dead or you kill it, it may symbolize you finally getting out of a situation where you felt trapped or vulnerable.

An animal out of its natural habitat may be experiencing distress, which may symbolize the distress you yourself are feeling as you combat life problems and issues.

Water in Dreams

Water always means transition and change. In literature, it is the passage from reality to myth and back again.

If your dream contains strong water imagery, you are likely either going through a change, anticipating one, or have recently experienced it.

If the dream also features drowning or feelings of suffocation, you may likely be afraid of the change, or the change may not be one that you feel is good for you or your family.

Also note where the water is and whether it is rough or smooth. This will help you to understand how you are dealing with the transitions and changes in your life.

Water in dreams can signal smooth or rough transitions.

Water in dreams can signal smooth or rough transitions.

Dreams of Falling

Many of us have had dreams that we are falling, and sometimes the dreamer even wakes up, startled, as they hit the bottom in their dream.

If dreams of falling are often occurring, it may be a sign that you feel you have or are going to lose control of something.

According to the dream dictionary, in order to combat these insecurities, you should make sure that you figure out what parts of your life you feel are out of control and try to find solutions or pinpoint why you are feeling that way.

Dreams of Death

If you dream about you or someone you know dying, it may be as simple as either a fear of dying or a wish that someone would go away and leave you alone. It can also, again, represent insecurities and fears that are personal or projected on others.

Dreaming of people that have died may indicate that you are going through the grieving process, that you are trying to keep the person alive in your memory, or that you feel you have some unfinished business with the person that died.

Some even believe that their dead loved ones can speak to them through their dreams.

Whether that is true or not, analyze what the message is. Is there something you need to do to feel better? Are you facing a fear that is worrying you on a deep and subconscious level?

Death dreams can be the most disturbing and troubling, but the messages you are receiving from those dreams may not be all bad.

Dreams of death can be the most frightening and hard to deal with.

Dreams of death can be the most frightening and hard to deal with.

Can Your Dreams Give You Answers?

Even bad dreams or reoccurring dreams can give you answers to problems you are facing in your life.

If someone is appearing in your dreams that you know, figure out what they are doing or why. If they are being mean to you in your dream or trying to hurt you, ask yourself if the person is also hurting you in real life. If they are not mean in real life, perhaps you have trust issues developing in the relationship.

Our brains, spirits, and subconsciousness try to speak to us in symbols and themes. While it may be hard to always know exactly what your dreams are trying to say, examining the good and the bad in your life and pinpointing what causes you stress may be the key to making you happier both when you are awake and asleep.

Can we change and control our dreams?

Can we change and control our dreams?

Controlling Your Dreams

Some believe that you can take charge of your dreams and even alter recurring and troubling ones.

Dreamers can learn to be semi-aware in their dreams and purposefully make different choices and choose different dreams.

In order to control your dreams, you can try the following methods:

Ways to change or control your dreams

MethodWhy It Might HelpResult

Keep a dream diary

Sorts out common symbols and themes; write down all dreams when you wake up; analyze for patterns

Understanding what your dreams are telling you and what patterns exist may help you to fix either the real world problems or to work on changing the dream itself.


Meditation alters your spirit and consciousness and allows you to let go of stress

Being more relaxed when you go to sleep may allow you to release your stressors before entering the dream world

Tackle stressors during waking hours

If you have a problems that you are avoiding in your life, now is the time to make a change.

If you begin to solve the problems in your real life, you are less likely to have stressful dreams at night.

Tell yourself what you are going to do when you dream

If you are able to change what you do in your dream such as tell yourself "when I'm falling, instead of landing I will grow wings and fly" may allow you to begin to control bad dreams and help you get out of stressful ones.

More confidence in your dream world may result in more confidence in your real life as well.

What Can You Do?

Some dreams are scary, and some make us feel happy and at peace.

The types of dreams that people often want to understand and interpret are usually caused by fears and stress.

While it is impossible to completely eliminate stress in your life, reducing it and working on calming techniques may make your dreams more pleasant and understandable.

Questions & Answers

Question: What does being the only survivor in a dream mean?

Answer: Do you have a fear of being alone or being left alone? That could be it.


Ama on August 05, 2018:

I had some sort of black magic dream, in which i took a cursed stone

Connie on September 23, 2015:

my daughter and I had a similar dream on the same night. There was someone trying to get into our home and my husband went outside to try and find them. In my dream I couldn't remember my address when I called 911 and I saw and heard the bad guy shoot my dog. What does this mean?

Kristy LeAnn from Princeton, WV on April 10, 2014:

Oh, love the Salvador Dali video. He's my favorite artist but I've never seen that before. =)

I have always had crazy, extremely vivid dreams. I suffer from depression and I've read that people that are depressed tend to spend too much time in REM sleep, so maybe that's way.

Since I was about 10 years old I've always had dreams about tornadoes. I have no idea why. I've never even been near one in real life. I wonder what that symbol is trying to tell me? A few days ago there was a tornado in my dream and I became lucid and realized I was dreaming. Usually if that happens I wake up right away but once I realized it was a dream I was like "Neat, I'm going to stick around and watch this" but eventually I still got way too scared and kept telling myself "open your eyes, open your eyes" and I woke up. It was still a pretty cool experience though. I hardly ever become lucid.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 02, 2014:

I've had dreams that stuck with me for days and even years. The ones I forget, I don't worry about. They're like commercials in a movie. :-)

L C David (author) from Florida on April 02, 2014:

I am the same way although I find if I don't write them down immediately when I wake up, I can't remember them even a few minutes later. Dreams can be very elusive.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 02, 2014:

I dream every night. Sometimes they're nonsensical and sometimes they are so vivid and drawn out they give me reason for pause. It's those dreams I try to analyze so I can understand why I had them, what they mean, and how I can resolve what caused them.