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What Does Drowning in a Dream Mean?

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Water and the Interpretation of Drowning Dreams

Despite the fact that swimming and drowning are on opposite ends of the spectrum, they're still reading the same wave.

And that wave is water.

It's important to start with water symbolism before interpreting what either swimming or drowning in dreams means.

Some of the top meanings of water dreams are:

  • Emotions
  • The unconscious
  • Intuition
  • Life cycles and transitions

Dreams of drowning and what they mean will be predicated on what kind of water we're drowning in and what that water symbolizes.

This article narrows its focus to the difference between dreams of "aquatic distress" and authentically drowning. In addition, we'll also look at the phenomenon of secondary drowning and how it applies to dream drowning. Instinctive Drowning Response will also be covered.

Finally, we'll take a took at what waking life drowning actually looks like and how knowing what drowning manifests in waking life helps us find meaning in dream drowning.

So let's dive in!

Drowning is rarely a dramatic event. It is an involuntary response where we can't keep our heads above water long enough to breathe—much less call for help. Dreams of drowning can metaphorically mirror a similar situation that is happening in the waking world.

Drowning: Rarely as Seen on Television

Water: The Silent Star of a Drowning Dream

To get to the heart of drowning dreams, it is important to look at the other symbol that has to be present for drowning to occur and that, as previously stated, is water.

Water is a symbol par excellence for the emotions, especially deep and/or hidden emotions.

Given that water typically symbolizes emotions, drowning in dreams reveals that we're feeling emotionally overwhelmed or "in over our heads."

We may feel that we're gasping for air, or that we are begging for help but no one can hear us or no one is responding. We may feel panicked.

It is also possible that, despite the fact the we feel that we are crying out for help, no one is noticing our distress.

And that is why learning about waking life drowning can help us better understand the symbolism of drowning in dreams. The misconceptions are that drowning can help us learn how to get help when we feel like we're about to sink to the bottom of an emotional ocean. But, in reality, sometimes others will not be able to even notice we are going down, much less throw us a life line.

Is Your Dream About Distress or Drowning?

When recalling a dream about drowning, it is important to look at the actual activity going on in the dream. Specifically, we should ask ourselves if we are in aquatic distress or authentically drowning.

The reason making the distinction between the two activities is important is because they help give us an idea of what kind of distress we are in and what message our silent selves are sending us regarding how it feels.

Aquatic Distress in Dreams

On film and television when a person drowns, it is, like all events that happen onscreen, typically a dramatic event.

There is yelling. There is screaming for help. There is thrashing about.

In the waking world, that type of activity is called aquatic distress.

While aquatic distress is, well, distressing, it isn't drowning...yet. Aquatic distress occurs before drowning and is more likely to be a behavior a swimmer will exhibit. Aquatic distress means we can still call for help, we can still reach out for help, and we can still grab life lines thrown our way.

If you are dreaming that you are in aquatic distress, this means that you are in distress in the waking world. It is important to pay attention here because this is a sign that you are still able to ask for and receive help.

In fact, these types of dreams may indicate a frustration in the waking world because we feel that we are thrashing, we are crying out for help, we are grasping at anything remotely resembling a rope, but no one is responding to our distress.

If, however, we dream we're sinking underwater or if the dream action involves trying to keep our heads above water while surrounded by silence, or worse, surrounded by others who don't see we're drowning, then this can mirror a similar waking life situation.

The Instinctive Drowning Response

Drowning is an almost silent event. Drowning is what happens after distress has exhausted itself. And drowning happens quite quickly.

There is no thrashing in drowning because we're in a state known as the Instinctive Drowning Response. The IDR is involuntary; there is no way to fight it.

The nervous system begins a desperate attempt to keep above water because it knows we are sinking. Our arms begin trying to push down on the water, trying to use it as leverage to keep us afloat so there's no ability to wave or even grab hold of any life line tossed our way. We don't cry out because we can't keep our mouths above water long enough to take in air enough to breathe, much less cry for help.

Drowning in a Dream

This writer personally came close to drowning in a pool at a water park. One of the most distressing parts of the experience was going underwater, certain I was about to die while surrounded by people who had no idea I was in dire trouble. Not even the lifeguard who I could see in his chair flirting with a girl noticed that I had disappeared from view.

The Instinctive Drowning Response typically happens to non-swimmers or at least inexperienced swimmers. Think on that from a symbolic viewpoint: are you in a situation for which you feel completely unprepared or in waters you have never waded through, much less tried to swim in?

If the above sounds familiar, it is important to remember that oftentimes others do not see when we're in trouble even if we feel our distress is obvious or they should be aware that our circumstances prevent us from seeking help.

If you're dreaming about drowning, ask for help even if it makes you angry to do so or resentful that others aren't seeing how close you are to never coming up from the bottom of the pool.

Drowning Man

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Madailein Aisling Ireland