CONFESSION: I still dream about other men…
… and I’ll bet you do, too. EVEN IF you’re happily paired with your partner.
The more I talk with other women about their dream lives - the subconscious processing we do while we sleep - the more intrigued I am by what we dream of, how we dream, and what’s really happening when particular people and events show up there.
For some of my friends it’s rather disturbing to feel so emotionally roused, charged, or intrigued by, say, an old boyfriend in a dream. The thing is, I’m no stranger myself to reoccurring dreams involving people from my past… particularly of the boyfriend variety.
I can tell you it’s beyond annoying at times because I’m happily married and my high school boyfriends aren’t people I still have feelings for or are even present in my life now (besides the occasional Facebook interaction or brief passing in my hometown).
So, what gives?
Why do we dream about people from our past?
Why, even when happily partnered with someone for YEARS, do we still have vivid recollections of them that evoke such an emotional turmoil in us at times?
I wrestled over and over again trying to figure it out - as there was ONE particular high school boyfriend who showed up frequently and others who I rarely, if EVER dreamed about.
Here’s what I learned...
It’s not them, it’s me. It’s not them, it’s you.
Just like any sappy breakup story, right? It’s really NOT ABOUT THAT PERSON… it’s about MEEEEE - and it’s about YOU. We’re the ones affected, we’re the ones holding on to something (even if it’s not undying love) and there’s a darn good reason for it.
The reason we dream about people from our past and remember it in our waking hours is because there’s something we need to PAY ATTENTION TO.
Our subconscious is essentially filling away our emotional experiences during sleep. Sorting the laundry. Washing the laundry, folding the laundry… so you can get up in the morning and clothe yourself with clean, fresh clothing.
“Night is when we are closer to ourselves, closer to essential ideas and feelings that do not register so much during the daylight hours.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estés: Women Who Run With the Wolves (More on this book HERE.)
It’s not an exaggeration in my experience that our dream life is ESSENTIAL to our emotional and spiritual health and it’s why I do meditative power-napping or a bit of imaginative play and pretend in a super relaxed state that usually leads to sleeping a bit! I find that when I allow my deeper psyche to take over, to make sense of the world through it’s stories. To sort, to order, to process… I’m much clearer in my conscious mind and my subconscious is at the ready to take *new* direction from my conscious mind.
Just like in life, if you let the PILES and PILES of laundry accumulate… it’s super overwhelming to even exist in your home. You’ll put off the project… procrastinating until you FINALLY decide to do something about it. It’s a cycle that saps your energy and keeps you stuck in survival mode.
All right… so you get the importance of dreaming. The sorting. The subconscious laundry - but still… the WHY remains.
Why THAT guy? Why THAT girl? Why THAT fling?
And why does that person appear in your dream JUST AS they were when your paths crossed THEN and not as they are now (older, taller, more fit, less fit, whatever)?
They come as messengers, and actually show up as a part of who you are. In a sense, they’re metaphors for something deeper than your conscious mind can otherwise understand. You have no other image for that part of yourself, no other words that can help you stir up that particular feeling or experience in order to integrate and process that part of who you are.
Let’s dig in to a specific story so you can see how this plays out.
The boyfriend who I regularly dreamed about was someone who I dated for maaaaybe a month in my Sophomore year of high school. We had also “gone out” for a week in 8th grade, and in 6th grade he’d tried to ask me to a dance… so as silly as it sounds now, there was an emotional history for me especially around some of the most awkward years of my life. During the period of us dating he regularly flaked out on calling me and would go hang out with friends at the beach and not bother to invite me. Hence it not lasting long. We really didn’t have much personal chemistry other than the fact that I found him very physically attractive at the time. I haven’t a clue how he really felt about me - it’s entirely possible he dated me because of pressure from his sister.
Compare this to another boyfriend who I dated for a couple of years early on in high school. I was 14, he was 18. I was flattered by his care and attention and he spoiled me with gifts, affirmations, and a sense of belonging that a young and internally insecure me was happy to accept. Objectively and consciously, I would think that THIS would be the boyfriend I would dream about… the one with the dramatic breakup and unresolved hurts and confusion I felt from our relationship. But, it wasn’t. To date I’ve had one… maybe two dreams about this person.
You can see how the “common sense” approach to dream life just doesn’t work!
So, I quit asking myself questions like “Why am I dreaming about this boyfriend? I don’t still have feelings for him, right?! Good grief, why can’t I stop dreaming about this person?"
And I started asking questions like “How do I feel about this dream? How did I feel in the scenario in the dream? What was it like to feel those emotions? What residual emotions do I have from the dream? What is it that made me uncomfortable about this dream? Why do I feel guilt or shame about this dream?"
Feelings would come up that surprised me… Sometimes I felt desired and wanted… Other times I felt ignored and unimportant… Still in other dreams I played the role of temptress - always keeping myself just out of his reach, seemingly just for the sake of playing the game.
When I dug even deeper, asking “What did this person mean to me? Why was I with him at that time? What part of me did he give me permission to be? What did he arouse in me that no one else had? In what ways did I feel empowered in our relationship? In what ways did I feel disappointed in our relationship?"
THAT is when I really struck gold. I was no longer judging my inner world and shaming myself for having silly dreams about someone who wasn’t a part of my life, I was open to learning and letting myself process feelings that were clearly very important to my intuitive psyche.
I realized then that I hadn’t chosen a single other boyfriend *purely* for physical attraction… I had given myself permission to be shallow for once. I had never dated someone who was popular and athletic before… I learned that I wasn’t as enthralled by those qualities as I thought. I felt empowered in our relationship to be… carnal… even though all we did was kiss probably twice the whole month. I felt disappointed that the initial attraction wasn’t supported by any deeper connection. We had little in common, and it just was what it was.
Again - this isn't a judgement on HIM... this about what this represents to ME.
The “carnal” nature of this blip in my relationship radar… was liberating… but also uncomfortable because my hopes for something “more” were crushed and my shame for being with someone for such “shallow” reasons held strong.
I came away from the experience with beliefs that my sexual nature had been proven yet again to be somehow “wrong."
What I found was that these dreams came up whenever I was repressing this part of me… the part of me with raging desire for my life. Not just sexual libido (which certainly plays a role) but the kind of libido that keeps you going, driven, inspired, and taking action in all areas. Each dream scenario would play out how I was feeling about my own libido at the time… Was it chasing me? Was I chasing it? Was it ignoring me? Was I ignoring it? Was it a fight, a struggle, a glimpse and nothing more?
Once I started giving gratitude for the way this person showed up in my dreams and opening to the deeper representation in my subconscious I found that the dreams simply occurred less and less over time. I started listening and taking action to shift and open this part of who I was more fully. Without the shame, restrictions, and feelings that I was “shallow” I found myself more free in my waking life and less in need of this exploration and sorting in my dream life.
On the rare occasion that I have a dream about someone from my past these days, I’m able to revisit the questions I shared above. I always look at the EMOTION and FEELING of it above all else.
Our subconscious communicates in image and story - so we must stop looking at these communications as literal representations of something to be FIXED and start with a heart of gratitude for the amazing, wise guidance that comes from within.
What’s YOUR most prevalent reoccurring dream? Use these questions as appropriate to dig in to your own experience and see what you find within.
P.S. I shared a video titled "THREE questions you MUST ask to get to the bottom of what your old boyfriend dreams mean for you NOW" on this topic as well over in my (FREE) community Magical U(terus). You won't want to miss the juicy conversation! Join us here: www.magicaluterus.com