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  • Writer's pictureGuylaine Richer de Lafleche

How to Build Your Dream Dictionary

Dream dictionaries can be found in print or online and are perhaps the most common way to interpret dream symbols today, but more often than not, this method is more fun than it is reliable. Dream dictionaries provide general definitions and categorization's and should be used as a final source after your personal dreamwork has been done.

Our dreams manifest from our own personal experiences and emotions. These experiences and emotions are stored in our subconscious and unconscious mind, creating our very own internal library full of signs, symbols, and unique associations. Keeping this in mind, it’s easy to see how a particular symbol will hold a very different meaning for me, then it would for you. For example, if I’m working with a balloon as my dream symbol, a dream dictionary will tell me things like, how much I miss my childhood or that a celebration is on its way. While this may be true for some, for most, it’ll completely miss the mark. Some people may associate a balloon to a traumatizing experience inducing fear rather than happy and playful times from their childhood.

So, what do you do if your dream dictionary isn’t working for you? You create your own!

One way you can start to build your own dream dictionary is by using a technique that was introduced to us by Sigmund Freud in the early 1890s, known as ‘Free Association’. Freud devised this technique as a replacement for hypnosis in psychoanalysis. This technique encouraged his patients to temporarily give-up their psychological censorship, allowing them to speak their mind freely and spontaneously without their critical mind intervening. Free Association can help us to find our own connections within our subconscious as opposed to accepting what an analyst or dream dictionary might assume.

This method is a fun and effective way to work with your dream symbols. Start by choosing a symbol in your dream. Next, take a few moments and move quickly through your thoughts and memories that are associated with the symbol. On a piece of paper write down everything that comes to your mind — no answer is right or wrong. For example, using a balloon as my dream symbol, my list of free associations may look something like this: colourful, birthdays, hospitals, happy, celebration, childhood, play, static, pop, loud, anxious, angry, loss of breath, light-headedness, water balloon fights, Disney’s movie ‘Up’, pollution and so on.

You may be wondering how you relate your free associations to your dream specifically. To help with this, we can turn to Carl Jung’s method, known as ‘Amplification.’ 

Jung introduced amplification as an unfolding of the richness and depth of a dream image. With this method, Jung would discover how one would associate the symbol in their dream on a cultural, religious, mythological and/or personal level. This method is similar to free association except you’re taking a contemplative approach rather than allowing your mind to wander freely. With amplification focus on the whole image in the dream scene, using all of your senses. For example, after a dream featuring a balloon, I’d ask myself: “Does this balloon remind me of a specific experience? How does it make me feel?” Often times the memory and emotions will come to you without even asking. From here, explore your memory in-depth and observe if any other connections unfold. 

This method can help you with cultural connections as well. Does this image remind you of any childhood fairytales, religious stories, or ancient myths? What about popular culture? If so, taking further research into these topics may help you to see your dream on a collective level rather than an individual level. 

If amplification and free association are more work than you’d like to take on right now, then simply start to organize your signs and symbols as they appear both in dream and waking life. Over time, these patterns will reveal how all states of consciousness are connected, and how each symbol is unique to you.  

The thought of starting a dreamwork practice, especially building your own dream dictionary, might seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. Dreamwork is a practice that addresses your needs and should be done in a format that works best for you! My hope is that these simple techniques will get you started, and help you to see how fun and enlightening working with your dreams can be.


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