What Do Dreams About The Future or Past Mean?

what does my dream mean

What Does My Dream Mean?

By: Dr. John D. Moore

What does my dream mean? This is a common question that many of our Chicago counseling and psychotherapy clients ask as they search for answers to unlocking the secrets to their unconscious. To be frank, it is a topic that comes up a lot, requiring both the therapist and the client to work in tandem in order to arrive at the answer.

There are many different schools of thoughts about what dreams mean with scores of theories that are too many in number to address in this one article. What I have attempted to do is to aggregate some of the more common beliefs about dreams as offered through scientific research and Native Indian culture.

My hope in sharing this information with you is to help you arrive at the answer to the question: What does my dream mean?” I have tried to keep the material simple and down to earth – devoid of psychological jargon that only serves to confuse an already abstract area. Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!

What does my dream mean 101

What might be helpful for you to focus on is simply this – your dreams are trying to tell you something. Specifically, your dreams are attempting to communicate material that is designed to inform you about who you are, what you want, what you fear and where you should be going.

Many therapists believe that dreams are a portal – a conduit into the deep recesses of the mind that speaks to us when we are asleep. Through dream interpretation and openness to its many messages, you can increase your sense of self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-esteem.

The meaning of dreams and how to interpret them is a giant topic. This article will walk you through some of the more important elements so that you can move about the business of better understanding what’s going on in your mind when you sleep. You need to know the following two steps out of the way first before doing anything else.

what does my dream mean
Dream Interpretation

1. Assess the Function of Your Dream

If you are trying to understand what your dream means, it will help a great deal to know what function what your dream serving. Here are some examples.

Let’s say you are watched a television show early in the evening that had an ocean theme (like a Paul Walker’s “Into the Blue”. Later say later that night when you fell asleep, you dreamed about the beach, water, blue skies and seagulls. What does it all mean?

The obvious answer is that your brain borrowed from the TV show you were watching and coughed up residue in the form of the subconscious. The real meaning, however, of that dream can be determined by pulling out the main themes and then integrating that material into your existing understanding of the here and now.

Dream’s Main Functions:

  • Express feelings, thoughts and emotions
  • Balance, maintain and improve mental health functioning
  • Provide insight on our wants, needs and desires
  • Sexual outlet for pent up energy
  • Defragging the subconscious and organizing into parts
  • Associative learning through memory
  • Problem solving for simple or complex issues
  • Channeling creativity and imagination
  • Connect with our psycho-spiritual core
  • Outlets for fantasies and wish-fulfillment

Through the act of being aware we are dreaming (aka lucid dreaming), we are able to increase our sense of self-confidence as well as confidence in other areas of life. We can also experience mental, spiritual and physical healing. Many people have empathic abilities use their dreams as a way of understanding their world.

In the case of dreaming about the ocean above, how might you interpret the dream? Since water is considered to be a sign of transcending worldly worries and problems, could it be that your mind was trying to remind you to relax and become less anxious?

meaning of dreams
Meaning of dreams

2. Be Mindful of Emotions

What you feel when you are dreaming is extremely important. In fact, the ability to identify your feelings is a key ingredient in answering that question, “What does my dream mean?” This may come as a shock to you but your dreams are not all that mysterious – and they don’t try to hide things from you.

Why Emotions are Important with Dreams

If you are flying in your dream and feeling weightless and free, this could mean that you are moving towards something life changing and transformative. The ability to see things as you fly over them, such as people, suggests that you are transcending time and space to a new beginning.

  • What if you dream you are in outer space? Could this mean that you are having a multidimensional experience of galactic proportions? If you are a fan of Star Trek, you might be!
  • Or, what if you are having a flying dream where you are passing through walls and other solid objects. Do you feel fearless? Perhaps your mind is encouraging you to not worry about taking risks?

Keep a pen and paper next to your bed and make sure you jot down your feelings that are linked to objects and symbols from your dream. If you can’t pinpoint the emotion, just write down what you are feeling at the moment when you think about the object. This could prove valuable later when you mediate on your dreams meaning.

dreams about dead people
Dreams about dead people: What do they mean?

What Past Events in Dreams Mean

A common theme for many who dream relates to past or present events. It’s hard to know what these dreams truly mean however, psychologist like Carl Jung suggest you may be trying to work out some type of inter-psychic conflict.

  • Dreams about your parents (living or dead) could suggest unfinished business.
  • Dreams about a house you lived in may suggest a trauma from the past that has yet to heal.
  • A dream about someone who has died may suggest unresolved grief or loss.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as part of your dream journal. You can use variations of these questions to fit your needs:

  • Does your dream involve specific places from your past?
  • Did you dream about someone you once loved (or love)?
  • How would you describe your emotions when you think about the past person/event?
  • What purpose is revisiting this part of your life serving?
  • Do any of these things act as barriers to reaching your life goals?
  • Do you regret a choice or decision make from that period of time?
  • Are you trying to get back on track with a goal from the past?
dreams about the future
Dreams about the future: Meaning?

Can Dreams Foretell the Future?

A common question that comes up in psychotherapy related to dreams is: Can dreams forecast the future? As a behavioral scientist, I can state with certainty that we have yet to find scientific evidence to support an affirmative answer. That is not to say it doesn’t happen.

At their core, dreams can foreshadow something that might happen in the future. This isn’t the same as a dream being prophetic. If you have a general form of anxiety, you may dream about something you are worried about down the road that has a high probability of becoming true.

I cannot tell you if your dreams truly have future casting elements but I can say that many people believe some of what they experience while sleeping falls into the paranormal area. These kinds of dreams are super rare.

Here is a list of meanings associated with paranormal type dreams, taken from the literature and from zodiac compatibility studies.

  • Dreams about a deceased relative that you communicate with in your dream may be an attempt to resolve an old conflict or impart feelings of safety.
  • Dreams about someone we do not know may suggest a form of communication with them on another realm or dimension.
  • Dreams about angels and spirits suggest an invitation to healing from a higher power.
  • Dreams about ourselves in a past life serve as an echo of our former realities.
  • Out of body experiences suggest a near-death experience.
  • Communication with yourself at a future point suggest astral travel.

Anyone who has had the kinds of dreams described above almost always indicate their dreams were extremely vivid with the ability to recall even the smallest of details. These dream memories are generally accompanies by intense feelings that leave an imprint on the psyche that cannot be shaken.

what do nightmares mean
Nightmares: What do they mean?

Nightmare Dreams

Nobody likes having nightmares. It is important to state here that some people experience a terrible mental health issue known as night terror disorder which is different than your regular, run of the mill nightmare. Make sure you learn the differences.

Assuming you are having nightmares, you need to realize that your scary dreams are trying to tell you something. Those frightening thoughts you are having when you are asleep is likely your mind’s way of letting free deeply held emotions and thoughts that have been repressed or suppressed. It is for this reason the dreams can be so horrifying – they serve the purpose of letting you know a perceived threat exists (real or imagined).

When you have a nightmare, it’s a strong sign that you have arrived at a place that you are ready to deal with whatever is unresolved. Your mind may be trying to tell you to address this issue and its using one of the most powerful emotions it can muster up – fear.

Nightmares happen to just about everyone so don’t freak out when they happen. Instead, use some of the suggestions made before to identify themes and emotions. This will help you to better understand what is going on in your subconscious.

common theme in dreams
Common Dream Themes: Meaning

Common Themes in Dreams

I can’t list the entire theme-set areas people dream about but I will try to touch upon some of the more common ones that come up for many in psychotherapy.

Remember when you read these that your mind is trying to tell you something. Sometimes you have to look for symbolism in order to figure out the mental messaging taking place in the subconscious.

Does My Dream Mean Video Symbols

Dreams often contain symbols that are common in nature – but what do they really mean? Depending upon who you ask, these dream symbols can hold a variety of meanings. This video walks you through some of the more common interpretations, mixed with a little science.

Cheating Spouse/Partner

If you are dreaming of your husband, wife or significant other cheating on you, know that you are not alone. This is a common experience and often means you hold anxiety and fear about your relationship.

It is possible you are tapping into some kind of intuition on this front but you need to put together all of the facts before you jump to any conclusions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as a way of figuring out what’s up:

  • Do you fear your lover will leave you? Why?
  • Do you feel unworthy of being in a relationship with your partner?
  • Have you been cheating or thinking of cheating?
  • Do you have a history of trusting your partners?
  • Do you have problems with trusting yourself?
  • Do you fear you will relapse from an addiction?
  • Are you attracted to another woman or man?
what do naked dreams mean
Naked Dreams: What Do They Mean?

Naked Dreams

If you dream about being naked, don’t feel ashamed. This too is a common theme that comes up for many people. They can be exhilarating if you give yourself permission to go with it. There are a number of questions you might want to ask yourself if you dream of your self in your birthday suit.

If your feelings about being naked are positive, it may mean:

  • You are sexually expressive and free.
  • You have broken free from a problem or dilemma.
  • You are not ashamed of your body.
  • You have a transparent personality and do not hide things from others.
  • You are not ashamed of your sexuality.

If your feelings about being naked are negative, it may mean:

  • You feel sexually repressed.
  • You fear being exposed to others.
  • You have some general body image issues.
  • You are withholding emotions that need to be purged.
what do animals mean dreams
Dreams about Animals: Meaning

Dreams about Animals

Many people share during counseling/psychotherapy dreams they have about animals. Some people believe these kinds of dreams act as a kind of communication conduit with their animal spirit guide. Others believe animal based dreams are trying to tell us something about our personal lives.

Here are a few animals that frequently come up in dreams. I have included a few possibilities for what they may mean should them pop up in your nighttime dreams.


  • Dogs are the ultimate communicators of mindfulness because they live very much in the here and now. Wolves should also be included in this canine area.
  • What are you neglecting in your life that you need to be more mindful? What are you blowing off that might come back to bite you later?
  • Dogs are intuitive and loyal. Is your inner voice trying to tell you something about a given situation or event? If so, what?
  • Dogs are skilled listeners. What are you missing in conversations with others? Is there a deeper meaning that you are missing out on?


  • Eagles are able to fly very high and soar above land and sea. They also have keen vision, allowing them to “see” even the tiniest detail on the ground. Can you see the “big picture” or are you having trouble focusing on something?
  • Are you trying to see things from one perspective when in fact – the meaning is entirely different?
  • Eagles are majestic and strong. Do you perceive these characteristics about yourself or someone you know?
  • Eagles are highly intelligent and know how to get what they need. Do you see yourself as being smart or do you feel the opposite?


  • Horses are characteristically strong yet gentle at the same time. They also have loving personalities and become loyal to their owners. Do you hold warm feelings about yourself or someone you know?
  • Do you feel you are loyal to the goals you have set forth in the future?
  • Horses love to run (gallop) in open fields. Do you feel free of a given life challenge? Do you want to be free of a problem?
  • Horses often are used as a sexual symbol. Do you feel sexy? Do you feel unattractive? Do you secretly desire a large penis or wish you or someone you know had one?

Dream Interpretation Resource

There are many books available on the marketplace about what dreams mean. One of the best resources out there is, The Hidden Meaning of Dreams by Hamilton-Parker and Milton.

What’s great about this book is the easy to understand, no non-sense approach the authors use to help readers interpret what their dreams man. If you are looking to explore common themes in your dreams or resolve deep psychological conflicts, this book might just be exactly what you are looking for!

Final Thoughts

Understanding what our dreams mean is not an exact science. We are still trying to figure out what is going on when we are dreaming. Behavioral scientists and the medical community have much more research to do on this front.

For now – all we can do is look for themes and identify what we are feeling (and seeing) as a way of gaining better insight. Sweet dreams!