The True Meaning of Dreams

Ever since man has been able to think, he has tried to understand his dreams. He has called on dreams for divine guidance or for self-understanding. Many methods have been put forward for interpreting dreams. Some theorists have written off dreams as mere random thoughts that intrude into our sleep. Others have gone through great lengths to control their dreams, in order to experience them as entertainment or as paranormal phenomena.

One of the most persistent misconceptions regarding dreams is that they represent wishes. This notion was first popularized by Freud, and since then, it has stuck to the pop culture like Super Glue. Every one of us has at one time or another dreamed of a romantic encounter with some partner other than his spouse. And every one of us has been afraid to share that dream, lest she get the wrong idea.

But dreams do not, as Freud supposed, represent wishes. Rather, as recent research has suggested, dreams represent unfulfilled emotional expectations. That is, during the day we expected to feel a certain way, to have a certain emotional experience, and we didn’t. Someone did something or some event occurred to emotionally arouse us, but we never acted on that emotional arousal. In the meantime, our brains are geared up for the feelings that would have resulted had we acted on our feelings. Dreams are the result, dreams about those feelings, but not about the same people and events that caused the feelings.

This is called the Expectation Fulfillment Theory of Dreaming, first published in 1993 by psychologist Joe Griffin, who first stated the theory. Since then, the theory has gained support, as more research has borne out its conclusions and predictions. Since I’ve been keeping track, in my own informal research, it has also consistently explained my own dreams.

The Book

I first learned about the Expectation Fulfillment Theory through Joe Griffin’s book, How to Lift Depression Fast, which he authored with his colleague Ivan Tyrrell. I had been in the depths of a major depression, and at my most desperate, serendipity dropped in my lap a borrowed copy of this book. Implementing its suggestions instantly began to lift me out of the seemingly inviolable muck that had held me in its grasp. Needless to say, the experience enthused me.

I was particularly intrigued by their theory behind dreams and depression, and I took an opportunity also to borrow a copy of their book Dreaming Reality, which explores the Expectation Fulfillment Theory and its implications for psychology.

I wasn’t yet finished reading the book, but Joe and Ivan’s theories absolutely fascinated me, as did their writing, and I decided I wanted my own copies of the depression book, the dreaming book, and several more of their books.

Unfortunately, the authors practice in the UK, and their books are not distributed in the US. I looked on Amazon, and found used copies maybe available at unreasonable prices. But through the magic of the Internet, I also found their own publishing website, Human Givens Publishing, Ltd., and they do ship internationally. I signed up for an account at their web store, and added to my wish list there several books I wanted to get. I was concerned that I might never be able to afford the books I wanted, and I hoped that I would be able to buy them while they were still in print, but I reassured myself that they were unlikely to become unavailable from the authors’ own website.

I reflected on the fact that I was fortunate to have found these resources, because their research and theories are not yet ubiquitous worldwide, though adopted by numerous practitioners in Europe.

The Dream

That night, I had a strange dream, which I wrote down in detail immediately after waking.

I have attended two emotional and enlightening seminars by an exhilarating speaker, whom we have been introduced to by a college girl we know. I have completed only part of the homework from the second talk, and I am looking forward to finishing it and attending another seminar.

On the way home from the seminar, we stop at a restaurant, where I get a steak and cheese sandwich. We take the food out in styrofoam containers. We travel through a maze of rooms, hallways, and stairways in a college campus, to a picnic table where my mother is. She says she wants a reuben. There is a reuben in one of the containers, and I give it to her. She eats it. Then she says that it was something else that had smelled so good and repeats that she wanted a reuben. I told her, that’s what I gave her, a reuben, but that I had a steak and cheese for myself. She then says, “Yes, that was it,” and wants one. So I walk all the way back to the restaurant, which is situated at the other end of the maze of rooms, hallways, and stairways, and then through a secret door that must be opened by moving a book on an end table next to a chair.

One of the rooms on this route is a cafe, with round tables at which scattered people are seated and drinking coffee. I stop when I come to this room and wonder why I can’t get the sandwich from the cafe, and then I remember that it doesn’t sell the right kind of sandwich. I continue on.

The secret door is also the door we must go through in order to hear the exhilarating speaker. As I mentioned, the secret door must be opened by moving a book which is stacked on an end table situated by a chair. On this chair is seated a college girl, one of the friends of the girl who had introduced us to the exhilarating speaker. As I look for the book to move, on the table, I know that the exhilarating speaker had authored it. I am gripped with fear that it may not be on the table anymore, and that I therefore may not be able to open the door, but with relief I realize that it is only partly read, and so the girl who introduced us to the speaker would not have moved it from the table, because she was still in the process of reading it. The girl in the chair helps me find it, and I move it, and the secret door pops open.

The Interpretation

The exhilarating speaker is of course Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, the authors of How to Lift Depression Fast and Dreaming Reality. The two talks I had attended were these two books I had borrowed. But I had only partially read through the second, which is why I had only finished part of the homework from the second talk. But I was looking forward to finishing it and attending more talks–that is, reading more books.

The college campus of rooms, hallways, and staircases represents the Internet, which is how I discovered Joe and Ivan’s work in the first place, via the girl who introduced us to the exhilarating speaker. It is also how I discovered their website, represented by the girl who helped me open the secret door. The secret door is the information that I had acquired by researching the subject on the Internet, which I considered to have made me more fortunate than the average American.

The sandwiches represent the two different sources of book, borrowed versus owned. My mother is that part of me who wants his own copy of the book and actually feels a little bad for having borrowed copies. In the dream, she asked for a reuben (a borrowed book), which is what I gave her. But that wasn’t quite right. She could smell the steak and cheese (the owned book), and that’s what she really wanted.

So I travelled all the way back through the college campus, through the cafe, which represents Amazon. I stopped there, as I did in real life, and asked whether I could get the correct kind of sandwich there, because it was much closer to where my mother was, but I couldn’t, and I had to go all the way back to the source.

However, in my dream, I had some trouble finding the key-book, my fear that something may prevent me from ordering the books I want while they are still available. However, I remembered that the key-book is still being read, as in real life I reasoned that the authors were unlikely to stop distributing their own book from their own website. So I manipulated the key-book and opened the door, as I eventually expected to order the books I wanted from the authors’ website.

Freud Had It Wrong

I also had another dream that night, which I also recorded, related to another unresolved, emotionally significant event that day, which I may also share with you in another post. For now, I’ll just say that it too can be completely explained by the Expectation Fulfillment Theory of Dreaming.

Since then, several friends have noted dreams that they’ve had, with off-hand comments about interpreting their dreams. Each time this has happened, all my friends have assumed that the dream events represent unexpressed desires, as Freud posited, and that the dream images are to be taken literally.

However, this could not be further from the truth:

This is good news, because it means that we don’t have to feel guilty about having romantic or erotic dreams about people other than our spouses. If I have a dream about some movie star, for example, the movie star probably represents characteristics that I actually find sexy or romantic about my wife.