Unlocking the Enigma: Why Dreams Are So Obscure

The unconscious mind doesn't think; it reveals. Learn how dreams show us hidden aspects of ourselves and the situations we're unaware of due to repression or denial. Explore the essence of the dream world.

Carol E. Davis MD

10/6/20232 min read

white and gray clouds
white and gray clouds

Why are dreams so obscure? Why is it so difficult to decipher the meaning and message of dreams?

Dreams can be a retelling of the experience of an event in the waking conscious world, and seem mundane, but often a dream can be so obscure that we dismiss it.

The unconscious speaks in a language of symbols. A sign, like a stop sign, gives information or direction, very specific and concrete, whereas a symbol, such as a flag, carries deeper meaning, more complex and nuanced, and open to multiple interpretations. The symbols can be both universal as well as uniquely personal. For example, a flower in bloom in a dream generally evokes thoughts of nature, beauty, delicateness, the feminine, etc., in all cultures and time periods. A dream of a cell phone may mean a way of communication and entertainment to one person, or a tool for enslavement for another. Feelings which are not expressed consciously are often expressed symbolically in dreams, e.g. fear commonly experienced in being chased, running away from something, a menacing presence felt in the dark. A common dream figure is the boogieman lurking in the dark, which is a symbol of an aspect of oneself which we have repressed or denied as an existent reality in our conscious personality. Death of a dream figure, even oneself in the dream, often represents the death of an aspect of one's personal psyche; it no longer serves the individual in the conscious life.

Another characteristic of dreams is that they don't follow the usual modes of logic, reason, and sequence which the waking world generally follows. Dreams do have segments like a short clip from a movie, but the segments commonly don't follow a logical sequence as one would see in a movie or a novel. It is the "dream ego", the figure that's watching and experiencing the dream, that tries to impose a logical order and sequence to the dream, and more often than not, it seems like an absurd dream.

In short, the unconscious doesn't "think about", instead it shows, it reveals aspects of ourselves. What the unconscious reveals is the "essence" of ourselves, our situation which we aren't aware of because it has been repressed or denied. Consciously, it's like when one sees a beautiful sunset, one immediately gets the essence and entirety of the beauty of the sunset. It's only later that the poet put into words what "beautiful sunset" is.