How to Interpret Dreams: Expectation Fulfilment Theory
I have been recording my dreams in a journal for a number of years now. The main reason in doing so has always been for ideas and inspiration for my photography, however recently this has changed. I have never really felt the need to find out the actual meaning of my dreams and every time I attempted to interpret one I would never get very far (especially if I took the Freudian approach). For a time I also believed all dreams to be meaningless or at least random flashes of memory or thought all jumbled together. At least with this belief it meant that I did not have to make any effort to ever interpret them. However, after reading the book ‘Dreaming Reality’ by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell things started to make sense.
It is now clear that dreams are based on events and concerns from the previous day and are derived from the observations that I made, strong feelings of emotion and also reflections I had on past or future events. However, not all of this will appear in a dream. According to Griffin’s expectation fulfilment theory only “unexpressed emotionally arousing concerns” from the previous day will appear. Basically things that got me emotionally aroused but I had failed to act upon during the day. If for example, I got angry with someone but failed to express that anger. The key to this however is to recognise that dreams are metaphorical translations, everything you see in a dream is a substitute for something else.
The first dream in which this became apparent was one I had on the 3rd of July 2009 while I was on holiday in the Dominican Republic. The waking concerns I had on the 2nd of July are the most obvious in the following parts of the dream:
I suddenly wake up in the dream in my bed at my old house in Natal Place. My sister enters my room and hands me a sock.
I am now at a computer station outside and I appear to be at work. There are a few of us working. We seem to be working late. The general public are walking about around us. A child stops beside me and picks up some money that was lying on the grass. This money belonged to us. I look over and I can see the child’s parents. They may be Indian. The woman says to me aggressively: What are you looking at? The woman walks away with the man and child although I realise that she will likely return.
A little later the woman returns. It is now 1am. Our manager, who I do not recognise, chases the woman into a shop and punches her hard on the face. The scene is quite outrageous and I did not expect him to punch her. However, I notice that the woman runs away smiling and laughing like it was all staged.
In interpreting the dream I had to think about what I had done the previous day and write down anything that may have affected me emotionally. Of course this was all done in retrospect and ideally at the end of the day or when the event occurred I should try and note it down so I have something to compare the dream to the next day. However, this can obviously be difficult but if this is done then it should be possible to predict what is likely to appear in your dreams.
In scene 1 above, my sister enters my room and hands me a sock. This part of the dream can be easily interpreted – the mysterious vanishing socks. The previous night while I was getting ready to go out I could only find one sock. I searched the hotel room for the other sock but couldn’t find it. I finally gave up frustrated and just lay on the bed. My girlfriend was in the room at the time but she didn’t help find it.
This scenario is played out in the dream but the important details have been changed. My girlfriend was replaced by my sister. I was lying in a bed however I was not in the hotel room but in my old room at my parents house. The emotional charge (or frustration) attached to this scenario was deactivated when my sister handed me a sock in the dream thus providing me with the outcome I was looking for in waking life.
The previous day I left the hotel and went on an excursion to Ocean World Adventure Park in Puerto Plata. Ocean World is a place where you can swim with dolphins and sharks and they also have a tiger enclosure for some reason. While we were at ocean world we had our photographs taken as we swum with dolphins. The photos were available to purchase at an outrageous price at the photo lab.
Before we left we had a look at the photos as we were thinking about buying one. However, the woman who served me at the counter was infuriating, obnoxious and unhelpful. As the woman took us through the photos on the computer she tried to rush us into making a decision which really annoyed me. At the same time she got extremely impatient with us and started to sigh and put her head on the table. Eventually, she walked away from us through the back without saying anything. At this point I was ready to explode but managed to hold in my anger. I decided to take control of the computer and look through the photos myself which seemed to annoy the woman even more. She eventually returned with the same scowl on her face and we told her which photo we wanted. She told us to return later to collect the photo. We walked outside and a few minutes later a woman walked past us and smiled at me. I mistook this woman for the same woman who had just served us at the photo desk as she was the spitting image of her. I couldn’t understand how one minute this woman was obnoxious and the next she was smiling at me.
This scenario was played out metaphorically in scene 2. In the dream, I am not at Ocean World but instead I am outside at work sitting at a computer station. It is a similar situation as the general public are walking about like they would have been while I was standing at the photo desk. The child who stops and steals our money could be related to the fact that I felt I was being ripped off as the photo was ridiculously expensive for what it was. I become angry at the child’s parents who in fact are an Indian couple I saw the previous night while I was having dinner in the hotel restaurant. I did not speak to the Indian couple at all while I was there. The Indian woman speaks to me aggressively and she clearly is standing in for the Dominican woman from the photo lab who had enraged me the previous day.
In the dream, the Indian woman walks away but I realise that she will return. This is what happened at the photo desk. When the woman does eventually return instead of suppressing my anger as I did in waking life, my anger toward her is clearly shown when the woman is chased by our manager (who is in fact representing myself) and punched hard on the face. This is something I would have loved to have done at the time, something I had felt like doing but obviously something I couldn’t act out in real life.
I have however acted this out in the dream therefore in turn I have deactivated the emotional charge that was associated with it and I have finally expressed my anger. Although I had probably put all this to the back of my mind before I went to sleep, it appeared in the dream as it was emotionally arousing and it was still active due to the fact I didn’t express my anger at the time of the event. Deactivating unexpressed emotions within the dream will free the brain and allow it to start with a clean slate the next day.
At the end of scene 2, I noticed that the Indian woman runs away smiling and laughing like it was all staged. This fits in with what happened after I left the photo desk at Ocean World. A few minutes later I saw a woman who looked identical to the annoying woman at the photo desk which confused me at the time. I remember thinking to myself that she must have been pretending all the time she was serving us at the photo desk. My girlfriend also later confirmed that she also thought it was the same woman.
Why do we dream in metaphor?
There is now only one question to answer – why do we dream in metaphor? The reason given by Griffin is if we didn’t dream in metaphor and we remembered those dreams which were similar to the scenarios in real life, we would be creating false memories. Our memory would either become corrupt or incomplete. If for example, my brain replayed the event at the photo desk in exact detail but in the dream I punched the woman in the face this would change my memory of what actually happened which could have consequences. If the scenario is replayed metaphorically, where everyone and everything is replaced it can be safely forgotten. Even if it is remembered I will easily be able to distinguish it from a real memory.
The dream therefore appears to be theatre. The brain needs to deactivate unexpressed emotions therefore it replays the scenario while we sleep until the emotion has been expressed or the desired outcome has been reached. However, it does not use the original characters or places or things but replaces everyone and everything in the dream with things from my memory.
In the dream above, my sister was used to play the part of my girlfriend. A woman I saw in a restaurant the previous night was used to play the part of the obnoxious woman at the photo desk. However, it could have easily have been a celebrity or someone I saw on the TV the night before. The sock scenario was played out in my childhood home instead of the hotel room I was staying in again an old memory. I believe since I didn’t find the sock in waking life the sock appeared to me as a sock in the dream and not another object.
According to the theory there will be exceptions. For example, if I see a dead person in a dream, they will be playing themselves as in reality they are dead and in the dream I would be seeing them alive. If I sense someone’s presence in the dream but do not actually see them in front of me, they are actually playing themselves. This happens quite often for me as I have had many dreams recently where my girlfriend or a friend is with me but I never actually see them in front of me I just know that they are there. If I did happen to see them in front of me then they would be representing someone else in the dream.
I intend to post some more articles on this theory in the near future. To be continued…
Griffin, J. & Tyrrell, I. (2004) “Dreaming Reality: How dreaming keeps us sane, or can drive us mad.” UK, HG Publishing. ISBN 1-899398-36-8
Tyrrell, Ivan; Joe Griffin (2004). Human Givens. HG Publishing. ISBN 1-899398-31-7.