Have you ever woken up from a dream thinking, "What in the actual heck was that all about??"
You may be even feeling a little embarrassed. You may wonder, "What does that say about me that I would dream that?"
Or maybe, “Do I need to see a shrink?”
But fear not. There's nothing wrong with you!
Weird, gross, and inappropriate dreams are par for the course in dream work. This is especially true when we’re dealing with a part of us we’re keeping hidden because its shameful or socially unacceptable.
The part that can feel disturbing is that it’s your brain who came up with this stuff. Doesn’t that mean your brain is messed up? After all, it dreamt that!
But the thing to remember is that the dreaming brain is very different from the awake brain. The subconscious doesn’t have the same filter on its content as the conscious does.
So much like your friend who goes into painfully embarrassing detail of their life story with perfect strangers, your dreaming brain simply does not give a fuck if it makes your night awkward.
Nonetheless, you may be wondering why you dreamed this. After all, it has to mean something, right?
The answer is, yes and no. Yes, it means something because all dreams come from a place of significance and meaning. This is arguably the main purpose of dreams—to extract meaning from our experience so we can use it in the future.
But it probably doesn’t mean what you think. Messed up dreams are not necessarily a sign you are messed up. Often, the interpretation is much more mundane and boring than the dream itself.
So take a deep breath and lean into the awkward. Here’s some information that may help.
Why do we have inappropriate dreams?
Dreams are bizarre because the pattern of activation in the brain is very different when we’re sleeping from when we’re awake.
When we're awake, our consciousness gets input from many areas and systems responsible for logic, reality testing, and inhibition. This allows us to navigate our environment, understand linear relationships like time, carry on coherent conversations, solve problems, and all the other wonderful stuff we do in the waking realm.
But when we're in dreaming sleep, those sense-making parts of the brain go to sleep too.
For instance, the part of our brain that tests reality ("Is this real?") and makes sense of our experience may become temporarily silent when we enter the dream state. In particular, the frontal lobe, which is important for reasoning and inhibiting behavior, is almost completely offline when we're dreaming.
The result? A completely illogical, disinhibited shit show of crazy memory activations!
That’s right, your memories are being reactivated, strengthened, and reorganized during sleep, and your dreams are windows into this process.
When we don’t have our logical, rational brain reigning it in, the subconscious becomes a playground for bizarre combinations of memories, thoughts, emotions, sensations, and symbols.
That’s it. Much like a child can’t be blamed for blurting out weird stuff because they don’t have the filter instilled over years of social conditioning, your dreaming brain says the darnedest things.
The cool thing is that this is what makes dreams an opportunity for incredible feats of creativity and problem solving. So the weird is actually wonderful!
Yeah, but why THAT?
That’s all well and good, but what made you dream about that particular *shudder* weird thing?
This may be at the forefront of your mind if it is particularly socially unacceptable or involves a cultural taboo.
Fear and discomfort is a totally understandable response to these types of dreams. They can be rather disturbing given how important social acceptance—and the avoidance of social rejection—is to us as human beings.
The idea that these dreams have to do with inappropriate or unacceptable parts of ourselves was first described by Sigmund Frued, who believed most if not all dream symbols were the result of repressed sexual desires.
But as the field of dream science has evolved, it is becoming clear that even sexual dreams may have nothing to do with sex. Instead, a recent waking experience likely triggered the activation of another memory, which is why the two showed up together in your dream.
So if you dreamed about having sex with a parent, it’s not because you’re a sicko. Most likely, a new romantic partner may have characteristics that remind you of your parent or bring up conditioning related to that parent.
Which brings me to the next point—how do you interpret these weird dreams?
Interpreting gross, inappropriate, or otherwise weird dreams
Sometimes we get lost in the discomfort of having dreamt about something so inappropriate and weird that we lose sight of the deeper meaning. However, as with all dream symbols, your brain chose that for a reason.
If you can endure the discomfort, you'll find these dreams are often hiding a world of insight—but not in the way you may think.
As I mentioned before, these dreams can sometimes get us in touch with feelings of shame, guilt, and fear of social rejection. That’s what makes them so uncomfortable—because they’re shoving into our face parts of us we’ve spent a lifetime hiding away because we were taught they were unacceptable.
Because they’re so well hidden, it can be difficult for the dreamer to interpret them in any other way than face value. This is especially true if we use our logical, rational, thinking mind to interpret the dream.
The solution? Go with feeling.
As with all dream work, it can be beneficial to examine the emotions that this dream brought up for you. This requires suspending the thinking mind for just a moment and feeling into the body.
Once you’ve identified an emotion (feel free to use this handy emotion list to help you out), really embody it as much as possible. This can be uncomfortable, but remember you are safe and this is temporary.
Now ask yourself, do you feel this emotion elsewhere in your waking life? What does this emotion remind you of? If you bring in some of the dream characters and symbols, what kinds of insights come to mind?
This may give you some clues as to the dream's meaning.
Feeling brave and want to share some of your weird and inappropriate dreams in the comments? I would love to hear about it!