Dreams: The Key to Unlocking Your Subconscious

April 17, 2022

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I’ve had crazy dreams since I can remember. My husband gets a chuckle out of the latest wackiness my brain comes up with while I sleep. Even the repetitive ones, those recurring nightmares I think everyone suffers from time to time, are entertaining. Here’s a selection of my recurring nightmares that in retrospect seem funny, but while I’m dreaming them, are very distressing:

  • I’m in a car and I’m driving up a hill. When I first get going, I think it’s going to be no problem at all, but the higher I drive, the steeper it gets, until I’m almost at the top. The hill is vertical now. I’m inches away from hooking my front tires over the summit, and then my car starts to fall backwards. There’s that moment where the force of gravity seems to cease having control over my body, as I begin to freefall backwards. I always wake up with a start at this point, my stomach tickling. I’ve never actually fallen to the ground as far as I know. My dream ends as I start the fall to the earth that is very far below. In the back of my mind, I know I’m about to die, and I’m going to die because I didn’t think things through all the way before I embarked on my journey.
  • I’m walking around somewhere. Doesn’t matter where, that part is vague, so unimportant. I realize that one of my teeth is loose. I look in the mirror and realize all of my teeth are loose. They’re so loose, some of them are just falling out. I realize that soon I will be completely toothless at a very young age.
  • I’m in school. I realize that I’ve been enrolled since the beginning of the semester, but it’s almost the end of the term, and I’ve forgotten to go to class. I have no idea why; it’s as if I forgot all about it. I feel very irresponsible. I can’t find my classroom. The layout of the school isn’t familiar because it’s been so long since I’ve been there. I know I have a locker somewhere with my books in it. I can’t find it. I can’t remember where it is. Then I find it and it has a lock on it. I can’t remember the combination. I spin the wheel over and over trying to remember the combination. Eventually, I end up in my classroom, and it’s a math class usually (of course) but sometimes history. There’s a test that day, and I haven’t studied. I don’t even know the material. I’m hoping I’ll be able to remember enough high school math to get by. I realize I’m going to fail this test, all because I was irresponsible.
  • And then there’s the classic…I am looking for a bathroom but every bathroom has doors missing and is in the middle of a crowded area, or the toilet is up on a stage, there are people watching, or I finally find one and it’s clogged. 

Over the years I’ve realized that my dreams, and the dreams of people I’ve worked with, are most often a very creative story the brain makes up to manage the emotions, issues, turmoils, anxieties and other things that are running (or ruining) our lives. Most of the time, these dream-stories our subconscious minds create are there to help us make sense of the complex situations we’re experiencing, whether we are experiencing them consciously or otherwise. [NOTE: If your dreams are particularly detailed and wacky, I recommend you consider becoming an author; it means your brain is wired for highly creative storytelling!]

The beauty of our minds never ceases to amaze me. We can try to hide how we’re feeling about something, even from ourselves, but the brain knows what’s really going on. Even those issues we don’t realize are bugging us, the brain knows they’re having a detrimental effect on our lives or our mental health. To be mentally healthy, deep down we know we have to face our issues and resolve them, and if we aren’t willing to deal with them head on/consciously, our dreams will take up the cause. The less we’re dealing with our issues in this way, the more vivid and frequent our dreams can become, as our minds work overtime to get us to pay attention. “Wake up!” your mind says. “You need to get your sh*t together!”

The brain is constantly trying to make sense of the world around it and how it’s affecting us internally. It’s all about survival, an instinct you cannot hide from or get rid of. Psychologist Joseph Troncale, M.D. explains, “the limbic system of the brain has been implicated as the seat of emotion, addiction, mood, and lots of other mental and emotional processes. It is the part of the brain that is phylogenetically very primitive. Many people call it the “Lizard Brain,” because the limbic system is about all a lizard has for brain function. It is in charge of fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing up, and fornication.” Consider how much space these things (emotion, mood, addiction, etc.) take up in our lives, and it’s not surprising to find that dreams take up so much significance while we’re sleeping, where our thoughts, emotions, and needs remain unguarded.

The magic of dreams is that they clearly illustrate what the issue is and they also provide the solution to dealing with them. The biggest tip I can give you on how to use your dreams as interpretive stories of what’s going on in your life is this: focus on the emotions and thoughts you’re having as the visions are playing out in your memory of the dream, not the actual facts of the dream itself. Dreams tell a story with the images first and then with the emotions and feelings those images stir inside you. The magic is in the underlying story the dream is trying to tell. Let’s take my first dream, for example. 

I’m driving up a hill in my car. That’s easy enough to “see” in your mind’s eye: a long, steep highway hill. But what was I feeling at this stage of the dream?

  • I was in an area I wasn’t familiar with
  • It seemed like everything was going to be fine. I saw a hill but I felt like I could handle it because I’ve driven up plenty of hills before and I’m a good driver.
  • As I went farther along, the hill got steeper. I felt like what was happening was something I hadn’t really anticipated. The hill didn’t look this steep when I started. Things were not going as I had expected.
  • When it got really steep, but the top was near, I told myself, “I’m pretty sure we can make it. Keep going.” It never entered my mind to stop, to hit the brakes, to reverse, even though it felt like I was in danger. I had this urge to keep going, push it to the limit, as if I had committed to getting over that hill and so it had to be done. But I was worried, all the same.
  • As I reached the top and realized that I was not going to make it, and I was falling backwards, I felt surprised. I had a lot of regret and fear. It was too late to do anything now but live with the consequence, which was probably death.

Okay, so now we’ve got the basics, let’s look at it without the imagery, just taking thoughts and emotions into consideration:

  • I’m in unfamiliar territory
  • I feel confident based on my past experience
  • As I progress on my journey things become more difficult than I imagined.
  • Fear enters the picture, but I push myself on because I don’t want to give up. I’m committed.
  • My refusal to give in to that fear causes me to die. Like falling off a cliff type dying.

Seems pretty drastic! But now let’s align these feelings with what’s going on in my life (one of the times I dreamed this):

  • I’m in unfamiliar territory (starting a new job)
  • I feel confident based on my past experience (I’ve worked in so many new jobs and I’m pretty much always a great employee and do well with the work I’m given.)
  • Things become more difficult than I imagined. (I worry that I will run into issues with co-workers because it has been so long since I had a job where I wasn’t the boss. Or I’m worried that I won’t be as good at the job as I want to be; there’s a learning curve.)
  • Fear enters the picture, but I push myself on because I don’t want to give up. (Maybe I doubt whether I should even take the job. Maybe I made a mistake believing this was a good idea. But I’ve already committed to people over taking this job and providing for my family, so I can’t back down now.)
  • My refusal to give in to that fear causes me to die. Like falling off a cliff type dying. (If only I had just stayed in my little comfort zone, I wouldn’t have all this risk, and now look what’s happened. I’m dead. I should never have taken that job.)

I thought taking this new job was a no-brainer. I didn’t think I had worries at all. But my subconscious mind knew better, and since I wasn’t paying attention while I was awake, it had to contact me when I was asleep. Tap, tap, “Mic check, mic check, 1 check 2. . .can you hear me in the back?”

Now, before everyone gets the idea that we should always just follow what our dreams are saying (like in this case, maybe don’t take that job), I want to clarify that our Lizard Brains are frequently not leading us in the right direction. Our Lizard Brains would love for us to just sit in our caves with our food, fire, and water (and a healthy supply of spears for fending off any enemies), avoiding all interactions with the outside world so we can remain safe and not die for a really long time. The Lizard Brain is ruled by fear, in other words. Just because we dream it, it doesn’t mean we follow through on what the Lizard wants. It’s just to understand where the feelings are rooted.

Now I know that deep down I’m worried about this new job I’ve taken (or new opportunity or new relationship or whatever it is). I can acknowledge that I have some subconscious fears about how it’s going to turn out. Bringing them to the forefront of my rational mind helps to ease these fears and put them into perspective. In reference to my example above, my rational mind knows that I’ll likely do just fine in this new job, and that if things get scary I have the tools to manage it. And if I don’t have the particular tools I need, I can always get them (from a coach!) And finally, it’s not going to kill me if it doesn’t work out. I’m an intelligent, active, kickass woman. I can get another great job tomorrow if I want to.

Now that my fear is acknowledged and dealt with rationally, i.e., I have a plan, I can sleep well. My Lizard Brain is no longer trying to manage the subconscious fears I have over this new thing in my life, and it can go back into its little cave and wait for my next anxiety to crop up. “Never fear!” it growls, “Lizard Brain is always here!” Shhhhh, go to sleep Lizard Brain. I do not need you right now. But thanks for trying to keep me safe.

Just so I don’t leave you hanging about my other nightmares, here’s how I’ve interpreted them. I believe they recur in my subconscious world because these themes recur in my conscious world too. 

  • Teeth falling out: the fear that in a moment, your life can suddenly change, one of the things that you just imagine will always be there as a part of your appearance (i.e., the thing you show the world, your face) can be gone tomorrow. It signals that I’m feeling insecure about something, like my health, my age, or how much time I have left here with family. I often have this dream when someone I know is struck with something terrible at a young age, or when someone who I know dies young. Essentially my Lizard Brain is cluing in on the fact that I’m worried about not having control over my health or my destiny.
  • Showing up to school realizing I’ve missed everything: fear of being unprepared, of planning big things but then not following through. Fear that everyone else has discipline to do the day-to-day work (of going to class, studying, showing up) and that I don’t have that discipline. That I’m failing at something important.
  • The Bathroom Dream: this one is easy…I have to pee and I’m sleeping too deeply to realize it, and if I don’t get up soon, I’m going to wet the bed!


Go buy yourself a beautiful new blank journal (I will always give permission to buy a new blank journal. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I never need to buy more, I just like to buy more.) Put it by your bed with a pen. When you wake up after a vivid dream, write down the details. After you write the details, write what you were feeling and thinking during each part. Tell someone about it, because discussing it out loud brings out more detail. Now, take those emotions and those thoughts and consider what they might be trying to tell you about what’s happening in your life. Are you more worried about something than you realized? Did you think a situation was resolved only to find out that your Lizard Brain doesn’t agree? Do you have some low-level simmering anxiety about something that needs to be brought into the light of day?

I’d love to hear about what you come up with! Feel free to comment or get in touch. Or better yet, join me in a coaching session and let’s talk about your dreams and what they mean to you.

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  1. […] experience. Respect it but recognize its limitations. Fear is there to keep you safe, but much like the Lizard Brain I’ve spoken of before, sometimes it goes overboard trying to do its job. In the case of realizing your dreams, it’s […]

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Meet Leigh Cowden

I'm The Business Life Coach™ and I work with women entrepreneurs. Those who have some success and want more, those ready to make some bold career moves, and those ready to launch something amazing.

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