Step 2: Dream Interpretation & Story Analysis

D3 step 2: dream interpretationThe interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.

—Sigmund Freud

Introduction to Dream Interpretation

In Step 2 of the DREAMS 1-2-3 Dream Interpretation System (D3), you apply interpretation techniques and analyze the story.

In Step 1, you break down the dream into story elements (settings, characters, symbols) and narrative components (action, reaction, resolution). With practice you can combine these steps, but I suggest that you begin methodically. Note each element and component in your dreams and consider them separately. Notice the symbolism. Then apply dream interpretation and story analysis techniques that I teach in Step 2.

Dream interpretation is a loaded term. It brings pictures to mind of psychiatrists’ offices with leather couches, gurus in white robes, and mysterious psychics with penetrating gazes and crystal balls. Dream interpretation can be intimidating because it’s a rarefied area of knowledge and expertise, but it shouldn’t be such a big mystery. Yes, a gifted dream interpreter can see things in your dreams that you can’t and know things about you that you don’t consciously know because, as the preeminent dream psychologist Dr. Carl Jung says, “Dreams … are invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and does not understand.” That’s a powerful and true statement. At heart, though, dreams are stories, and anyone can understand a story. Feedback about your dreams from a dream interpreter or dream group can help you see what your ego can’t, but don’t let anyone force their views on you. The power is in your hands.

Remember simple fact #1: You already know (subconsciously) what your dreams mean.

Let’s add another fact: dreams have multiple meanings and layers of significance. The renowned dream worker Jeremy Taylor says there is no such thing as a dream with only one meaning.

jm debord

And I want to add a caveat to Dr. Jung’s quote. Dreams show you what you don’t know about yourself … yet. It’s trying to become conscious, and everything you do to understand your dreams helps along the process.

I’m continually surprised by the new things dreams show me, even after 25 years of study and practice. Thank god, because it keeps me open to new ways of understanding. It keeps alive the mystery. I’m happy to teach you the mechanics of dream interpretation. But I want to avoid sounding like all dreams can be easily boiled down to a 1-2-3 system to magically know all there is to know. Dreams have deeper sources than space and time and brain matter. They can only be fully understood through deep inner exploration.

Also, some dreams require time — sometimes years before the meaning becomes clear. Some dreams are about the future and can’t be discerned until the time is right. And some will always defy attempts at deep scrutiny. However, I am confident in D3’s ability to help anyone pin down the meaning of the majority of their dreams. It requires patience, persistence, and an open mind.

I’m reminded of another famous quote by Dr. Jung that goes something like this:

I don’t know what the hell other people’s dreams mean and I’m thrilled when I can figure them out at all — for myself or anyone else. But I’m willing to give it my best.

carl jung quoteDream interpreters help you remember what you already know. That’s the only way to be sure that an interpretation is correct — when the dreamer says, “ah-ha, that’s it!” I like to say I throw a lot (of ideas) at the wall and see what sticks. I’ve found so many ways dreams can branch off in unexpected directions; never take anything for granted. We should always remember there’s much about dreams we can only surmise and will always elude us, and we will be wrong more than we are right — at least, initially.

Trial and error and try again. That’s the method. Truth is, every drop of energy and attention given to dreams is a step in the right direction.

So leave your ego at the door and open yourself to the deeper mysteries of life and consciousness. Put on your guru hat. And have fun with it.


Personal thoughts before digging in:

  • Dreams are not secretive as Sigmund Freud believed. They speak with symbolism, a language most people don’t know well enough to translate, which is the #1 reason why the majority of people don’t understand their dreams. Dr. Jung says dreams reveal rather than conceal, and I agree.
  • Every detail of a dream fits together into a big picture. It all connects and the entirety of the meaning and message can be summed up in that picture. You can think you have a good handle on what a dream means, but even one dangling detail you can’t explain in the big picture can mean you’re off-track. If you are going to interpret dreams, absorb this lesson.
  • Meaningful dreams stand out. They make an impression. They engage you. You dream vividly (in REM stage) for around 25 percent of the time you are sleep. The most meaningful dreams will stand out among all that dream material. Many dreams from early in the sleep night originate in the body and are usual forgotten unless there’s something important for you to know.
  • I don’t follow any particular school of thought or method for interpreting dreams. Dr. Carl Jung is my hero and I learned more from him than anyone else, but I’m also influenced by his student Robert A. Johnson, psychologist Ann Faraday, psychic Edgar Cayce, my mentor Larry Pesavento, and too many others to list.


Dream interpretation techniques


Here’s the entire DREAMS 1-2-3 Dream Interpretation System summarized:

Cliff’s Notes | Dreams 1-2-3 Dream Interpretation System (D3) by J.M. DeBord

Primary Dream Interpretation Techniques

You have three primary interpretation techniques for analyzing your dreams, and you can use one or all them to decode the meaning:

  1. Associate
  2. Simplify
  3. Amplify


Dream Interpretation | Associate

Dream Interpretation | Simplify

Dream Interpretation | Amplify


Introduction to Story Analysis

The dream is the theater where the dreamer is at once scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience, and critic.

—Carl Jung

storytelling devices used by dreams

The D3 system of dream interpretation teaches you to see the story in the dream.

Your dream source, the Self archetype in the unconscious mind, is a storyteller. In fact, it’s a great storyteller and it draws from an endless well of history, knowledge, experience, and imagination.

You don’t have to read piles of books or watch tons of movies to understand instinctively how stories are put together and what makes them effective. Every day of your life is a story and you continually turn it into a narrative.

History is a story. Life is a story. Everyone has a story to tell.

Your dream source builds stories around what’s most important in your life and inside you — especially in your emotions. It focuses first on areas ripe for the potential for personal growth, and on everything overlooked, unnoticed, unwanted or underappreciated. Then it sorts through its options for symbolism and chooses whatever best tells the story.

Question why a story element or narrative component in a dream is chosen over others. Question why particular details are used to set the scene and move forward the action. If you want to know how something works, think from the perspective of what it does and what it accomplishes. Story analysis is how you reverse engineer your dreams.


Story Structure in Dreams

The dream-story unfolds the same basic way as stories told in books and motion pictures:

  • Opening: Introduces the central theme, idea, question or issue. It’s often found in the first sentence or two of the dream’s description.
  • Body: Expands on the opening scene, providing details to fill out the picture.
  • Climax: Brings the story to a resolution or shows what’s preventing resolution. Perhaps the dream-story is “to be continued.”

That formula is not followed in every dream, but it’s a good place to start. An especially valuable tip is, look at the beginning of the dream for its subject or central idea. Hypothesize about it then see if other details align with your idea. That’s how I do it.

Look for story threads. Details of a dream thread together or align, as I saw in the last paragraph. This lesson continues is Step 3:

Make Connections | Connect the Dots


In the meantime, here’s an example:

Dream about kittens interpreted by tying together details


And keep in mind, the dream-story must draw you in. It must be believable — believable enough to suspend your disbelief. The primary objective of a storyteller is to pull people out of their everyday reality and create one in their imaginations. Your dreams know how to do that, using just enough detail so you don’t stop and say, “Hey, that’s not right,” and it jars you out of your belief that the actions and events of the dream are really happening. People adept at the art of dreaming know how to become aware when they’re dreaming and manipulate the environment. For most people, though, lucidity in a dream is rare.


Storytelling Devices

Dreams have at their disposal every storytelling device and trick of language imaginable: backstory, perspective (first, second, and third-person), parody, parable, nested stories, allegory, satire, pun, wordplay and so on. Some devices are used more than others, and they are discussed below. For supplemental reading peruse and familiarize yourself with the wide array of storytelling devices. Most of them, in my experience, are used at one time or another by the master storyteller that is your dreaming mind.

Dreams can even use storytelling devices that deceive, such as equivocation and red herrings, but only if it helps tell the story and show you something important. It’s not to deceive you. It’s to enlighten, to inform, to show you when you’re lying, being lied to, or lying to yourself. Dreams are reliably truthful, otherwise.

Here’s a quick lesson of how dreams play with words and use alternative definitions:

Storytelling Devices | Wordplays and Alt Definitions

Dreams use three primary storytelling devices:

  1. Metaphor
  2. Exaggeration
  3. Comparison and Contrast

One, two, or all three devices (and others used less often) can be used.

Story Analysis | Metaphor

Story Analysis | Exaggeration

Story Analysis | Comparison & Contrast


Explore dream interpretation in the following dreams.

Interpreting a dream about ghosts of illness past

A Snake Dream Interpreted: The Tree of Snakes

Anxiety dream: She’s afraid while she’s away, her man will play, and dreams about losing a tooth

Dream Analysis: “Donald Trump Gave Me Head”