Illustration of a woman sleeping and dreaming

Dreaming about big bears and other wild animals? A psychologist explains what it really means

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What do our dreams really mean? In Stylist’s Dream Journals, we’re working with psychologist Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari to reflect on some of our most puzzling bedtime visions – and figure out how, if at all, we should respond to them in our waking hours. This week’s anonymous journal comes from a woman who wants to know why she keeps dreaming about a big black bear.

Have you ever dreamt about a wild animal? Specifically, a big black bear?

It’s the sort of bedtime vision that feels harder to explain than most. Because, while we can impart meaning on many of our other dreams, the wild animals that visit us as we sleep tend to feel… well, they tend to feel more alien than the usual dreams about our exes or turning up to a school exam feeling thoroughly unprepared. 

The many interpretations of dreaming about a school exam

Google what it means to dream about a bear, and you’ll soon discover that there are many possible interpretations. Some think it symbolises our strength, power and independence, while others suspect this wild animal represents some untamed habits of a dreamer. 

And, possibly thanks to the popularity of Disney’s Brave, there are those who tend to suspect that a bear in your dream may represent a mother figure.

The psychology of dreams

Psychologist and therapist Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari, however, believes that there’s more to it than that.

“It is important to understand that if we dream about either a person or an animal, they are often there as a symbol or representation of something within us: a mental projection of a part of us within our subconscious,” she says.

“As we learn these aspects of our dreams and identify these subconscious parts of us, we might want to give more attention to them in our waking hours, and reflect and meditate about what they say about us and how we feel.”

And so, using her skills and unique understanding of the unconscious mind, Dr Ben-Ari has offered her interpretation of our anonymous dreamer’s unique bedtime visions about her final school exams.

The dream

Our anonymous dreamer says: “I dreamed that I was on holiday in a wooden chalet in Canada or Alaska with both of my daughters, as well as my partner and my eldest daughter’s partner. It was early morning and we had taken a walk outside of the chalet.

“I was happy and relaxed and enjoying the beautiful scenery of mountains and pine trees and the beautiful blue sky and happy that my loved ones were with me enjoying this too. In the far distance, though, I suddenly saw my ex-husband and his wife. And a huge black bear appeared in front of them.”

She continues: “I screamed to my family to run inside and lock the doors and windows, which they did. The big, black bear was standing up as tall as he could and was threatening to attack my ex-husband and his wife. They both bowed down on the ground in front of the bear, keeping really still.

“I ran and got a big gun and aimed it at the bear. I was unsure whether I would be able to hit the bear from the distance I was from it. I hesitated weighing up in my mind whether I could actually hit the bear or if it might scare it off at least.

“My main worry was that it might enrage the bear and he would definitely attack.”

Black bear in nature - stock image
What does it really mean to dream of a black bear?

The dreamer finishes: “As I was thinking this through the bear became very angry and it was obvious he wasn’t going to leave them alone but was actually going to attack them. In that instant I knew I had no choice and that they only had this one chance to be safe, so I aimed and shot the bear several times killing it.

“After I had killed the bear I looked down at the golden bullet shells as I was holding them in my hands.

“I then woke up really disturbed by the dream, but also proud of myself that I had managed to aim and shoot from such a long range.”

What does it all mean? A psychologist offers her interpretation

A professional headshot of Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari says “dreams are the soul’s way of directing and guiding us beyond our conscious stories about ourselves.”

Dr Ben-Ari says: “The ‘huge black bear’ which threatened to attack your ex-husband and his wife could be a symbol of your ‘ego’, and possibly subconscious anger you might have towards you ex-husband.

“Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung defined the ego as conscious awareness and our sense of personal identity. We can understand it more simply as the essence of who we think we are as an individual.

“There is a sense of separation in the dream, between you, your partner and your children on the one hand, and your ex-husband and his new wife on the other. This division appearing within the dream could be a sign of you coming to terms with this separation, and in that respect the bear might represent some strong feelings of anger that you have towards your ex-husband and his wife.” 

Dr Ben-Ari continues: “It may not be that you are aware of these feelings, as they could be denied or repressed, but similarly they could be feelings you are aware of and have expressed to yourself. Initially, you hesitate at the thought of shooting the bear, demonstrating a resistance to letting go of your anger or resentment.

“The ‘ego’ has suppressed your anger about your ex-husband, and whatever we suppress in our consciousness will show up as a negative symbol in our dreams, in this case the big black bear.

“In the dream, you master your anger/ego by killing the bear. The energy of the anger/ego (i.e, the bear) however doesn’t just disappear; instead it is transformed into the ‘golden bullet shells’ that you have in your hand at the end of the dream. In other words, the energy represented by the bear was, unconsciously, separated from the self.

“When you broke this pattern of resentment the energy came back to you, and transformed to gold in your hand.”

Dr Ben-Ari finishes: “Gold is a symbol of our greater self, a self that is elevated and greater than our ego or conscious personality. As Carl Jung said: ‘The gold is in the dark. And one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.’

“In this respect, the gold appears in the transformation. And in your dream, you have taken the shadow of your anger/ego and destroyed it by shooting it. It changes from bear to golden bullets, and the shadow of anger/ego has been incorporated, elevated and transformed into a higher self.

“Your sense of pride when waking up might represent feeling good about elevating yourself above the anger/ego, and the revelation of that inner gold, or inner good, of the dreamer.”

Psychologist and author Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari has worked as a therapist for over 20 years, specialising in child development and mental health – which means she’s particularly adept at understanding the unconscious mind. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work, focusing on Clinical Child Development, and a Doctorate in Psychology from the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at the University of London. 

She has written two very successful parenting books and teaches a parenting programme at her clinic in Hampstead, London. Her expert comment and advice on mental health, fear, anxiety, and relationships is regularly featured in the UK press, and she recently launched a brand new online community, Get The Village.

You can follow her on Instagram at @Dr_Kalanit.

Images: Ami O’Callaghan/Belle PR/Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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