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Why do I keep dreaming about my ex? An expert unpicks our vivid lockdown dreams

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Lauren Geall
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Struggling to make sense of all the vivid dreams you’re having during lockdown? From mysterious run-ins with exes to unexpected pregnancies, we asked dream analyst Jane Teresa Anderson to unpick our latest subconscious adventures.

It’s safe to say the world has become pretty obsessed with dreams during the coronavirus lockdown. As you’ve probably already heard, people across the world are having particularly vivid dreams at the moment, and our nightly subconscious adventures have become something of a talking point both at work and across our various group chats with friends and family. 

From unexpected pregnancies to run-ins with exes, our dream worlds have erupted into chaos – and, as Sue Cummings, a consultant clinical psychologist, explained on episode two of our podcast Working From Home with Stylist, these dreams have become a way for our minds to process everything that’s going on right now. 

“We know that dreams are functionally very important for clearing the emotional pathways, so I would say that when our waking life is more vivid then so is our dream life,” she explained.

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We know dreams are a way for our minds to process all the information we’re taking in during the day, but could analysing the detail of our dreams give us a clear picture of where our headspace is at right now?

We asked Jane Teresa Anderson, a dream analyst and therapist who has written six books on dreams and dreaming, to decode the vivid dreams the Stylist team have been experiencing during lockdown. Here’s what she had to say.

1. All of the exes

“I’ve been having SUCH vivid dreams about exes. Either a) we’re back together or the preferred b) they’re begging for me back. In one, I bumped into my ex of two year’s brother in IKEA and he told me that Tom* really wanted me back and it was all a mistake. Then, that same Tom* came to me in another dream, showing off his turtle tattoo (which I’m pretty certain he doesn’t have in real life) and telling me he missed me. Seriously, why?!”

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Why am I dreaming about my ex?

Jane says: “What does a turtle mean to you? How would you describe the personality of a turtle? Our dream symbols are personal, not something to look up in a dream dictionary. Let me guess: maybe a turtle can hide in its shell, or stick its neck out and take a risk. Is there something about Tom, or your relationship with Tom, that was about hiding or taking risks? It seems you want to bring some of that energy back into your life now. Or maybe you just want to hide in your shell during this lockdown period. 

“Lockdown is a good time to review our feelings about past relationships and any unresolved issues. It’s also a good time to review your relationship with yourself, so that you’re ready to emerge from your shell when all this is over, in a brand new way!”

2. A sticky situation

“I was with one of my closest friends, we were walking along, happy as larry, and suddenly she needed to go into an apartment to pick something up. The person who lived there is her friend – but someone I don’t like. He wasn’t in and it was a race to find the item before he came back and we had to see each other.

“Before we could find what we were looking for, his girlfriend and a load of her friends came back and we ended up in the flat together socialising. I really didn’t want to be there but forced myself to stay. I was frustrated, felt stressed and woke up in a pool of sweat.”

A woman in bed
Could our lockdown dreams give us a clue to how we're really feeling right now?

Why am I dreaming about avoiding someone?

Jane says: “Your dream moves from a happy, carefree walk outside to forcing yourself to stay in a stressful, frustrating situation. On one level this might sound like your feelings about being in lockdown, but on another level, it’s about trying to find your way out of facing something you don’t want to face. (The guy is a clue: what is it you don’t like about him? Why? Does he represent something within you or your life that you don’t want to face?) When you can face this you will feel free and be as ‘happy as Larry’ again.”

3. The ship is going down

“I keep having really vivid dreams that I’m on the Titanic, and it’s like the manic scene where the ship is going down and everyone is running around going mad.”

A woman asleep
Dreaming about a sinking ship during lockdown? This could be why.

Why am I dreaming about a sinking ship?

Jane says: “Do you feel that same level of mad panic about the pandemic? If so, your dream has captured the feeling beautifully. On the other hand, it may be that you’re focused on being cool and calm, while pushing manic, panicky feelings into your unconscious where they make themselves felt loud and clear in your dreams. 

“When we push away our feelings they can powerfully affect our actions. For example, if you are going for cool and calm, you may not be making the best choices. It’s important to acknowledge our feelings. Your dream gifts you a metaphor that you can turn around: imagine being back in the dream, on the Titanic, only this time you magically steady the ship and everyone stops being manic and starts to enjoy the journey. This ‘dream alchemy’ exercise will begin to stop the dream from recurring and will also reprogram your unconscious mind to find ways to address the panic and steady yourself to continue the journey. Life will become lighter, less mad!”

4. Neighbourly disputes

“I had a dream where my neighbour was angry about my cat being in her house. She came across the road (with a cigarette in her hand, which was incredibly vivid) and said she couldn’t have him there because she worked in elections and needed privacy to do her job. 

“Then for some reason she came into our kitchen and was arguing that she’d given us her salad (such a random detail) and I came forward and told her ‘now you’re in our house and that’s an invasion of privacy’. Last thing I remember we were showing her all our old birthday cards. The strangest dream ever.”

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Why am I dreaming about my neighbour?

Jane says: “When a symbol is really vivid – like the cigarette – it’s a key to interpretation. In your dream there’s an unhealthy cigarette and a healthy salad. This dream is about you working out your healthy options, not just drugs and food, but healthy attitudes, especially around personal boundaries and privacy. 

“While some people in lockdown can feel alone – not being with people and not needing to work on their emotional boundaries – for others the focus is on negotiating healthy boundaries in our digital connections: digital work meets and expectations, social media, keeping in touch with family and loved ones. Your dream goes back in time, reviewing the birthday cards, because your dream is reviewing your feelings around connection and boundaries.”

5. A surprise birth

“I had a dream I was giving birth in the middle of the night and my waters had just broken, but I had a really small bump and I had never been to hospital/doctors and also never felt the baby kick. I think it was premature, but I didn’t actually get to the giving birth bit. My housemates took me to the living room to have the baby, and I was sat on the sun lounger in there for some reason, and I was like, it will all be fine, wasn’t scared of the pain. Then that was it!”

A woman in bed
“I had a dream I was giving birth in the middle of the night and my waters had just broken, but I had a really small bump and I had never been to hospital/doctors and also never felt the baby kick.”

Why am I dreaming about giving birth?

Jane says: “It sounds like you expected the dream baby to live, even though it was premature. What new ‘thing’ are you giving birth to at the moment, something you haven’t really had much time to gestate, something you haven’t even really felt that much in touch with, yet suddenly the time has come? It might be taking on a new role in your job, or getting a project out into the world, or birthing a new attitude or new approach to life. A few weeks ago you might have felt this would be premature, but the time has come! Your dream reassures you that deep down you know this will all be fine!”

6. The underworld

“I have a recurring one that I’ve had for about 12 years about getting lost in this big house, then going through a door to the underworld, meeting someone who I recognise as Voldemort/Satan and having to try and negotiate my way to safety/my friends and family getting out.”

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Why am I dreaming about getting lost?

Jane says: “Dreams reflect the 1-2 days before, so recurring dreams can happen whenever a recurring unresolved issue comes up in life. You’ve had the dream for about 12 years, so that is probably when the issue first began. Think of the house as being you, and all those rooms as being aspects of yourself, many, probably, as yet undiscovered. 

“The dream may come up when you’re feeling lost, emotionally, lacking direction, not knowing which of your various talents to draw upon. The underworld probably represents your unconscious mind where you keep all the thoughts and feelings you judge as ‘bad’. In life, it’s better to get to know our deep ‘dark side’ rather than to try to escape it. Our dark side is part of our nature; it can help us to know ourselves so deeply that we feel more found than lost.”

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Lauren Geall

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