In the murky netherworld of sleep, you may find yourself falling to an inexplicable demise, shot by a stranger, strangled, hit by a car, suffocated, knifed, blown to pieces, beheaded, disemboweled or otherwise disembodied; in other words, you may dream that you die. So what does it mean?
Despite the urban legend turned into Hollywood myth that if you die in your dream you will die in real life, death in dreams is a fairly common phenomena and it doesn’t always portend negative omens. Practitioners of dream interpretation, ranging from Freud and Jung to more recent do-it-yourself gurus, indicate that waking from a dream in which you have died is the usual outcome; in fact, one hundred percent of those who have reported dying in their dreams also woke up to find themselves among the living.
To understand what dying in your dream means, however, is a matter of dream interpretation, not of popular legend or cinematic mythology. The answer to the question, however, may depend on who is doing the dream interpretation.
Early psychoanalytic thought beginning with Freud was revolutionary in its symbolic use of dream interpretation in understanding the psychology of the human person. For Freud, death in dreams was a direct route to understanding the sexual impetus that for him subsides in the unconscious, where it is repressed during waking hours. So for Freud, dying in your own dream might be a sign that one is disgusted with oneself, or of shame for some act one has committed. He thought that usually death in dreams is derived from the natural desire that boys have to murder their fathers, and take their places beside their mothers, a desire strongly repressed in adult life.
Jung, on the other hand, had a more complex theory of dream interpretation that was not nearly so dependent upon Freud’s preoccupation with sexual desire. Jung saw his own death in his dreams on one occasion to be representative of the shadow self, the ego, which had to be killed before he would ever truly reach a point of authentic self-awareness.
The art of dream interpretation, sprouting from early psychoanalysis, has lately taken a back stage to more prominent methods of therapy and self-discovery. There remains, however, some use of dream interpretation in psychoanalysis, but it is especially prominent among those who follow new age teaching, shamanic experiences, claims by psychics or practitioners of the occult, or among those who follow a drug-induced method for seeking meaningful experiences. Of these, a very popular dream interpretation of the death of oneself is the idea that it signifies an impending change. According to this popular view, the person who dreams of his own death is expressing an awareness of a new stage of development, or an impending, important change about to take place in his life.
Some who are faced with terminal illness have also reported having very pleasant and comforting dreams of their own death, which may be the psyche’s way of preparing the individual for the inevitability of that permanent change.