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How nice would it be if our sleeping hours were spent dreaming of rainbows and unicorns? But no. Instead, the “ghost in the machine” is often a morbid little jerk, filling our heads with dreams about death and dead friends.
Death, the deaths of living loved ones, and the return of deceased loved ones are among the most common occurrences in dreams, according to a 2003 study.
And sometimes, the dead people who haunt our dreams are our friends.
Here’s what different scenarios mean as they play out in Dream World.
Dreaming about fighting with a dead friend
If you dream about fighting with a dead friend, “it could be fulfilling the wish of them still being alive to fight with,” Douds says. “Maybe you had a fight that you didn’t get to resolve before their death, or maybe you had a recent fight with someone you wish was dead. Any could be true, or none of them, depending on your experience.”
“As dreams are symbolic representations of our waking life, a fight with a dead friend means quarrels, conflicts, and disagreements with close family members, relatives, and friends in reality,” says Gonzalez Berrios.
“Sometimes, the dream also means you’re fighting an inner battle with yourself,” Gonzalez Berrios continues. “Maybe you are trying to change a certain aspect of your personality that is causing a lot of relationship problems.”
Dreaming about hugging a dead friend
You miss your friends who have died, so it follows that when they come to life in your dreams, you’d give them a big, fat hug. That’s one interpretation, anyway.
Another interpretation, according to hypnotherapist Chris Lemig, is that “having a dream that you are hugging a dead friend sometimes means that you are in the process of resolving an inner conflict.”
Dreaming about kissing a dead friend
Like hugging, kissing a dead friend in your dreams could be interpreted as an expression of worry “that there is something that was left unsaid in your relationship,” says Lemig.
”The subconscious mind is the storehouse of all our life’s experiences. This includes the memories of everyone we’ve ever known or met, living or deceased,” Lemig continues. “Depending on the context, dreaming about a dead friend can be a sign that we either miss that person or miss some quality of their personality.
“If our relationship with the person was less than perfect, it may signal that we are needing to find a resolution for some conflict or unfinished business we may have had with our friend.”
Dreaming about sex with a dead friend
So this one gets… complicated.
But if you’re dreaming about having sex with a friend who’s dead now but alive while you’re doing it, “there may be a part of you that feels it is time to end or change a current relationship,” says Lemig.
Dreaming of having sex with a dead friend “means you are not happy and satisfied with your partner in waking life,” agrees Gonzalez Berrios.
“It also denotes you lack enough warmth, care, and support system in times of distress,” she continues. “You are longing to have some intimate moments of lovemaking and friendship in real life. But since it’s not happening, the subconscious mind is popping up with scenes and images of closeness and intimacy with the dead friend.”
(Which raises the question: Does dream sex, even with a dead friend, count as cheating?)
Dreaming about a dead friend coming back to life
Seeing a dead friend come back to life in your dreams means you’re holding onto memories of the deceased, says Gonzalez Berrios.
“Your unconscious mind is not allowing you to let go of the timeline that you had spent with your friend,” she says. “It keeps coming back in the subconscious mind every now and then and reminds you that whatever you have lost in your life will soon come back to you. So this dream theme symbolizes the restoration and revival of lost things.”
Dreams about dead people being alive may also be a form of self-care, says Douds.
“If you are particularly grieving the loss of the friend, dreaming of them being alive may help you to sleep through the night despite still feeling the rawness of your grief,” she says.
Dreams are open to interpretation, so nobody is ever dead right about what dreams mean.
“A particular element of dream content doesn’t mean the same thing to all dreamers,” says Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Deirdre Leigh Barrett, past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and author of Pandemic Dreams.
“To understand a dream, one needs to ask the dreamer their associations to hugging, fighting, and this particular dead friend,” Barrett says. “Dream dictionary approaches mislead dreamers.”
But dream experts have thoughts about what dreams about dead friends may symbolize.
“Freud called dreams the ‘royal road to the unconscious.’ And if you freely associate to each element in a dream, you may find yourself arriving at thoughts, memories, and emotions that are very different from the initial, conscious narrative of the dream,” says Douds.
In short, if you put your logic aside and consider that maybe a dream about sex with a dead friend isn’t necessarily *about* that, you might be able to find some deeper meaning relevant to your own life.
Neuroscientists and mental health experts believe that dreams are symbolic images of waking life, says Gonzalez Berrios.
“Dreams actually do not mean much unless interpreted in detail,” she says. “These are meaningful random images and mind musings from our memories that hold meaning if analyzed properly.
“Dreams may indicate emotional upheavals, unfinished business, wish fulfillment, hidden desires, repressed conflicts, and much more going on in the dreamer’s waking life.”
“The amazing thing with dreams is that while they feel like something entirely foreign to us, we create them ourselves via our own unconscious,” says Douds.
“Dreams occur more actively during the REM sleep cycle and are based on the verbal, visual, emotional, and sensory images we build up throughout the day,” says Gonzalez Berrios.
Dreams draw from memories and traumatic experiences embedded in the unconscious mind.
“Dreams are basically our minds thinking in a very different brain state — one that’s more visual and emotional, less verbal and rational,” says Barrett. “But we’re still thinking about all of our usual thoughts and concerns in this visual, emotional intuitive state.”
Dreams are part of the unconscious and are, therefore, immune to conscious commands like “Stop dreaming about death!”
“The most effective way to reduce how often you experience a certain type of dream content you don’t want is to actively think of what you would like to dream about,” says Barrett. “Then, fall asleep suggesting to yourself that you will dream about the chosen content while holding an image of it in your mind’s eye.”
Will this actually work? Who knows. You might just need to let your emotions play out and guide your dream wherever it leads you.
You may be tempted to exorcise the dead from your dreams, but that might not be the best choice for your mental health.
“Unless dreams about death are disruptive to one’s health and well-being, such as causing dangerous levels of sleep deprivation, there is no need to stop these kinds of dreams,” says Lemig. “It’s best to look at them with open-minded curiosity.”
Dreaming about dead friends can also play an important role in the grieving process.
“As the unconscious mind is free to create random and intrusive thoughts, it processes the emotions attached to the deceased person in a negative way,” Gonzalez Berrios says.
“In one way, these negative emotions help in healing and better acceptance of reality. The person has to accept the fact that the loved one is no more and cannot come back again.
“Grief and sadness are a normal response to the loss of a loved one, but it has the ability to soothe the crying heart. It can heal the deep wounds and cuts that occurred due to the passing away of the loved one from within.
“Thus, when someone is dreaming of the deceased soul, an inner work of healing is in place. It helps in better acceptance of the fact over a period of time.”
Dreaming about dead friends is nothing unusual.
And while the meaning of such dreams varies from person to person, seeing the dead in your dreams could simply mean that you miss them, that there are unresolved conflicts between you and your deceased friend, or that there are other issues in your waking life that you wish your friend were around to help you navigate.