Dreams can be very social experiences, in terms of interacting with other people in your dreams. Many of them may be people you know in your waking life, but their role in your dream may be more complex than your relationship with them in waking life.
Much like the people you encounter in your waking life, the people in your dreams help you learn about yourself and your place in the world.
People Dream Summary
In general, your dreams play a role in processing the events of your daily life, so the people you see regularly in your waking life will probably appear in your dreams too. If the relationship you have with the person in the dream is similar to your relationship with them in waking life, you are probably just processing recent events.
If your relationship with that person in the dream is very different from your relationship with them in waking life, however, there are multiple ways that could be interpreted. One possibility is that the dream shows aspects of the waking life relationship that you have not been able or willing to see in waking life.
Another possibility is that the dream isn’t really about that person. Instead, the person’s presence in your dream could be more symbolic of some quality you associate with them, and perhaps that’s a quality you are conflicted about within yourself.
Dream Symbolism of Specific People
- Your crush
- Your family
- People you currently work or attend school with
- People you went to school with a long time ago
- Famous people
- People you know who have since died
Where People Might Appear in Dreams
- Texting, talking on the phone or interacting online
- In a public place
- In a sexual or romantic context
Dream Symbolism of Specific People
Sigmund Freud, a pioneer in the analysis of dreams, famously said that a dream is a fulfillment of a wish. Dreaming of the person you have a crush on is often the ultimate example of this statement.
Dreaming of your current crush does not guarantee that you will never get together with your crush in waking life, but it does not guarantee that you will get together with your crush, either. It most likely means that you spend a lot of time fantasizing about your crush in waking life. For more information on fantasizing, see What Are Daydreams? Are Daydreams Bad?
If you dream of an unrequited crush from many years ago, someone you have definitely moved on from in waking life, it does not mean that you need to try again to get involved with that person. It more likely means that a situation in your current life is reminiscent of the powerlessness and awkwardness you felt when trying unsuccessfully to get that crush to become interested in you long ago.
The significance of a dream about one or more members of your family depends on your feelings toward them and how often you see them in waking life.
For instance, if you work in your family’s business and see members of your family all the time in waking life, it might be weird if your family members were not in your dreams all the time. A big part of dreaming is just processing whatever it is you do all day, so if that’s hanging out with your family, you will probably be hanging out with your family in your dreams too.
If you are estranged from your family, dreaming of your family might bring up however you feel about the estrangement – relieved, sad, or maybe some of both. Even if reconciliation with those people is not a realistic possibility, the dream may be asking you to consider integrating older aspects of your own self into your current life.
If your relationship with your family is somewhere between the extremes of seeing them daily and total estrangement, dreaming of your family may indicate a need or desire to connect with them more in waking life.
If the interaction with your family member in the dream is very different from how you interact with that person in real life – for instance, in the dream you are openly yelling and screaming at this person, while you don’t do that in waking life – maybe you have some unresolved tension with them.
People you currently work or attend school with
If you dream of co-workers or classmates you currently regularly see at work or school, you may just be processing daily events. This is especially likely to be the case if the events of the dream are within the range of what goes on in a usual day at work or school.
If the feelings you have toward this person in your dream are very different from your feelings toward the person in waking life, the dream may not really be about the person personally.
For instance, say you have a dream involving a very intense interaction with a boy in your class at school, but you don’t have any strong feelings toward him in waking life. You hardly ever talk to him.
To interpret that dream, think about what you do know about that boy in waking life. If the only thing you know about him is that he’s on the football team, maybe the dream has more to do with your own attitudes toward athletic competition or physical strength.
Likewise, an intense dream about a co-worker you don’t know well who works in the accounting department or the housekeeping department of your company might be about your attitudes toward managing your own money or keeping up your own house. A dream of a stranger where the stranger’s profession is significant could be interpreted the same way.
People you went to school with a long time ago
If you dream of former classmates or teachers you haven’t seen in many years, you may be going through a period of learning new things like you were in school. You may also be rediscovering interests or parts of your personality that were more prominent when you were younger.
For example, I was involved in journalism in high school and college, but then I worked in fields unrelated to writing for more than a decade after college. When I began writing for The Symbolism after that long break from having articles regularly published, I had a lot of dreams about working on my high school’s newspaper again, and these dreams included the other people who were involved with the high school newspaper at the time.
If you dream of a famous person interacting with you, you may be developing qualities associated with that person or with that person’s position. For example, if you dream of talking to the president of your country, you may be developing your own confidence and leadership skills.
If a famous person is in your dream but not directly interacting with you, you may be very engaged with the news and world events in waking life, possibly to a level that What Are Daydreams? Are Daydreams Bad? would be relevant.
The good side, symbolically, of being engaged with world events is the potential for recognizing that we are all connected. The bad side is the potential for feeling like you have no control over your own fate because you think everything is dependent on forces larger than you.
The Hall/Van de Castle Norms used in dream content research were formed by analyzing the dreams of 100 men and 100 women at Case Western Reserve University according to the Hall/Van de Castle Coding System. Each research participant was asked to contribute five dreams, and there wound up being a total of 991 usable dreams.
According to these norms, prominent people are not very common as characters in dreams, making up only 2 percent of the characters in men’s dreams and 1 percent of the characters in women’s dreams.
If you dream of children, you may be dealing with a childlike part of yourself. This tends to be more applicable if the child in your dream is not anyone you know in waking life.
If the child in your dream is generally doing well, then you get the advantage of the better symbolism of children. Children are very creative and very open emotionally, so these may be qualities that you are developing or need to develop.
Some people can find children intimidating because children are not as controlled or as predictable as older people generally are. If your dream has an atmosphere of this sort of fear around the child, you may be afraid of parts of yourself or others in your life who seem out of control.
If the child in your dream is sick, injured, or otherwise not in good condition, you may feel vulnerable and wounded. There may be a part of you that needs care and nurturing.
People you know who have since died
If you dream of people you know who have since died, how meaningful this is depends on the context of the dream. If the dream involves family members doing routine stuff, and a family member who has since died in waking life is just one more face in the crowd of mostly family members who are still alive in waking life, and there is not a substantial emotional charge to the dream, it might not mean much.
If the person’s death was recent, you may be processing the circumstances of the death in your dreams for several months afterwards. Researcher Joshua Black provides a list of characteristics of grief dreams, and these can include going over the details of the person’s death or the illness that led up to it.
Grief dreams can also include themes of being separated from the person who has died and explicitly trying to rationalize that the person has died.
If a dead person is telling you something in your dream, is that more significant than anyone else telling you something in your dream? It may or may not be, depending on the context of your dream.
For instance, if you dream of your father-in-law going through your checkbook and complaining about the amount of money you spend, and you have had ongoing differences of opinion with your father-in-law regarding money management in waking life, it may not matter a whole lot whether or not your father-in-law happens to be dead or alive at the moment you have that dream. The dispute over how to manage your money may be going on within your own head, and your subconscious mind picked your father-in-law to personify one side of the fight in your dream.
If there is something really significant going on with your dream of a dead person, like the dead person actually trying to contact you, you will generally know it from the dream’s intensity. In that case, see What Is a Visitation Dream?
Anne Reith of the Impart Wisdom & Wellness Center said on her website, “If you have to ask whether the visitation dream was really a visitation dream, then it probably was NOT a visitation dream. They are so real and vivid that you won’t have to ask this question.”
Black said on his website that no one can tell you whether or not a dream is a visitation. He cautioned against interpreting a negative dream of a deceased person as a visitation, as such a dream is more likely a product of unresolved emotions.
“If your dream is positive, then believe whatever your heart wants to. Only you know how that particular dream feels to you,” Black said.
Neurology professor Patrick McNamara dissents from the theory that dreams reflect everyday experiences of the dreamer, though he acknowledges this view is widely held. He said, “The typical REM dream contains between two and three characters in addition to the dreamer, and these characters are very often complete strangers.”
The Hall/Van de Castle Norms found that 52 percent of the characters in dreams were familiar to the dreamer. That leaves 48 percent of the characters in dreams as unfamiliar, or strangers.
McNamara, writing in Psychology Today, cited findings that strangers in dreams are more likely to be male than female and that male strangers in dreams are more aggressive than female strangers in dreams. He said this “suggests that dream elements exhibit reliable patterns of meaning and that these patterns of meaning have nothing to do with daily life. Instead, male strangers appear to be a ‘code’ for aggressive impulses that are being processed in memory.”
In other words, if a stranger in your dream is expressing aggression, it probably has to do with your own aggressive impulses. Likewise, any other quality expressed by a stranger in your dream may be something you need to address in your own life.
A stranger who has a particular profession in your dream – like a nurse or a police officer – might bring up symbolic associations you have with that profession in general.
Where People Might Appear in Dreams
Texting, talking on the phone, or interacting online
Many waking life relationships nowadays involve interacting via phone, text, or online media. It therefore is possible to have dreams involving those ways of interacting.
If your dream involves texting with someone you know in waking life, think about whether that is common in your waking life relationship with that person, and think about whether you enjoy that part of your waking life relationship with that person. Are they absolutely hilarious over text, or does it bother you that you only text and never seem to meet in person?
The emotional atmosphere of your dream may give a clue as to whether the appearance of texting in your dream is just routine processing of what you do all day or a deeper comment on the state of your relationship.
In a public place
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many people’s associations with public places for the time being, adding elements of danger to previously neutral territory. Whether or not that is a factor in your dream, though, dreaming of people in a public place can mean that the presence of the larger society is relevant to your life.
Not all connections to society are positive connections, though. As the saying “Lonely in a crowd” indicates, you might have people around you, but, if they don’t understand you, seeing them only reinforces how alone you are.
In a best-case scenario, dreaming of people in a public place can refer to being visible in a good way, where you are recognized for your strengths enough to connect with people who appreciate you. Dreaming of people in a public place can also relate to feeling exposed and to being visible in a bad way, like if you get caught doing something that people view negatively.
If you dream of a public restroom where people can see you using the toilet, this might symbolize that you are concerned about revealing yourself in some way. You might be afraid of being judged by others based on what you reveal.
In a sexual or romantic context
Sexual or romantic dreams can include people known to you or strangers. Sometimes sex dreams involving people known to you can be more distressing than those involving strangers if they involve a familiar person in an unfamiliar role.
If you have a sexual dream involving someone you know in waking life and don’t see that way in waking life, it does not necessarily mean you secretly want to have sex with that person. It could mean that you had or need to have a moment of emotional connection with that person.
It could also mean you need to connect with something that that person symbolizes to you. For instance, if you dream of having enjoyable sex with your boss, you may need to connect with your own potential for power and authority.
If you have sexual contact with someone familiar in your dream, and the sexual contact is not pleasant or wanted in the dream, maybe the person involved breaks other boundaries with you in waking life, and they get away with it because they manage to do everything but cross the line of physical inappropriateness. Dreams tend to take this sort of reality that hums along subtly enough to maintain plausible deniability and put it in images too shocking to ignore.
If you dream of a pleasant sexual experience with a stranger, and you are single, maybe you are opening up to the possibility of looking for a partner more seriously than you have in the past. Of course, looking for a partner does not guarantee you will find one, but if you are in a place where you are truly open to a relationship, as opposed to the half-hearted search that happens when you would kind of like a partner but also know you are too overwhelmed with other commitments to really deal with having one, you are more likely to find one
When you have a relationship with another person in waking life, it can be a challenge to keep sorted out what the other person is actually saying versus what you are hearing them say through your own personal filters. In your dreams, however, the whole social world really is inside your own head.
In waking life, people tend to attract others who are drawn to the same sort of dynamics they are. Dreams take this process further, casting both people known to you and strangers in the roles of your own inner drama.
Your dreams of other people can sometimes show you the things that are hiding in plain sight in your waking life relationships. What you bring to your waking life relationships is yourself, though, and working to understand how the people in your dreams embody your own internal conflicts can help you bring a better version of yourself to your relationships.