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Men's dreams decoded

By Hugh Wilson
Men's dreams decoded
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If you're wondering what your dreams may represent, wonder no more, as NZ MEN delves into the male brain to decode what it all might mean.

Research has shown that men and women dream differently. A study by Swansea University, for instance, questioned 100,000 people about their dream experiences and discovered that, while women's dreams tended to last longer and contain more emotion, men were more likely to dream about strangers and violent situations.

"These differences may reflect our real-world experiences," says psychologist and dream expert Dr Veronica Tonay. "Men may conceive of the world as a hostile place in which they must compete primarily with unfamiliar men."

With that in mind, is there any way of knowing what men's dreams mean? Some might argue that dreams are just the result of random brain activity, but others say they hold clues to our subconscious thoughts and feelings.

We asked Dr Tonay to guide us through some of the most common male dreams.

Cars and the open road
Dr Tonay says that both men and women dream about cars and roads quite frequently, but possibly quite differently. Are male car dreams just down to our geeky, Top Gear-fuelled fixation with all things automotive, or is there a deeper meaning at work?

"It may be that men behave differently in their car/road dreams than do women," she says. "Often — not always — cars represent one's way of getting around in life, and it can be illuminating to consider who is driving the car. The self? Or has the dreamer abdicated responsibility for movement through life to someone else...?"

In other words, are you being driven down the road of life, or are you the one controlling which path you take, and how fast you turn the corner?

Sex with a stranger
Sex with strangers is a dream that occurs far more among men than women. When women dream of sex, it tends to be with a current or past partner. And the reason is obvious, right? We dream about sex with beautiful strangers because — duh! — we want sex with beautiful strangers.

Pretty much, says Dr Tonay. "Dreaming about sex with strangers is likely a biological imperative with an evolutionary basis: men are biologically driven to procreate with as many women as possible to expand the gene pool, whereas women must focus on nurturing a relationship with a mate so that he will stick around and protect her and the child for at least four years — long enough for the child to be able to survive more easily without him."

Teeth crumbling
This is a classic dream that both genders experience. Teeth can be literally crumbling in the dreamer's mouth, breaking off whole or snapping in two. In some teeth crumbling dreams, it only takes slight pressure from the tongue to push the tooth right out of the gums, roots and all.

The first explanation is the obvious one. You might have a dentist appointment coming up or are worried about your teeth.

"Next most common is when one has recently experienced a 'loss of face' or humiliation, and feels like one would feel if one had actually lost all of one's teeth — unattractive, and unable to 'bite', or assert oneself," says Dr Tonay. "We all lost teeth as children, so the feeling in losing-teeth dreams is often the helplessness of being overwhelmed — being small in a big world."

An aggressive confrontation
Studies have shown that men's dreams contain aggression, and even violence, far more than their female counterparts. They might involve being chased by a faceless gang — another anxiety symptom — but in some cases the dreamer can be the perpetrator of the aggression, perhaps playing out in dreams what he would never attempt in real life. After all, slugging your boss in the chops is a recipe for poverty and prison, unless it's done in a dream.

"It is psychologically taxing to deny a feeling you're really having," says Dr Tonay. "Yet, socially, we can't just hit the boss whenever we don't get what we want, or someone takes what we want. That frustration doesn't disappear. It remains in the unconscious, and reappears that night, or the night after, in a dream."

Some of the time we might dream about flying, of magically being able to take to the sky and look down on the world. At other times, we don't fly, we fall. First off, let's put one myth to bed. If you die in your dream you won't die in your bed. But the sense of falling and being able to do nothing about it is disturbing and stressful. Like being the passenger in a car driven by someone else, falling could symbolise a perceived lack of control in an area of your waking life.

Like other dreams though, Dr Tonay emphasises that "dream symbols are always individual". Are you falling, or diving? According to Dr Tonay, water is one of the few symbols all dream experts agree on.

"We tend to dream of floating in a boat on a calm lake when we feel relaxed, peaceful, unthreatened, and on the surface of our emotional lives. Sometimes, we dream we are diving under the water when 'diving in' to our clear, emotional world."

So free-falling might symbolise an anxious lack of control, but free-diving could be a symbol of a positive state of mind.

There are a few other differences between men's and women's dreams, says Dr Tonay. Men's tend to occur outdoors, for example, while women often set their dreams in the home. What's clear is that we do dream differently, and as these examples show, it is possible to glean something about our waking lives from our unconscious adventures.

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