If You Dream About the Boss…

If You Dream About the Boss…


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[BONDS] Mark Brewer

Dana Anderson, a 31-year-old in Farmington, Utah, dreamed that her boss at the department store where she works called her into his office to talk about her performance as a marketing representative. He said she was a great team player but had to get to work on time.

Ms. Anderson climbed onto the boss’s desk and did a striptease. He grabbed her and kissed her.

“Whoa,” she thought when she woke up. “Why him? That was gross.”

Most of us, if we’re honest, will admit to having a steamy dream or two about a work colleague. Sometimes, it is someone we really are attracted to when we’re awake.

But often our dream date is the loudmouth down the hall, our office adversary, even the scary boss—in short, someone we avoid even standing near in real life. So why pay attention to dreams like this? Are they trying to tell us something?

From losing your teeth to having test anxiety, Deirdre Barrett, a dream expert and psychologist, interprets some popular recurring dreams.

With imagery and symbolism, dreams can reveal important insights that we might not consciously notice otherwise, experts say. Dreams are “a different mode of thought,” says Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist, professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the book “The Committee of Sleep.”

Most of our sex dreams, though, aren’t really about sex. Your dream about the nerd in the next cubicle might be a suggestion from your unconscious to adjust your view and learn to work better with this person. Or maybe your co-worker has a trait—computer skills, a genial personality—that you would do well to emulate. If your dream lover is the boss, your unconscious might be telling you to take control at work or in some other area of your life.

“Dreams are a conversation with the self,” says Lauri Loewenberg, dream analyst and author of the book “Dream On It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life.” When we sleep, the anxieties, fears and prejudices of the conscious mind fall away, she says. “We are left with our deepest, most insightful and brutally honest thoughts.”

What was my unconscious trying to tell me, years ago, when I dreamed of being on a romantic date with a colleague whom I couldn’t stand in real life? The narrative began with us playing footsie under the table at a restaurant. I asked Ms. Loewenberg for help interpreting the dream, mentioning I was unhappy in my job at the time and coveted my colleague’s position. She said by bringing attention to my feet, my sleeping mind was telling me I needed to take steps to get the job I wanted. “Nothing in a dream is random,” she says.

Ms. Anderson had her dream of dancing naked for her (now former) boss after she got a poor job-performance review earlier that day. She says she thinks the dream was telling her to demonstrate that she was a good performer. She remembers thinking in the dream, “I will show him a progress report.”

The dream even offered her compelling evidence that her new attitude would pay off—when the boss shed his clothes and the two of them began having sex. In the dream, the office door opened, and the store’s human resources director walked in.

Do you know someone who says he doesn’t dream? He’s mistaken. All mammals experience REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming, and Dr. Barrett and other researchers believe they do dream.

Interpretation of Dreams 101

Tips for understanding what your cringe-worthy sex dreams are trying to tell you.

There’s nothing random in a dream. Pay attention to the details. The last thing that happens is often the main point. Think carefully about what happened just before you woke up.

Ask yourself, ‘Am I attracted to the person in my dream?’ It helps to know whether you want to take action and explore getting closer to this person. If the answer is no, keep the dream to yourself.

Dreams are metaphors. People in them stand for something we need or want. Do you subconsciously yearn to be like this person? What do you admire about him or her?

Reflect on events that may have triggered the dream. ‘Your dreams are continuations of your thoughts of the day,’ says Lauri Loewenberg, a dream analyst and author.

Does the person represent an aspect of your real-life partner?Does he or she display a trait you’d like to see more, or less, often in your partner?

What does the dream say about life balance? ‘Most dreams are compensatory,’ says Gary Toub, psychologist and Jungian analyst in Denver. ‘Let’s say you are a workaholic, and you have a dream where you have sex with the laziest person in the office. Your dream may be telling you to slow down.’

If you want to remember your dream, stay in bed for a few minutes after you wake up. Remain physically still; try not to think. The dream should come back to you. Write it down, or tell someone about it, right away.

Suggest possible meanings to yourself. Some interpretations will make sense intellectually but not emotionally. ‘You should have this little “aha” moment,’ says Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist and professor at Harvard Medical School.

Vickie Jacobson, a 45-year-old computer drafter from Nashville, Tenn., remembers a dream in which she had sex with her boss on a Victorian couch in an old-fashioned parlor. She took it as an expression of her desire to assimilate in the corporate culture at her new job.

“I had come from a company where all you did was work, work, work. And this was a company where it’s all about interacting and communicating and taking an interest in one another,” she says. She kept her dream to herself.

Are there ever circumstances where you should tell a colleague that he or she had a starring role in one of your sex dreams? Only if you are attracted to the person and open to exploring a relationship. Otherwise, keep mum.

In a 2007 study of 3,500 dream reports, researchers at the Université de Montréal determined that we have sex dreams about 8% of the time.

Whom did people say they had sex with in their dreams? Women dreamed of current or past partners 20% of the time, compared with 14% for men. Women were twice as likely to dream of public figures, while men were twice as likely to dream of multiple sex partners.

Other studies have shown that both men and women have more negative sexual dreams than positive ones, and men have slightly more negative sexual dreams than women do, says Dr. Barrett.

For men, the anxieties often relate to sexual performance. A common scenario is of having sex when a group of people walk in. Or a sexual partner will morph into something scary, maybe growing scales or fur. Women often dream about fending off unwanted advances, or of being sexually assaulted.

In the medieval Christian church, nuns and priests sometimes reported that demons, called incubi and succubi, had sex with them while they were sleeping, Dr. Barrett says. Some accounts were scary, but others were of pleasant sexual experiences. Scholars believe they are accounts of sexual dreams.

An unwanted advance from an evil spirit in the middle of the night is one thing. But a roll in the hay with the office bore? Now that’s a real nightmare. As for the hot new hire, Ms. Lowenberg says, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as Freud put it. The dream can be an innocent little pressure reliever.”

—Email Elizabeth Bernstein at bonds@wsj.com or follow her column at www.Facebook.com/EBernsteinWSJ.


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