Here's What It Actually Means When You Dream About an Ex

sleeping woman
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Dreaming about someone can often leave you in a funk for the rest of the day, especially if it's about someone you don't want to be thinking about. We may be tempted to read into them, but then we stop ourselves, because isn't dream-interpreting just a bunch of hoo-ha?


Turns out, your dreams might actually be your subconscious trying to tell you that something's wrong buried deep down. Waking up feeling upset and disoriented means that you most likely feel similarly somewhere in your waking life too, as Alicia Clark, a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, DC, told Time.

And when dreaming of specific people, it can be representative of a whole gamut of things: from different aspects of our personality, to the literal characters in our lives (like our mother), to someone similar to them (like a mother figure), Clark said. 

For example, dreaming about an ex doesn't necessarily mean you're still yearning for said ex (although it could). It may mean that you have unresolved feelings for that person, or never got to express how you felt to him or her. It might also just be an indication of your current relationship not meeting your needs, or that you're ready for a new love.

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"Dreams are symbolic, they are not real people," Vocata George, a Jungian Analyst at the C.G. Jung Education Center of Cleveland, told the Huffington Post. (For reference, Carl Jung studied under Freud.) It's more about what the person represents, or the theme of the dream, rather than the actual person. "Dreams about someone are really about ourselves," George continued.

As great as all this self-reflection is, is there any science behind our dreams?

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Think of our brain like a computer, clinical psychologist Dr. John Mayer told Elite Daily, and all of our thoughts and images (or "data") continue to spin around, long after we hit the hay. How that data is stored or spins around is unknown, though, and we can be unaware of why a certain thought or memory of someone is triggered or stimulated.

While people have looked into the meaning of dreams for a long time, scientific studies have found that dreams are associated with our emotions. A UC Berkeley study found that less REM sleep -- i.e., less dream time -- impacted people's ability "to understand complex emotions in daily life," according to Scientific American.

When we dream, the parts of our brain that are the most active are the ones that deal with our emotions, like the limbic system, as A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College, told NBC News. The least active part is our frontal lobes, which is where our higher order functioning and thought takes place. "This might explain why our dreams are often not very logical," Marsden said. 

So, this all being said, sometimes a dream doesn't necessarily mean that you have deep unresolved issues in your life that need fixing. It all depends on the type of dream. Dreaming of a person who passed away in your life could just be your brain taking a stroll down memory lane.
But if there's a recurring dream that you don't particularly enjoy, it might be worth diving into "why" it's happening in the first place. What's drawing you toward this person, and what did he or she mean in your life? A little self-exploration and internal communication could just lead you down a happier path.
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