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How to interpret the symbolic meaning of falling in your dreams

Symbolic meaning of falling in your dreams

Before we can explore the symbolic meaning of falling in your dreams, it is important to differentiate it from the sensation of falling that you may experience sometimes as you are drifting off to sleep. This sensation, though it feels like falling, has some significant differences to dreaming of falling once you are actually asleep. The feeling of falling you get as you fall asleep, which suddenly jerks you awake, is a biological reaction and not a dream. Usually referred to as Hynagogic jerks or hypnic jerks, these involuntary muscle spasms are believed to affect up 70 percent of the population and are entirely normal (if not completely understood).

Some theories suggest hypnic jerks occur as a result of misfiring muscles. Others posit that the reaction occurs due to an ancient genetic memory built into our body from our simian ancestors, designed to stop us falling out of trees as we dozed and our muscles relaxed. Regardless of what causes these sudden startling movements, they are not actually dreams, and are not at all dangerous. You may experience some dream-like sensations or visions to accompany this effect, but they are unlikely to be what we usually describe as true dreams. These occur in the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep and are more commonly described as hypnagogic visions, those that occur on the threshold of consciousness, just on the edge of sleep.

This leads us to a common misconception about falling in your dreams. Some people are concerned that if you don’t awake from a falling dream before you hit the ground, you will actually die in waking life. Perhaps this belief stems from that same ancient memory, a deep belief that we must cling to safety in order to survive, like a monkey in a tree. There are many research articles that support the fact that hitting the ground in a dream will actually NOT end your life. However, if scientific research does not satisfy you, I can give you my personal feedback. I have dreamed of falling and hitting the ground, and I am still here to write about it. In an interesting side note, I did dream that I died as a result of the fall, although I also kept on dreaming after the fall. This is consistent with the knowledge that normal laws of physics and the commonly accepted constraints of reality do not apply in the dreaming mind.

What does the actual symbolism of falling in your dreams mean, then? Falling is a rather complex symbol as it contains so many inherent opposites. Falling in many instances has negative connotations. We talk about “falling from grace”, falling “in esteem”, “falling into depression”, to be “down on one’s luck”, or to be at your “lowest point” and “hit rock bottom”. If everything that is associated with highness and elevation, including joy, social status, wealth, opportunity, spiritual state etc, is seen as good then, conversely, any aspect of falling must be a measure of what is lost and, therefore, bad. Yet we know this isn’t the whole story. We also “fall in love” and “fall asleep”. In this context, falling implies a beautiful surrender, a sense of letting go to experience something greater and more enriching. We also speak of “falling on our feet” when chance benefits us, of “falling into bed” when passion overtakes the senses, of “falling to earth” when we regain our sense after a period of distraction. We can “fall for” someone we love but “fall apart” when that love is lost.

Let’s consider the unifying themes that can help us to make sense of such complexities. One of the common themes here is a sense of control, especially when countered against voluntary surrender versus the involuntary loss of control. Issues around losing control often reveal aspects of vulnerability. Another common underlying thread of a falling dream is freedom and release.

Falling in your dreams may cause you to look at what you are clinging to in waking life, and whether doing so is beneficial for your growth as a human being or not. So many dreams of falling begin by holding tightly on to something, desperately hanging on, full of terror at losing your grip and falling. In waking life, this may relate to something you are holding on to that you really need to let go of, or at least loosen your grip on. You may be trying so hard not to lose a relationship that you have become suffocating to the other person. You could be clinging to a project that is no longer feasible and the effort to hold on is taking more from you than it is worth. You may be holding on to a position of power when it might be time to hand the reins over to someone else with new, fresh ideas. Dreams of falling can be about exploring what you need to let go of in order to develop or move on. Falling dreams can be confronting, as they raise issues around what you are afraid could happen if you stopped clinging to something. If this pertains to a relationship, for instance, you may be worried that if you were to lose your grip, it could mean you were the only one trying to hold on. Dreams of falling can symbolise something that should perhaps be freed — and in the releasing you also free yourself.

Sometimes falling in your dreams is not about “holding on tight” but about balance, of trying to move precariously along a cliff edge, the ledge of a skyscraper, between towering buildings, or along a tree branch etc. Such dreams may speak to compromise, of trying to manage various different expectations internally, those you think others have of you and those you have of yourself. Dreams about falling can appear when you are trying to be everything to everyone and are afraid if you fail, if you stop for just an instant, the whole world will collapse around you. This kind of pressure is unsustainable and will eventually do harm, to yourself and to the very people you are trying to serve or protect. In this instance, a falling dream may be nudging you to seek help or support, or simply to know when enough is enough and when to say no.

If you dream of standing on top of a lofty tower or some kind of high perch and fear falling, you may feel like you have a personal reputation or a high position in society or professional organisation to uphold that is taking a toll on you. You may feel you don’t deserve the way in which someone looks up to you or that someone has “put you on a pedestal”. If you dream of falling from this elevated position, in waking life you may be experiencing a loss of reputation or someone’s regard of your status may have “come down”. The anticipatory fall may have felt terrifying but, once the experience is over, it can be accompanied by a sense of relief. While you experience a sense of loss, you may, equally, have a new sense of freedom.
Sometimes, the high perch you are afraid of falling from, or do fall from in your dream, is a construction of your own making. If you have worked hard to build a career, climbed the corporate ladder or scaled the heights of your industry in waking life, you may dream of falling as mergers and restructures happen, new rules and regulations are introduced, or new young players start changing the ways things are done and your superiority is called into question.

Falling in your dreams may also seek to remind you that we are not in control in a universe full of accidents and chance. As long as you try to convince yourself that you are in control, there will likely be surprise events that come along to remind you that chance plays a larger part in our lives than we might like to admit.

It is no coincidence that falling dreams are associated with flying. They are like two sides of the same coin. A dream where you begin by falling but somehow magically start to fly can be a very positive sign that you are mastering your own drives and limitations, that you are finding balance between where to control and where to surrender, where to give help to others
and where to nurture yourself.

Another element to consider when looking at dreams of falling is the question of fear, relating to feeling vulnerable, of failing, of being ”found out” or seen for who you really are. In dreams of falling, you may experience the most primal of all fears, the physical, gut-churning sense of immediate mortal peril — which feels quite different from the frantic need to escape of a chase dream, or the looming, lurking threat of other shadowy fearful dreams. Falling dreams of this type seem to have a special quality addressing loss. If you dream of falling, you may have lost a deep love, a profound life-affirming goal or an identity-defining role in waking life. Or if you have not experienced such a loss directly, you may have come close enough to understand what that could feel and, therefore, fear the loss subconsciously. It can be heartbreaking, soul crushing and gut wrenching to lose these things. A loss like this can feel like a death of sorts. It is! It is a death of old ways, of an old life, an old belief system, or an old sense of self.

The end of a falling dream can reveal your path to healing: If you can wake up before hitting the bottom, this may provide a temporary relief at not having to face up to your fears. This dream may just be bringing the ideas into your consciousness, as they could be too shocking to confront head on right now. The shock of their reality may be what startles you awake. You could feel more comfortable ignoring the sense there is something more you should think about, that something is lurking on the edge of your subconscious calling you to pay attention, to consciously realise what your choices are, what you are afraid of or what is holding you back. This is okay for a while, but in time the denied truth will manifest in other, less
comfortable ways. You may start to have very bad dreams, get sick, or have an accident that forces change upon you. This is a kind of non-option. You can live in denial or face what worries you most deeply. By admitting you are afraid, that you are worried about losing something, and then, where appropriate, communicating these feeling to those nearest to you will go a long way towards addressing your underlying fears.

You may let go deliberately in your dream, giving up the fight and surrendering, or you may consciously leap from where you are. In waking life, this can manifest in the acceptance of your true situation and embracing the reality of where you go to from there. As you reconcile internal conflict, retire from a position with grace or openly share your feelings and wisdom, your dream of falling may turn into a pleasant experience.

If you land safely, this could indicate the transition will be without major difficulty. Landing in clear water can symbolise a deep acceptance of your own vulnerability and your emotions becoming a source of comfort and strength to you. Landing on a soft pillow or cushion can indicate that you have enough material, social or psychological resources to allow you to let go of an experience in waking life and will be well supported and comfortable in the next phase.

You could learn to fly in your dreams. In waking life, this would indicate embracing change as it occurs, sailing with the winds of subconscious instinct and moving on to the next new experience as it arises, gracefully leaving behind what you need to let go of. Sometimes, this can be managed by dedication and conscious effort, however my own experience indicates such moments of blissful wholeness are often associated with grace, and by their very nature are not something we can control. We can invite them in and be accepting when they appear, but even the most willing and open can still struggle during this experience. I do not think this is a fault, I see it simply as there being another valuable lesson still to be discovered. Sometimes, flying dreams are the breath of life that keeps you going through tough times. Sometimes, they are the reward for hard work, and sometimes they just turn up because life is amazing and you never know what is around the next corner. You can hit “rock bottom” in a dream, suffer a death of sorts and still realise that something of you continues to live on. Whether you call this spirit, your soul, a transformed self or something else, death from falling in a dream is not an absolute. While this option seems to lack the grace and New Age prettiness of flying, I believe this can be a more satisfying end to a falling dream — though, to be frank, flying is more fun! Flying in a dream implies mastery over an element in your life and a blissful freedom. Dying in a dream, on the other hand, while less glamorous, offers a path to true transformation and liberation from outmoded belief systems. It is a chance to truly redefine yourself as you rebuild “from the ground up”.

Falling in your dreams can contain elements of “falling in love” or “falling asleep”, offering you a chance to delve into notions of blissful surrender, a merging of the self with the other into something greater than an individual identity, or a blend with a more profound wholeness. In a different way, falling dreams where you hit the ground can bring you back to earth, back to groundedness and a connection with Mother Earth, as well as with your physical body. Falling dreams can ask you to stop living in your head, in a world of ideas, or disassociated from nature, your own body and your deepest self. Deepest is sometimes the opposite side of the coin from highest. Sometimes we seek the highest ideals but need to reconnect with our deepest desires.

Want to learn more about what your dreams mean? Visit our Dreams archive page.