Dreams about falling are among the most common dreams. However, their meanings are not common. Many so-called experts on dreams attempt to explain all falling dreams in the same way. Ian Wallace, a psychologist says that a falling dream “indicates that you are hanging on too tightly to a particular situation in waking life. You need to relax and let go of it.”
Another explanation, this from a dream website, suggests, “When you fall, you have no control and have nothing to hold on to. Thus your falling dream is analogous to a situation in your waking life where you are lacking or losing control. You are feeling overwhelmed, perhaps in school, in your work environment, in your home life or maybe in your personal relationship. You have lost your foothold and unable to keep up with the demands of your daily life.”
Freud was the first to point out that you can’t apply one template to all dreams that have the same theme. Falling dreams are no exception. Not all falling dreams can be explained as “hanging on too tightly” or “fearing loss of control” or “fearing being overwhelmed.” Ten different people can have the same falling dream and it can have ten different meanings, depending on the background and associations of each dreamer.
A young woman dreamed, “I’m falling out of the sky and into a dark, burning pit somewhere in the middle of the earth.” She was a teen-aged girl who had been raised in a strict Catholic household. She had just had sex for the first time the night before the dream. She had tried to hold off her boyfriend until after marriage, but he pressed her to have sex. During the experience itself she felt wonderful, but afterwards she said she felt “doomed.” The associated the burning pit in the dream with hell. The interpretation of this dream is simple: by having sex before marriage she had sinned and was falling into hell.*
A psychologist had the following dream: “I dreamed I fell off the balcony of my sixth-story apartment.” Upon waking up, she recalled standing on her balcony the day before, and while she was enjoying the view she held on to the railing and it felt shaky. However, she wasn’t paying attention to the balcony and it only registered in her preconscious mind. However, the loose railing was the first association that came to her mind when she awoke from the dream. The meaning of this falling dream was a warning; it alerted her as to the shaky railing that should be fixed.*
A man dreams, “I was on the Woolworth tower looking down. Suddenly I slipped and fell to the ground. My body made a hole in the ground as if it was smashed to pieces.” The man had suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder since coming home from a war. He had recurring dreams of falling in different ways and being shattered. People suffering from PTSD often have recurring dreams or nightmares that serve to discharge traumatic emotions. And when something frightens them in their present life the will be prone to having another falling dream.*
A woman dreamed, “I’m standing on top of a high building with my husband. He embraces me and tackles me to make me laugh. A woman nearby says, “Watch out!” Suddenly I lose my footing and fall from the building tumbling and screaming. My body hits the pavement and shatters into a thousand pieces.” The woman is around thirty years old and suffers from acrophobia. She associated to a recent argument with her argument with her husband during which he hit her. Then she recalled a memory of her father throwing her up in the air and dropping her onto the floor.*
For this woman, falling and splattering alludes not only to the fear of annihilation by her husband, but also harks back to the trauma of her father’s dropping her, the memory of which lingers in her body ego. It is this original trauma that remains as the source of her acrophobia, recreated in this traumatic dream. The woman who shouts, “Watch out!” is likely her mother, who she wishes had protected her from this original fall.
Another woman dreamed, “I’m falling in space, but it’s great. I’m not afraid.” She is a 39-year-old woman who suffers from generalized anxiety and arousal disorder. In therapy she has long been expressing her frustration about her inability to have orgasms. The dream is a wish fulfillment dream—she fulfills her desire to let go and allow herself to experience the ecstasy of a sexual climax.*
The dream, “My arm turned to stone,” might have two different meanings for two different people. One man, whose older brother used to pin him to the ground and taunt him, was never able to defend himself against this brother. This dream thus alluded to this trauma, which rendered his arm (power to defend) paralyzed. A woman who was waiting for the results of a biopsy of a mole taken from her arm, had the same dream and the meaning was that she was afraid her arm had cancer.
The above examples of falling dreams are but a few of the multitude of such dreams and the variety of their backgrounds and associations. Each dream has arisen out of a different source and therefore must be interpreted according to that source. No one broad notion with regard to the meaning of falling dreams can fit all dreams, perhaps not even most of them. In addition, dreams can have many layers of meaning, each going deeper into the unconscious.
Each falling dream represents a path to a core part of yourself. By understanding the distinct meaning of your particular falling dream you get closer to your core.
*These dreams are from the author’s 2nd Edition of his Dictionary of Dream Interpretation.