All things considered, sleep is a glorious, glorious thing. I could wax poetic about the merits of a good snooze, but I imagine we’re all in agreement here. The downside? Dreams—or, more specifically, nightmares, especially the surreal, is-this-really-happening type. While we can write them off as insignificant or inconsequential, Carl Jung’ll tell you: they often reflect the unconscious. We all know what it means when you’re flying (you feel empowered), someone around you has died (a new beginning, or a milestone has been reached), or you’re falling (you don’t feel in control), but what about when your hair is falling out, or your nails keep breaking? Or, even worse: You got a bad haircut?
We couldn’t get in touch with Mr. Jung himself for obvious reasons (chief among them: He’s been dead for half a century) but we did find the next best thing: Melissa Daum, LMFT, a psychotherapist in NYC who has studied Jung and is training to be a psychoanalyst. Here, she interprets all your beauty dreams, from the mildly inconvenient to the majorly devastating.
Your Hair is Falling Out
“Hair is a source of both anxiety and pleasure,” Daum says. “For women, hair has cross-culturally been a signifier of fertility and youth. Many religions demand women cover their hair, which can be based on a fantasy that a woman’s hair is powerful, seductive, and wild—yet women often describe their hair as unmanageable or bad in some way—too flat, frizzy, bushy, or stringy—so perhaps hair is like a stand-in to describe conflicts around sexuality. Hair is a little bit scary, as it operates of its own will, and it’s actually already dead. Thus, hair is both a part of the body and not. We can control it, neglect it, cover it, or love it, but ultimately we have a relationship with it. To dream that hair is falling out reflects a loss of agency in this relationship, and hair, or the dimension that hair signifies, is winning as you, the dreamer, experience the ‘loss.'”
You Suddenly Have Acne or Your Skin Is Peeling Off
“Skin creates the barrier between what is inside and what is outside. We feel gathered together by our skin; without it we’d be raw and exposed (and disgusting),” she says. “Ruptures on the surface of the skin, like pimples, rashes, or peeling, reflect either a breakthrough from an unseen, internal dimension onto the body’s surface or an irritation where the external world meets the body. However, issues of skin are only skin deep— it’s considered virtuous to look beyond one’s superficial exterior and love what’s inside. So then why are we so horrified by an unsightly blemish and fascinated by streaming videos of people popping their pimples? Perhaps to dream of eruptions on the skin is a wish to look at what’s festering below the surface.”
Your Teeth Are Falling Out
“Dreams of teeth falling out are considered ‘typical,’ meaning that these dreams occur with some degree of stability across age, time, culture, and gender. Popular opinion would say that dreams of teeth falling out means something about losing control, insecurity, and embarrassment. These generic, dream dictionary interpretations are not useful, as dreams work in direct relationship to the dreamer’s waking life. More important questions would be, where were you in the dream when you’re teeth were falling out? A friend of mine recently dreamt his teeth started falling out during a job interview. He did a fake sneeze to get the teeth in his hand, then snuck them into his pocket. The interviewer never noticed! This dream had to do with concealment from the Other. This is quite different than dreaming you’re alone and a front tooth falls out and suddenly you’re panicked thinking about out how much it’s going to cost to fix it, how soon you can get an appointment, and if the tooth will look like your other teeth. This kind of dream is more like a logistical nightmare.
You Got a Terrible Haircut
“I’ve had this dream before,” Daum says. “I dreamt I got a lopsided, short haircut and my curly hair became a bushy sphere encircling the perimeter of my head. I felt so ugly and helpless in the dream. ‘It’s never going to grow out!’ and ‘I can’t believe I have to live with this’ are often what you say in these dreams. This is like having to be patient in a period of awkward growth that seems like it will take forever, and there’s nothing you can do except wait it out. A bad haircut is also an avoidable mistake, so it can signify experiences of regrets and bad decisions. Another dimension to consider is actually how getting a haircut is an act of submission. The client is made to feel like she’s dominant and getting pampered, yet it takes real vulnerability and trust to sit in the hands of the stylist and have a part of yourself cut off. If you have this dream, you may want to ask yourself who is the “stylist” to whom I’m submitting and what part of me is being “cut off?”
Your Nails Keep Breaking
“Dreams speak in pictures, puns, and wordplay. When dreaming, the frontal lobes of the brain are offline, responsible for executive function and linear thought, while the amygdala, which has to do with memory and emotional response, is highly activated. Thus we can regard dreams as speaking a picture language of emotional association. A break can refer to something breaking, pausing, car brakes, and nail as a fingernail, hardware, getting nailed, nailing it—all in play depending on the dream context and how it makes sense with what’s going on in one’s life. So if we speak Dream, breaking nails could read like: “I need a break from getting nailed” (a wish to pause from sex), “I need to put the brakes on nailing it” (to slow down professionally), “My nails are breaking” (trying to stick it to someone and it isn’t working).”
You Went Out With No Makeup On
“Some women say they wouldn’t even go to the mailbox without putting their face on. It’s a funny sentiment, but reflects conflict between the constructed, public face and the raw one. Thus, going out with no makeup on, or without a “face” on, may be masking a more humiliating or exposing situation, that if actually dreamt about would be more nightmare than dream. Freud referred to dreams as ‘the guardian of sleep,’ meaning we dream via distortion in order to continue sleeping, as the real content would be too alarming to sleep through. You could say that a nightmare is a failed dream, where the emotion was too powerful for sleep to be preserved. In this way, a dream is like a nightmare with makeup on.”