Daydreaming is a fascinating phenomenon, not just for its content, but for the secret clues it contains. When we look closer, we can find similar patterns and ideas that repeat from daydream to daydream. These daydream themes can reveal a great deal about us – especially things we’re too afraid to admit to out loud.
But what do these clues mean, and how common are they in our daydreams? In this article we’ll look at the most frequent daydream themes and explore their meanings. We’ll also discover which ones are common with maladaptive daydreaming.
What Are Daydream Themes?
A daydream theme is the underlying idea or message that runs through a dream. They usually reflect aspects of our inner world: our deepest feelings, desires, and fears.
Your personal background can also determine what daydream themes you’ll experience. In this way, they are very similar to themes from nighttime dreams.
What’s more, our themes can have universal meanings. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung theorized that dreams were reflections of the collective unconscious, the primordial symbols and archetypes that all humans share. Originating from the dawn of human history, the information is hidden away in the human psyche and passed down to new generations. Aspects of the collective unconscious will appear in fables, stories, and even dreams.1
As a society, we tend to take daydreams for granted. But believe it or not, your mental detours can be a window into your soul.
Why Do We Need to Be Aware of Our Daydream Themes?
Often our daydreams reflect emotions or beliefs that we have trouble facing. We express these parts of us in our inner world where we are safe from judgment.
However, there’s a dark side to represed emotions. They can manifest as insecurities or manipulative behavior, affecting our personal relationships and outlook on life. By examining our daydream themes, we can confront these issues. That way, we’ll always know that we’re behaving in alignment with our true selves.
The Conquering Hero and the Suffering Martyr
Although daydream themes are limitless, there tend to be ones that manifest more often than others. Daydreaming researcher Eric Klinger from the University of Minnesota has identified two in particular. The most common themes, he notes, are the conquering hero and the suffering martyr.2
The conquering hero involves the daydreamer overcoming obstacles or achieving success. Scenarios can include becoming a celebrity or amassing a fortune. According to Klinger, this theme indicates a desire for control, especially in the face of life’s conflicts.2
The suffering martyr, on the other hand, features a downtrodden protagonist gaining acceptance. People who have rejected or misjudged the character will finally show their recognition. The daydreamer may imagine a lover expressing remorse for an earlier breakup, or a popular clique from school showing kindness. This theme suggests that the daydreamer is feels alienated by others and wants to be accepted.2
11 Common Daydream Themes
Of course, there are many more themes other than the conquering hero and the suffering martyr. Here are eleven common daydream themes:
This daydream theme involves scenarios in which you or a dream character create a positive outcome in a desperate situation. You might be a detective solving a case, or a knight rescuing a damsel in distress.
Either way, the heroism theme indicates a desire to make your mark on the world, whether it’s through solving problems or being helpful. In your everyday life, look for ways to make a difference: help a friend work through a problem, volunteer at a local animal shelter, or investigate service-oriented careers.
On the flip side, you can also have daydreams where you play the villain. Possible examples include becoming a world dictator, a dangerous mafia boss, or a mad scientist.
If you’re having this type of daydream, you might be feeling the urge to explore your dark side. Perhaps you’re annoyed by social norms and want to shake up the status quo. If thats the case, then take more opportunities in your daily life to do something unconventional.
On the other hand, it’s possible you have some pent up negative emotions, like anger, hatred, or a desire for revenge. Investigate what is producing these feelings and work to change them.
Fantasizing about of a tropical paradise? Then you’re having an adventure daydream. This theme is classic escapism, full of exciting travels to distant lands and exotic locations.3
We tend to have these daydreams when we’re feeling stressed out by our circumstances. If that’s you, take some time to yourself to do something fun; an afternoon hike or a weekend trip to the city are great ways to add a little adventure to your life.
In this daydream, you experience a profound transformation: death, rebirth, or a shift from one physical form to another.
This may mean that you feel ready for changes in your life: new environments, relationships, or perspectives. Think about starting a creative project or a business opportunity. Or, cut things out of your life that no longer serve you.
Arguably one of the most fun daydream themes. Power dreams involve extraordinary abilities: flying, magic, superhuman intelligence, or legendary fighting skills. You feel strong, powerful, and on top of the world.
If this daydream shows up often, you could be feeling the need for competence or mastery over a specific area. Try learning a new skill and work to become a master at it.
Persecution daydreams center primarily on rejection: you may find yourself shunned, hated, or treated unjustly by other people.
This daydream indicates that somewhere in real life, you’re feeling misunderstood. Root out the source of these feelings. Do you feel like you have no one to turn to emotionally, or that your feelings are not being heard? If so, then try to find ways to build a strong, emotional support system in your life. Find a friend, teacher, or counselor you can turn to when things get rough.
When you’re experiencing this type of daydream, Murphy’s law reigns supreme. All of your deepest fears come to life: natural disasters, missed deadlines, a car accident, or a failed test.3
A disaster daydream reveals the your deepest fears and worries. Are you feeling stressed about a specific outcome of a situation? Do you feel insecure about certain areas of your life? Search for ways to ease your worries. Meditation and positive affirmations can prevent you from dwelling on your fears.
Are you imagining yourself eating or drinking something delicious? If you think it’s got nothing to do with your immediate hunger, then you may be needing some form of gratification. You might be stressed and need a bit of down time, or you want to spend more time with your loved ones. Take more opportunities to engage in fun, pleasurable activities. Plan a potluck and invite the people that matter to you most.
This daydream theme involves engaging in romantic or sexual interactions with others. This may involve passionate love affairs, forbidden relationships, or a dramatic breakup.
These daydreams express your desire for love and connection. You might be in a place in your life where you feel unloved or unable to express love. It’s even possible you feel isolated emotionally. Establish close emotional ties with the people in your life, or seek out opportunities to form new relationships.
In an animal daydream, you might be surrounded by animals, or even imagine being one yourself.
This suggests that you feel connected to certain characteristics of animals. You might even desire to “return to nature” and live more authentically. Your current lifestyle could be making you feel suffocated. Try spending more time outdoors, or find ways to simplify your life. Make friends with real animals and be open to the lessons they can teach you.
Usually, those who crave attention fantasize about becoming famous, but it can also mean that you want your achievements to be recognized.
If this is a recurring theme, you might need to be more bold in life and put yourself in a position where you can be noticed. Publish a novel, start a YouTube channel, or attend an audition. Step out from behind the curtain and let your colors shine.
The Themes of Maladaptive Daydreaming
People with MD have many different daydream themes, but some are more common than others. Which ones are they?
For that answer, we can examine the work of Dr. Eli Somer of the University of Haifa, who conducts research on the nature of maladaptive daydreaming. In his 2002 paper, “Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry”, Somer outlines five daydream themes observed in patients with MD:
- Violence: fantasies that involve acts of cruelty, aggression, or affliction of torment.
- Idealized self: the dreamer transforms into a perfect version of him or herself, which often incorporate changes in personality or physical appearance.
- Power and control: scenarios where the dreamer assumes leadership or control over people or a situation.
- Captivity, rescue, and escape: the dreamer reflects feelings of being imprisoned by external circumstances and the desire to escape them.
- Sexual arousal: dreams that consist of having sexual encounters with real or imaginary people.4
Make the Most of Your Daydreams
As you can see, we daydreamers can experience a large variety of dreams! Hopefully you’ve learned that while they can be fun, daydreams can also be extremely insightful. Be sure to use them to your advantage often.
Next time your mind wanders, instead of taking your fantasies lightly, look carefully for their hidden messages. Then use that knowledge to take action, make changes, and work through issues in your life.
What daydream themes do you find common in your fantasies?
 Kaufman, Scott Barry. “The Amazing Benefits of Daydreaming on the Mind.” Alternet. N.p., 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 June 2016.
 Vigo, Michael. “Daydream Themes.” Dream Moods. 2001.