What’s the Simple Truth About the Needs-Centered Dream?

Is your dream about a need found in Maslow’s Hierarchy?

If so, you’ve had a Needs Dream.

The further down toward the base of the pyramid the need is, the more serious it is.

There was a party in your head last night when you were sleeping.

All of your favorite people were there.

There was your best friend when you were in grade school, the kid who always made you laugh until he moved away.

Then there was your uncle who took you to your first professional baseball game.

And your roommate from college.

There’s always a reason why you had the dream you had. Why were all of these people together, hanging out with you? What could all of them possibly represent?

The answer may be found in your current environment.

You’ve been isolated. First COVID, and then your current job keeps you apart from friends and family.

People have a need for others. Social needs.

What you’ve had can best be classified as a Needs Dream.

Other Needs Dreams

In this classification, you’ll find the dream about the bottle of fresh water when you’re out in the middle of the ocean dying on a life raft.

This is the dream where you’re happily married to the person whom you’ve just broken up with.

It’s the dream of the feast when you’re starving.

It’s the dream of catching the winning touchdown or making the cheerleading squad.

Or you dream you’re safe and secure in your bed after you’ve been out on the town and have been near gunfire…

You’re lacking something. The need has been satisfied in the dream. Because of this, the dream provides a respite from stress. Sometimes, if you pay attention or get inspired, it provides you a big bright sign denoting a way out of the stress or, acknowledgment of the stress.

The basic needs are at the bottom of the pyramid. When those are satisfied, the demands grow more complex and move up the pyramid. Photo Illustration © Bang Oland

What, exactly, count as needs?

Abraham Maslow advanced the classic theory answering this question in 1943 in a paper called “The Theory of Human Motivation.” It has come to be known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

A need is something that’s required for life. This theory ranks them and posits that as people fulfill their basic requirements, they move up to more advanced ones.

At the base of the pyramid, you’ll find the basic needs, and they move up in complexity as you move up the pyramid.

Physiological needs include food, clothing, shelter, air, and water. As a category, physiological needs are all of the basic things your body has to have to survive.

Safety needs include security, protection, money, and employment. Even if your job is somewhat dangerous, it counts as a safety need. Financial income gives you security.

Social needs are fulfilled by meaningful personal interaction, intimacy, trust, friendship, and a feeling of belonging. Small talk and shallow conversations wouldn’t necessarily fulfill social needs.

Esteem needs are reflected in a desire for independence, mastery over a topic or an area of functioning. By the time we’ve reached this level at the top of the pyramid, we’ve reached a high degree of complexity. For example, someone can be fully educated and certified in an area and fulfill a role in society. For various reasons, they can still feel like a fraud, that they’re not competent and capable.

At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization. This refers to the ability to become the best version of yourself you can possibly be. It refers to maximizing your potential in light of the limitations of your environment.

How to use the pyramid for understanding your dreams

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can function as a valuable tool that sparks awareness of the meaning of your dreams.

For example, you have a nightmare where you feel threatened by someone. When you wake up, you realize this person really does have a reason to be intimidated by you. This could be a problem because you have an inner need for a reasonable amount of security.

If you’ve been betrayed by a loved one in your dream, realize you need emotional security. Analyze the symbols in your dream to understand your feelings.

If you feel trapped in your dream, perhaps it relates to self-actualization. Maybe you’re feeling stymied from growing as a person.

Health messages in dreams can come in at several different places on the pyramid, especially as safety and physiological needs.

The first step to fixing a problem is realizing you have a problem. That’s where Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes in. You’re a human, and the pyramid is a roadmap to needs fulfillment in humans.

No, you’re not crazy. No, you’re not being ridiculous. No, you’re not being ___. It’s a need, and a need is what is necessary to prosper as a human.

Needs are important, though they sometimes get dismissed and swept away. That makes needs dreams important signals to heed, just as you should pay attention to the warning lights on your car’s dashboard.


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James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life. 


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