Character Transformations and Composite Characters: the “Barb Sanders” Dreams

Anything can happen in a dream.

Anything often does.

One of those things that happen in dreams—unlike real life—is what dream researchers have come to call “character transformations.”

In the collected dreams of a pseudonymous dream journaler whom Calvin Hall referred to as “Barb Sanders” these character transformations were fairly common. Hall estimated they occurred in 10 to 35 percent of dream reports, indicating that they’re more common for some people than others.

In a character transformation, a dream character becomes another dream character.

In the Barb Sanders dream journals, for example:

  • A drunk man became a baby
  • A boy morphed into a crazy man
  • A little boy switched into a tiny girl
  • A nice girl babysitter became a threatening alien
  • A baby turned into a magazine with a pretty picture on the cover

Composite characters

Another phenomenon that’s related to character transformations is that of composite characters.

Composite characters are based on a mix of people from real life. They’re rare in dream reports occurring so infrequently that they can’t be studied systematically.

In Sanders’ dream reports, one composite character was based on her brother and ex-husband. The composite character that results is a blend of her concepts of them.

Another blended dream character was a blend of Derek and Darryl. Derek was the man Sanders developed a crush on, an unrequited love. Darryl was the high school boyfriend she rejected. In an interview, she said they were the two men whom she said she loved the most.

Understanding character transformations and composite characters

When you’re trying to understand what happened when a dream character or component transformed from one thing into another, consider what both things mean to you and their relationship with each other and the surrounding environment in the dream.

Did anything trigger the change in the dream?

Composite characters have to be understood slightly differently.

They seem like an attempt by the subconscious to strike the exact right tone with a symbol. Like the mind’s symbolic vocabulary is coming up just short.

In that case, it too, would seem like it might be fruitful to look for similarities and differences between both characters.

Personal experience with character transformations in dreams

I used to have these kinds of dreams once in a while when I was younger. I don’t have them very often these days, at a rate of less than one in a hundred. I’d imagine that they’re a communication strategy by the subconscious, a way of tying the relationship of one symbol to another. They’re probably more common for some people at some periods of their life than for others.

Composite characters are more common for me. I’ll dream of something or something that has a blend of characteristics from real life. That, too, seems to be a communication strategy from the subconscious.

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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