Falling in Your Dreams – What Does It Mean?

5 min read

Last Modified 19 October 2021 First Added 4 October 2021

By Liam Porter

The dream:

Your knuckles white, your fingers aching, you know it’s only a matter of time before your strength gives out.

You make the mistake of looking down and below is a drop so high you cannot see the ground through the clouds.

Your grip loosens and suddenly, irreversibly, you are falling.

The air whistles past your ears and whips at your clothes, snatching your screams away as soon as they leave your lips.

The ground is visible now and you can’t help but think what that means for you.

Still, it’s only a dream – right?

Variations of the dream:

Dreams of falling come in many forms. There are those where the dreamer never falls from something, but is instead falling throughout the dream. There are falls from trees, cliffs, buildings, or in a lift. So what could your dream of falling mean?

Meaning(s) of the dream:

Falling is one of the ‘motifs’ identified by Carl Jung in Man and His Symbols, which he relates to the myth of Icarus. While his interpretation of falling dreams is interesting, it’s the way the dream is contextualised that’s the most interesting part of Jung’s interpretation.

The general function of dreams is to try to restore our psychological balance by producing dream material that re-establishes, in a subtle way, the total psychic equilibrium. It explains why people who have unrealistic ideas or too high an opinion of themselves, or who make grand plans that are out of proportion to their real capabilities, have dreams of flying or falling. The dream compensates for the deficiencies of their personalities, while warning them of the dangers in their present course. If the warnings of the dream are disregarded, real accidents may take their place. The victim may fall downstairs or may have a car accident.

While it is a step or two removed from accepted science, Jung believes that the unconscious communicates with a specific intent, with a meaning that must be deciphered. He says:

But I must stress again that these are motifs that must be considered in the context of the dream itself, not as self-explanatory ciphers.

It’s this need to be decoded that’s at the root of all dream analysis – and the fear of falling features in most texts on the subject. While Jung considered these dreams as a warning that our reach may have extended our grasp, other interpretations see it as indicative of an unacknowledged feeling of having lost control in one or more aspects of our lives.

There are no prizes for guessing what meaning Jung’s contemporary and mentor Freud ascribes to dreams of falling. He believes them to be inherently sexual, with the falling being a falling-from-grace. But while Freud was very much a man of his era, modern cultural interpretations see the fall as relating to the person’s finances, and the inevitable impact that continued mismanagement may lead to.

Common forms of the falling dream:

Whether it’s a simple trip over your shoe laces or a fall from a cliff, each type of falling dream has its own reason for being:

1. Falling from a cliff:

The very physical loss of contact with something in our falling dreams represents a more figurative loss of contact in the waking world. Whether this represents losing contact with friends or family after a move, or that you feel like an aspiration is becoming unattainable, the fall from a cliff could indicate that special attention is paid to such things.

2. Dreams of tripping:

While much less terrifying than a fall from a great height, dreams of tripping can be no less packed with meaning. Dreams of tripping can represent a fear of falling behind. At work and in life more generally, trips represent setbacks or fear of making a mistake.

3. Falling from the sky:

Falling from the sky represents the unknown. You are literally without familiar terrain and this can indicate that you are worried about or torn between many possible choices.

4. Falling in a lift, or down a lift shaft:

Probably the most troubling of the falling dreams, and the one demanding the most thorough inspection, the combination of a loss of control and of being confined can indicate severe loss of self-esteem, control or a plunging mood.

Answering the dream:

To return to Jung’s words: “these are motifs that must be considered in the context of the dream itself, not as self-explanatory ciphers”, so it’s important to use historical analysis of dream archetypes only in the context of your own circumstances. However, many of the falling dreams seem to imply that there is an unacknowledged loss of control causing subconscious anxiety. For that reason, reflection on what that loss of control could be will be the best response. Are you worried about a lack of progress at work? Are you feeling isolated from friends and family?

Notable appearances in popular culture:

Whether it’s the ‘jump program’ of The Matrix, Luke’s decision to fall rather than join the dark side in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back or any of a huge number of final battles fought on razor-thin walkways above precipitous drops, dreams of falling enter popular culture as set-pieces and references rather than as dreams – but the significance tends to remain, the need to overcome and to retake control.

Like falling, flying in your dreams have a similar meaning. For more, take a look at what being chased in your dream means, or what dreaming about running late means.

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