15 psychological facts about what it means when someone appears in your dream

Have you ever dreamed about a person—whether a stranger or someone you know—and woke up wondering why they appeared in your dream? 

Well, you’re definitely not alone. Everywhere all over the world, people have asked this question. 

After all, dreaming is a universal experience. And being the curious creatures we are, we all want to unravel the mystery behind them. 

Here, I’ll talk about the psychology behind dreams and what it means when someone pops up in your dream. I’ll also discuss a few common myths related to dreaming about someone. 

Let’s get started! 

Why do we dream? 

Before we jump into specific facts about dreams, let’s first analyze why human beings dream.

According to Harvard dream researcher Deirdre Barrett, our dreams are “our brain thinking in a very different biochemical state.” In a dream state, our brain’s verbal areas are less active, and logical, linear reasoning is suppressed. 

Instead, the visual and emotional areas tend to be more active. And while we may be thinking in an intuitive visual state, our dreams are still very much connected with our waking interests in the daytime. 

Dream analysis is not a hard science, but most dream analysts and researchers have a shared understanding that dreams serve a distinct purpose—to bring material from our unconscious into consciousness. 

In short, while not all dreams necessarily mean something, some can be meaningful because they represent the conflicts and struggles we experience daily. 

That’s why many researchers believe that dreams help us process difficult emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Some also believe that dreaming helps the brain consolidate memories and support learning. 

15 psychological facts about what it means when someone appears in your dream

1) Dreaming about someone you know

When someone you know appears in your dream, it doesn’t mean it’s about them. Instead, they represent aspects of yourself, according to licensed psychotherapist and dream analyst Carder Stout

So, if, let’s say, a close friend of yours appears in your dream, think about what this person reflects or represents for you. Maybe you admire their loyalty or humility and wish you were more like them.  

Another likely reason for dreaming about someone you know is that you’ve been thinking of them. You may also have associated them with whatever emotion it is you’re feeling right now. 

Dreams often come from our subconscious thoughts, those thoughts that are so deep-seated we may not even be aware we have them. It all depends on your state of mind or emotional state.

A good example would be if you are going through a painful experience and suddenly dream about someone who has hurt you in the past. 

They may be totally unrelated to your current state, but they appear in your dream because you have unknowingly associated them with all emotional pain. 

2) Dreaming about someone you barely know

Dreaming about someone who drifted into your life fleetingly isn’t uncommon. You may have dreamt of a person you’ve met once or the cashier at a store where you once bought a can of soda. 

This may seem so random and confusing. 

But acquaintances may make their way into your dreams because your subconscious is still processing your meeting. There may have been an element of attraction, or that person could represent something else within the dream. 

3) Dreaming about the same person repeatedly

Having recurring dreams about the same person is a common phenomenon. And while you might think you must be obsessed with that person, that likely isn’t the case at all. 

Clinical psychologist Dr. John Mayer says a recurring dream about someone shouldn’t be taken too literally. Yes, you may be interested in that person, but they may also just be symbols for other things. 

A recurring dream is often an indicator of an unresolved issue or emotion in your life. 

Dr. Mayer likens the mind to a computer that never turns off. And if you keep putting in the same data in this machine, it will churn out the same results over and over again. 

This cycle will only end if you put in new data—in short, resolve the problem or conflict in real life.  

4) Dreaming about your ex

Countless people have woken up feeling sad or confused after a vivid dream about their former partners. It’s quite common, whether you’re currently in a relationship with someone new or not. 

A study found that 35% of people in a relationship have had a dream in which their ex appeared.  

If you’ve experienced this yourself, chances are, you felt concerned or anxious upon waking up. 

Dreaming about an ex can have several interpretations. Some common causes are unresolved feelings and past trauma. 

If you still harbor feelings for your ex, it’s not surprising that they pop up in your dreams. After all, dreams are a manifestation of our deepest desires and anxieties. 

On the other hand, these dreams may not necessarily mean you want them back in your life, according to Dr. Jennifer Freed, a family behavioral specialist. 

It could simply be your mind at work trying to learn from the mistakes you made in the relationship and provide a sense of closure. 

Traumatic experiences can likewise lead to a dream with your ex in it. If you had a turbulent relationship, you might have created an association between your ex and any emotional turmoil. 

So, if you’re experiencing stress in real life, that could manifest in a dream involving your ex. 

Lastly, seeing your ex recently may trigger a dream about them. In this case, the dream may be part of memory consolidation and processing. Research shows that dreams frequently incorporate events one or seven days after they happen.  

5) Dreaming about someone you work with

Dreaming about a colleague can be a bummer, especially since you’re with them all day, and now they’ve invaded your dream life, too.

Such dreams can be from two opposite ends of the spectrum—you either have an excellent relationship with them or can’t stand them.  

Either way, it’s a message from your subconscious that confirms either your job satisfaction or frustration with them. 

Another thing to consider is the dream’s symbolic meaning. The focus may not be the person; it could be a work-related situation. 

If you keep dreaming about the same co-worker, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an issue with the person. Instead, the dream might point to a general work issue you need to work through.  

6) Dreaming about a stranger

Having a dream about someone you know is entirely expected and makes it easier for you to have a starting point for interpreting the dream. 

However, when it’s someone you don’t know, it can be pretty jarring. Who is this person, and why are you dreaming about them? How do you even know what they symbolize if you’ve never met them in real life?

Dream analysis of the relationships of unknown characters in dreams reflects ongoing memory editing procedures

Psychology suggests that your mind uses this person to represent or fill some subconscious need, desire, or fear. It may even point to a part of yourself that you haven’t discovered yet. 

7) Dreaming about a famous person

Celebrity dreams are fun; I know this firsthand because I’ve had so many of them. And they can be really far out, too. 

I’ve had a dream where I took Hugh Jackman to my childhood home and one where I established a school with Brad Pitt. I’ve even been Homer Simpson’s campaign manager for his presidential run!

 While these dreams may seem totally random, experts say they do mean something. 

Typically, it means you find inspiration in the celebrities appearing in your dreams. They may possess qualities you’d like to have, like boldness, talent, humor, and other attributes. 

Simply put, that person usually represents some aspect of your own personality or an aspiration. That’s why it’s a profoundly personal experience, even if it involves a famous person who doesn’t even know you exist.    

8) Dreaming about losing someone

I once had a dream about losing a child.  I didn’t have any kids at the time yet—I was single and busy with work.  

In my dream, the child was someone I didn’t know who just appeared and walked through a foggy forest with me. As we walked, I told him about all my favorite things: toys, games, food, and so on. 

All of a sudden, I turned, and he was gone. For the rest of the dream, I stumbled through the forest, looking for him. 

Needless to say, I woke up anxious and disoriented. What did it all mean? I didn’t even have kids! 

Well, according to dream analysts, dreaming about a loss—whether it’s someone literally getting lost or someone dying—could be a manifestation of your fears. 

In my case, I reached out to Psychic Source, where gifted advisors helped me process what my dream meant. 

It turns out that I was afraid of losing my playful spirit, which was what the child in my dream represented. I was becoming more and more stressed with work and longed for a decent work-life balance. 

This revelation opened my eyes and led me to look at my life with a fresh perspective. It made me take proactive steps toward achieving the balance I deeply longed for. 

9) Dreaming about death or about someone who has passed away 

What if it’s someone you know who has passed away, like your dead grandma or a good friend? 

Dreaming about someone who has died is quite a nightmare, too, especially if it’s someone you know or love. 

The explanation could be quite straightforward—you’re missing them. Such dreams may also point to unprocessed grief and symbolize your connection with them and your difficulty in letting them go.  

Another way to view it is to understand what death symbolizes. Death may stand for change—something ending or, on a more positive note, a new beginning. 

10) Violent dreams about someone

Hitting, strangling, shooting, killing—no one wants to have dreams of this nature, and many who have such dreams about someone often wake up feeling perplexed. 

But psychologists say that aggression in dreams is actually common and can have its roots in many causes

Something as simple as watching a violent movie or a video game right before bed can trigger a violent dream since your brain is still processing these acts. 

A new medication may also lead to these kinds of dreams because they alter the biochemistry in your brain. 

For others, violent dreams may stem from a traumatic experience. If you’ve experienced violence in your childhood, you’re more likely to have episodes of violent dreams throughout your life. 

11) Dreaming about someone criticizing you

Just as the people who appear in your dreams may not be exactly themselves, you, too, might not be “you.” 

So, if you find yourself in a dream where someone’s criticizing you, remember that it isn’t really you. This is a concept that David Bedrick, a counselor trained in Jungian philosophy, talks about in a Psychology Today article. 

In fact, even if you’re the person being criticized in the dream, your mind might also be trying to make you realize that you’re a critical person and advising you to be less judgmental in real life. 

12) Dreaming about cheating 

Have you ever dreamed about your partner cheating on you? If yes, you might have awakened feeling hurt, angry, and filled with negative thoughts. 

You might even project this anger toward your partner even as they have no idea what they did wrong. 

These dreams don’t really mean that you have an unfaithful partner. On the contrary, it reflects some issues lurking in your subconscious. 

It may mean you’re feeling insecure about your relationship or possessive toward your partner. And if you yourself have cheated in the past, that can have an influence, too. 

In other cases, it might not even be about your partner or relationship at all. Your partner could be standing in for someone else—a family member, a friend, or even your job. 

Some people have infidelity dreams while going through significant changes, like moving to a new house or starting a new job. In these cases, the dream may be a manifestation of their fear of the unknown

13) Dreaming about having sex with someone

Contrary to what you might think, an erotic dream isn’t always about sex at all. Sex in dreams is often rooted in a desire for intimacy and the need to feel a connection. 

Anything that makes you feel isolated or alone can trigger a dream where you’re having sex in someone. 

For instance, situations like starting a new job, moving to a new place, or feeling distant from the people you love can lead to feelings of loneliness, which then manifests in a sex dream. 

Sometimes, it may simply be prompted by hormonal changes. For example, women experience more sex dreams during ovulation, most likely due to the increase in their sex drive during this period.  

Other normal physiological causes may come into play, too. In fact, even your sleeping position can trigger an erotic dream. 

Aside from that, the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle stirs up your nervous system. It also causes your body to have the same physical reactions that happen when you’re turned on in real life, such as increased breathing and blood flow to the genitals.  

14) Dreaming about someone drowning

Witnessing a drowning person is horrifying, even if it’s just in a dream. But this is a common occurrence, according to an Amerisleep survey, which found that 9% of people have recurring dreams of drowning. 

Dream experts interpret drowning as a manifestation of an overwhelming feeling. To see a person drowning in your dream indicates that you’re getting too deeply enmeshed in something you can’t control

Alternatively, it symbolizes a sense of loss of identity, where you can no longer recognize who you are.  

15) Dreaming about someone chasing you

Being chased by another person is one of the most common and stressful dreams people have. People who dream about this often have a poor night’s sleep and wake up feeling tired. 

Generally, if you’re dreaming about being chased, the dream is trying to tell you that you’re running away from a real-life problem or issue.

You may be successful at avoiding a serious and urgent problem in your daily life, but your worries about it are all tucked away in the subconscious mind. 

Then, when you’re in a relaxed state like sleep, the mind will bring forth these issues to remind you that you still have an unresolved issue. 

Common misconceptions about dreams

1) When you dream about someone, that means they miss you

Not really. In fact, dreaming about someone is a truly common experience for everyone. When you dream about someone, it typically has more to do with your life than theirs. 

Because dreams are the product of our subconscious, we dream about a person because we are thinking about them, not the other way around. 

2) Dreams don’t make much sense; they are entirely meaningless

Dreams may be so strange and random; that doesn’t mean they are completely full of nonsense. 

With today’s technological advancements, researchers can use imaging equipment to study our brains while we sleep. 

They propose that dreaming is a way for the brain to dump excess information and tie in and process information to warn us about danger or reveal our inner fears and desires. 

3) Dying in a dream is a prediction of the real thing

This is a popular myth that gives everyone the creeps upon waking up. But it’s not true at all. There’s no scientific proof that dreaming of death is a warning of your actual doom. 

As mentioned earlier, death can symbolize a significant ending or a new beginning. 

4) People who sleep better have better dream recall

Remembering your dreams is not connected at all to sleep quality. Dreams occur during the REM stage of sleep, and it’s only when you wake up during or after this stage can you recall a dream. 


Dreaming about someone happens to every one of us, and the interpretation varies depending on what’s happening in your waking life. 

While not all dreams have a deeper meaning, they can help alert you to any feelings or issues lurking beneath the surface. 

Research suggests that various stressors in your life, such as news events, chronic pain, work-related stress, and even your mood, can appear in your dreams.

You don’t have to obsess about the meaning of every dream, but it’s also good to have a dream journal and record the ones you feel are telling you something. 

Hopefully, this practice will help you to consider not just the person in your dream but also all the main elements—time, places, things—to arrive at the right interpretation.  

Can a gifted advisor help you too?

If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to someone with special intuition.

I know this from personal experience…

A few months ago, I reached out to Psychic Source when I was going through a tough patch in my relationship. After being lost in my thoughts for so long, they gave me a unique insight into what my future holds and the confidence to make the right decisions when it comes to love.

If you haven’t heard of Psychic Source before, it’s a site where gifted advisors help people through complicated and difficult life situations.

In just a few minutes you can connect with a highly intuitive psychic and get tailor-made advice for your situation.

I was blown away by how kind, empathetic, and genuinely helpful my psychic was.

Click here to get started.

Can a gifted advisor help you too?

If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to someone with special intuition.

I know this from personal experience…

A few months ago, I reached out to Psychic Source when I was going through a tough patch in my relationship. After being lost in my thoughts for so long, they gave me a unique insight into what my future holds, and the confidence to make the right decisions when it comes to love.

If you haven’t heard of Psychic Source before, it’s a site where gifted advisors help people through complicated and difficult life situations.

In just a few minutes you can connect with a highly intuitive psychic and get tailor-made advice for your situation.

I was blown away by how kind, empathetic, and genuinely helpful my psychic was.

Click here to get started.

Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Nomadrs to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

The latest Move news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.

By submitting this form, you understand and agree to our Privacy Terms