Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Stolen Smile: How To Interpret Dreams of Losing Your Teeth

The soul thinks in images.

— Aristotle

A welcome sigh of relief usually accompanies the realization that it was “just a dream” about our teeth falling out. We dismiss it as yet another disturbing image from that often incomprehensible dream worldmaybe it was too much pizza?

After many years of struggling to understand dreaming and dream images, I discovered that our dreams are up to something far beyond the gastro-intestinal repercussions of what we ate last night. Our dreams persistently identify those extraordinary qualities that make us unique and genuine individuals. At the same time, dreams are ruthless, often graphic and shocking in exposing the consequences of influences from others, from society, from family, from groups, that threaten our ability to live our own lives. Any technique of dream interpretation that ignores this powerful and empowering dream dynamic is like a child playing in the shallow end of the pool—safe and secure but missing something tremendous.

When we have little or no sense of who we are, adaptation and the desire to please others can lead to real confusion and rapid self-destruction; we begin to lose valuable parts of ourselves. One evening in a small dream group, an attractive Asian woman in her early twenties told us about a recurring dream that was really upsetting her:

I’m very upset because my two front, upper teeth, right in the middle, have fallen out. When I wake up, it is such a relief to feel them—they are still there.

I asked her to tell me what those two particular teeth did for her, what was their job? “They help me smile,” she replied without hesitation. “I don’t smile,” she added, clenching her jaw and obviously trying not to smile.

“What happened to prompt you to decide not to smile?” I asked, surprised and curious about such a tragic loss.

“My boyfriend says I don’t look good when I smile.”

I recall that my mouth dropped open in disbelief at that point. I was appalled but also amazed at her recurring dream’s obvious warning. She had allowed a valuable part of her identity and her authenticity to be stolen from her: her “smile.” And what is a smile? It is a natural, authentic response to life, an expression of our unique humor, our ability to laugh at life, a priceless, healing form of self-nourishment. She was allowing an outside influence, her boyfriend’s criticism, to silence an important part of her essential nature.

Here’s how to work with dreams about your teeth:

• Always imagine being the specific tooth or teeth in your dream and ask yourself, “What is my job? What do I do for this person?”

• Next, imaging being the teeth in your dream and experience what it is like to be falling out, coming loose, losing your grip—exactly as events happen in your dream. You might experience what one person described as feeling “no longer useful.”

• Remember to also imagine being your jaw, your mouth, your tongue, and explore what it would be like to lose those particular teeth. Pay close attention to what you say as you imagine being the different dream elements. For example, in the above dream, from the tongue’s perspective, losing those two teeth would make speech difficult; she is also losing a part of her voice, her ability to speak for herself (to be herself) and express herself.

• Think about your waking life and see what circumstance or situation fits your experience of role-playing the various parts of your dream.

Our dreams do not want our essential nature to “disappear.” They want to free and protect our Authentic Life— that expression of our essential nature, the original blueprint, the soul struggling, playing, creating, and recreating life. Our dreams want us to break the mold, live outside the boxes of life that want to define, contain, and imprison us. They want to free the distinct, eccentric, unconventional, creative self, that unique sense of who we are in the core of our being.

John Goldhammer, Ph.D., is a psychologist and the author of three books, most recently, Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life (Kensington Publishing / Citadel Press). He lives in Seattle, Washington. Website:

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