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How 'Dream Sharing' Can Help You Hone Your Empathy

Our dreams can be very telling at times, but what's more telling is our ability to relate to others' dreams. Here's why.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 25, 2024

While science offers several theories to explain why we dream—ranging from processing emotions and consolidating memories to being mere byproducts of brain activity—no single theory completely unravels the mystery of these unconscious experiences. Perhaps, then, the more intriguing question is not why we dream, but why we remember our dreams—and what we need to do with them.

How one feels when they recollect their dreams is a deeply personal and moving experience. You probably remember waking up distraught from a melancholic dream, or feeling a surge of motivation when a random event in a dream presented a unique solution to a real-world problem you were facing.

Your Dreams Can Have A Purpose—But It's Up To You To Harness It

Not everyone wants to learn about the complex system of neurons firing off brain waves at different frequencies. However, on a physiological level, there's substantial evidence that tells us dreaming during sleep is a sign of healthy, restorative sleep, which is important for our everyday functioning.

This happens unconsciously, whether we are aware of it or not. However, choosing to share our dreams with others adds an element of "dream-eagerness," which can motivate us to practice better sleep habits—getting to bed on time, avoiding screens prior to sleep, and so on.

The urge to share funny, strange, scary or odd dreams is quite universal. In fact, there are a number of apps out there that help you do just that—not just with people you know and love, but with strangers too.

"We know that two people could have the same exact dream experience and come away with two completely different messages—because the meaning of our dreams are intended for subjective interpretation," says Patrick Laine, founder and "Chief Dreamer" of Dreamigos, an app that aims to interpret dreams while also educating dreamers and connecting them with each other.

The logic behind dream journaling apps such as Dreamigos, Dream Catcher or DreamApp is that engaging in dream sharing and journaling can enhance dream recall, but that's only a tiny part of the picture.

"We can learn as much from analyzing another person's dream as from our own. The process gives perspective. Asking oneself, 'What would this mean to me if this were my dream?' is a very powerful exercise in the interest of self-discovery," Laine explains.

Laine and others who have developed apps similar to his appear to be on to something. Keeping your dreams to yourself seems like a wasted opportunity to connect, as most people are eager to listen.

The Science Behind Why We Tend To Share Our Dreams

People who share their dreams often find that other people are willing and curious participants. In fact, most people react more positively than negatively to someone who is ready to be that vulnerable, according to a 2015 study published inImagination, Cognition and Personality.

A more recent study, published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, finds that sharing dreams helps individuals process emotions embedded in dreams. This can lead to emotional relief or greater emotional awareness, particularly with nightmares. Moreover, it can also enhance social bonding—willingness to share and listen to dreams displays trust and openness, which are key components of a healthy, two-way relationship.

A 2021 follow-up on the 2019 study explored how sharing dreams affects empathy by conducting an experiment withgroups of two people who knew each other. Participants were assigned roles as either dream sharers or discussers for up to four sessions. Empathy was measured before and after each session using a state empathy questionnaire. Here's what the study found:

Dream Sharing Builds Empathetic Connections

The discussers (those who listened to dreams and weighed-in) showed a significant increase in empathy towards the dream sharers. This was especially notable in those with initially low empathy levels. However, increases in empathy were not consistent across sessions.

This suggests that changes in empathy could vary based on the dream content and interaction quality. What's more, the increase in empathy did not correlate with the length of dreams or discussion time, highlighting the importance of engagement quality over quantity.

Is It Safe For Others To Interpret Your Dreams?

This is a delicate issue: On the one hand, sharing dreams seems to improve relationships between people who know each other. However, interactions with strangers introduce uncertainty. What if they interpret a dream negatively that we perceive positively? Such misinterpretations could potentially distract from our personal understanding.

There's a case to be made that the process of sharing and listening to dreams can make strangers appreciate each other's minds more. It can certainly offer unique perspectives, but it might take an expert to make sense of what and how we dream.

A mental health professional can help guide and educate you in the art and science of dreaming and interpreting your dreams—they may even be a necessary piece of the puzzle.

Laine explains, "One of our core tenets is not just to interpret dreams and connect people; we're also passionate about educating our users with factual information about dreams. This is why it's important dream sharing is conducted under the watch of experts: scientists, psychiatrists and psychologists. An education hub allows dreamers to come as they are—whether they come in wanting help remembering dreams, wanting to experience lucid dreaming or wanting to try their hand at dream yoga."

Sharing and interpreting these personal narratives can foster empathy and understanding, while deepening bonds between friends, acquaintances and strangers, too. As we open up about our dreams—through globally connected apps or simply within our social circles, we don't just explore individual psyches—we build a more empathetic and unified society. This journey of sharing not only enriches our personal relationships but also has the potential to bring us all closer in our collective human experience.

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