If you accept that our dreams have some meaning, then it would follow that recurring dreams have some greater meaning.
As a young teen, I had a recurring dream about standing at edge of a cliff looking down at water far below. In the water were large rocks and also a girl I knew from school who was swimming – and there were sharks circling her. I have a fear of heights and I’m no great swimmer, so jumping in to save her would be unlikely. But in the dream, I jump. As a fall, I realize I am headed towards the rocks and I adjust my arms (bird or Superman style) to move closer to her. I always woke up right before I hit the water.
It was during this same period that I became interested in dream interpretation and read books ranging from the pop dream interpretation books (mostly useless) to Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (mostly over my head).
This was the book where Freud introduced his theory of the unconscious. Freud’s take on dreams is that they are a kind of wish fulfillment. His ideas about dreams have had mixed responses since he wrote the book in 1899, but that basic premise still has validity.
He also saw dreams as the way that thoughts of the unconscious mind pass through the preconscious to our conscious mind. Via that process, what arrives in our conscious mind is in an altered state and so it requires interpretation. Freud’s solution was psychoanalysis, not amateur sleuthing with books.
I came to see my cliff dream as wish fulfillment. I had a crush on that girl and the sharks were the other guys who surrounded her. I wanted to rescue her, but I saw the dangers and it would have been a frightening thing to attempt. I never did attempt it. The dream went away, probably when I gave up any chance of being with that girl.
We also have the ideas of Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung. He similarly saw dreams as a way of connecting our conscious and subconscious minds, but the meanings were much larger archetypes. Gestaltist dream theory suggests that it is our childhood recurring dreams that are the most important for the purposes of therapy.
Our greatest concerns show up in our dreams. When those concerns aren’t worked out satisfactorily in reality, they appear in dreams.
From what I have read in the years since, the most common recurring dreams are: falling, being chased, being in school, flying, being unprepared for an exam or meeting, being nude in a public place and, most oddly, losing teeth.
It seems that the vast majority of recurring dreams are considered by the dreamer to be unpleasant. That is unfortunate. I wouldn’t mind having a pleasant dream over and over again.
It seems that research has found that recurring dreams don’t tend to start in adulthood very often. I can’t recall any dreams in my adult life that have been recurring. For those adults who do have them (and it is more likely to be a woman), feeling trapped or alone, and being overwhelmed by responsibilities are common themes. In other words, the topics are not childhood scary things but adult scary things.
I still record my dreams on a pretty regular basis in the hopes to gaining insight into my waking life. I think you need to do that in order to discover your own personal symbolism. For example, for someone like myself who has taught most of my life, dreams set in a classroom must have different meanings from adults who only recall the classrooms of their youth.
You can find articles online on how to stop recurring dreams that are very disturbing. No surprise – the solution is to interpret the dream and figure out what is causing it and deal with that problem. easier said than done.