Dreams about death: Symbolic Ending and Personal Transformation

In Dream meaning by Jesamine Mello4 Comments

Dreams about Death - By Aceross Lord Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 587310263

Dreams About Death

Dreams about death can really freak some people out, so let’s go ahead address what death dreams typically mean. Most dreams about death are symbolic.  They are usually not warnings or premonitions about your own death or the death of someone you love. In opposition to what we talked about in the Dreams of Pregnancy and Dreams About Babies posts, death dreams symbolize the end of of a cycle.

Dreams about death: synopsis:

 Death dreams are similar to drawing the death card in the Tarot deck.  They are a signal that some part of you is dying or some phase of your life is coming to an end.  Whoever or whatever is dying in your dream is a symbolic aspect of yourself.  The questions to ask yourself about your death dream is:

Is it time for this aspect of yourself to die, or, are you killing some crucial aspect of yourself?

Dreams about Death - Morgan Greer Tarot deck Death CardI am not saying that death dreams are never about someone’s actual death because people do have premonitions of death, but in general, this is not the meaning of a death dream.  More often, death dreams symbolize a psychic death in the dreamer, the deeper meaning of which I will talk about throughout this post. 

As I said in the post on the Symbolism of the Snake, Death, whether we are speaking literally or symbolically, is a part of the life cycle: birth, death, and rebirth. Rejecting death, hating it, and fearing it only causes you to shrink back from life. Accepting it means having a mature perspective on life.

Dreams about death and life transitions

Death dreams are very common during periods of psychological transformation or major transition in your life.

Sometimes psychological transformation is a conscious process, for example, when you are working through deep issues in psychotherapy, or, when you are going through a divorce.

Other times psychological transformation is unconscious; it’s just a natural process happening beneath the surface of consciousness, for example as in maturation or the slow mending of a broken heart.

The aim of dream interpretation is to make your psychological processes as conscious as possible. This helps you in every aspect of your life, but most especially in the face of suffering.

For many, any kind of change is hard to face, especially when it comes to endings.  People have an abject aversion to endings, whether we are talking about the end of life or the end of some aspect of life.  Because of this aversion to endings, people sometimes desperately cling to anything they don’t want to let go of.

Dreams about death: a message from your inner guide:

If you are clinging to something and you have a death dream, this is psyche’s way of saying, “It’s okay. You are ready to let go.”

Dreams about Death: Psychic Processes

Before I talk about particular dreams about death, I want to say something about the dynamics of the human mind If you want to do your own dream interpretations, it’s important for you to understand the theory behind it. Don’t blindly trust inadequate dream dictionaries or the many dream websites which regurgitate the same thing about dreams and symbols.

Real dream interpretation is about gaining a deeper knowledge of yourself through open and honest self-reflection. So, don’t let dreams about death scare you. Treat every dream as a guide from beyond, telling you that you are ready to transform something in your life.

Dreams about death:  psychic death and changing our worldview

In Jungian psychology, when we speak of psychic death, we are referring to the dissolution of a particular psychic factor in you. By psychic factor I mean an observable pattern in your personality. A really extreme example of this pattern would be someone who has a bonafide phobia of spiders. Every time that person sees a spider, he uncontrollably has the same reaction.

Dreams about death and perception: LANA Photography Royalty-free stock photo ID: 702710299Some of our psychic patterns are more difficult for us to recognize because they are so deeply merged with our identity.  It’s a pattern that we don’t even consider questioning.

When something is unquestionably merged with our identity, it’s unconscious. Take for example our general outlook on life – the lens through which we see the world, such as a tendency to see our experiences only through a negative light. This is something you can change. It is not who you are.

Other examples would be mistrust in the world, fear of change, self-loathing, generalized anxiety, or self-doubt. All of these are psychic patterns that can be transformed. You are not trapped by anything.

Dreams about death can signal that it is time for you to change your outlook or attitude

Dreams about death: questions for your consideration:

Reflect on the symbolism of whatever or whoever died in your death dreams.

What are your associations?

How do these associations relate to your current attitude or state of mind?

Is there any connection you can make?

Everything we see, feel, or think is a psychic pattern. Even our relationships with others have an underlying psychic pattern. Some of our psychic patterns are healthy and others are not. Many psychic patterns were seeded in our childhoods and are still blossoming well into in adulthood. Dreams about death involving children can be an indication of an infantile pattern that needs to die.

Dreams about death - By BackgroundStore Royalty-free stock photo ID: 392885260Other psychic patterns established themselves through repeated life experiences, for example repeatedly engaging in destructive relationships. Dreams about death involving former lovers or friends can be an indication that you need to put an end to this pattern.

And still others are archetypal patterns of human existence, such as puberty, birth, and death. Any of these psychic patterns can image themselves in dreams.

What is important to remember about all of your dreams is that they are images of the unconscious aspects of your psychic patterns.

Death dreams: ego death versus psychic death

Death Dreams: ego death By GoodStudio Royalty-free stock vector ID: 752177950Though many people try to equate them, psychic death and ego death are not synonymous in the lexicon of Jung’s psychology.

People also like to associate psychic death with ego death in Buddhism. In terms of defining ego, you can’t compare Jungian psychology and Buddhism because their operational definitions of ego are very different.

In Buddhism, ego death is the dissolution of subjective identity into non-being, which amounts to a of revelation of no-self. The death of the ego in Jungian terms would not be a revelation; it would be a psychosis. A psychosis is the dissolution of the ego into the unconscious.  When this happens, the person you once were or once knew is gone, lost in a sea of primordial experience. You can also see this death of the ego in Alzheimer’s and dementia.

However, certain aspects of our ego can die without destroying the personality and, when those aspects die, we say that it is a psychic death. And, as I have already said, dreams about death symbolize psychic death.

Death dreams: what does psychic death mean to the ego?

Dreams about Death - Skull image By Stokkete Royalty-free stock photo ID: 313461806Psychologically speaking, our ego is the subject of our awareness. The ego is an important part of a person’s psychic structurewhich is why we do not want to dissolve it. However, when the ego believes it is the only thing in the psychic structure, then we have problems.

I like to differentiate between the ego and the limited ego. The limited ego is the one who clings to everything: narrow perspectives, old relationships, bad childhoods, good childhoods, money, power, and whatever else.  This kind of gripping attitude triggers a response in the unconscious, a response which often comes in the form of a disturbing dream.  Dreams about death signal that something in you needs to change.

In order to find out what that necessary change is, you have to establish the whole context of your death dream: who is dying and under what conditions; what does this person, plant, or animal mean to you; what is your current situation?

We’ll explore how to work with death dreams about particular people in the next part of this article. As a sort of introduction to the next piece, I want to talk a little bit about psychological complexes because it is often the case that your dream about death is about psychologically breaking free from a particular complex. You can read more about psychological complexes here, on my other site, Unfolding the Universe Within.

Death dreams and ego-complexes

Dreams about death and ego complexes - By Oleg Golovnev Royalty-free stock photo ID: 382121578All of us have unconscious psychic factors which act on us autonomously. By autonomous, I mean that these unknown psychic factors can overtake us, despite even the most tremendous efforts to subdue them. You know how it is when you wake up and you’re in a mood.

These unknown psychic factors can make us think things or say things when we don’t want to.  They can also induce unwanted moods or flood us with difficult emotions. We call some of these autonomous factors complexes. Complexes are psychic constellations that can act like other personalities. Certain complexes are also behind some states of anxiety or depression. You can read more about this here on my other site, Unfolding the Universe Within.

As long as we are unaware of these autonomous factors in our psyche, we identify with them. We are those anxious thoughts or the depressed moods. We believe all of those negative perceptions and attitudes associated with those moods.

Complexes are also associated with too-positive thoughts and emotions about a person. In particular, I am thinking of adults who are still far too psychologically attached to their parents.  In fact, dreams of parents dying are very often related to the need to break this infantile psychological attachment. I’ll go more into that when I talk about dreams of parents dying.

An example of a negative mother complex

Dreams about Death - Wicked witch of the West as negative motherLet me give you an example of a negative mother complex: a woman who has had a terrible relationship with an unloving mother will often suffer from a recognizable set of psychological signs and symptoms.

For example, many of these women suffer from extreme feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing.  Very often they are attacked by terrible inner dialogues in the  middle of the night. Women with a negative mother complex tend to attract destructive women into their lives – women who repeat the abusive patterns of their mother.

All of these recognizable signs and symptoms make up the autonomous negative mother complex.

A terrible mother leaves her destructive imprint in her child. That imprinted negative mother-image links up with all all kinds of associations and psychological triggers.

The negative mother-image is an inner figure in a woman’s psyche, and she will appear in terrorizing dreams as the mother herself or other female images who fit the profile.

A woman with a negative mother complex will come across women in the external world who immediately constellate her mother complex. For example, a boss who reminds you of your horrible mother will trigger that mother complex. This boss may have some of your mother’s qualities, but any hyper-emotional reaction you have to her is your complex.

In order to break free from such a complex and free yourself from autonomous triggers, you have to learn to separate yourself (the ego) from the complex and its effects on you. I speak about separation techniques here in my post on complexes.

Dreams of mother dying

Death dreams - Wicked witch of the West as negative mother

the melting witch as an example of the dissolution of a negative mother complex

After a woman has thoroughly worked with this negative mother complex and its associated effects on her personality, she will often have a dream where the mother dies. This is psychic death. When we speak of psychic death, we are often referring to the death of one’s psychological identification with the complex.

Psychic death is a powerful signal that you have psychologically broken free from something with which you were once completely identified. The effect this has on a person’s attitude and personality can be transformative, hence the idea of rebirth after death.

This is just one example of psychic death, but you can get the general drift of the idea.

I’ll follow up this general post on dreams about death with specific examples of death dreams. Until then….

Jesamine Mello
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Last night’s dream was not the first time I was preparing to be executed, but this time it was by someone I knew. Right before he pulled the trigger I was telling my cat (was he to be executed as well????) that I’d “meet him on the other side.” I was also telling Diego and Ortoloni (two beloved cats I had lost) that I’d “see them soon.” I awoke before the trigger was pulled and, of course, was feeling heartbroken. Tears welling up. Am I worried about losing others that I love dearly? The relationship involving the assassin was a… Read more »


I come to the comment section on this page in a somewhat desperate state, after reading through many of the incredible, insightful articles on your site. First I want to thank you for putting Jung’s theories in such clear, beautiful language, which resonates with me deeply. I am an avid reader of Jung, but your particular phrasing of his ideas has taught me so much in a relatively short time. I’m a young woman, a college grad still living at home with her parents four years after graduating, currently unemployed and with dreams of being a writer. I have struggled… Read more »


Hi Jesamine,

Thank you so much for your swift, thoughtful response. My immediate reaction to the association between Nurse Jackie and functional addiction was like an “a-ha” moment. I am going to spend some more time exploring these dreams with your comments in mind. I already feel clearer about which direction to take with my research, thanks to your associations.

It is inspiring to see how you have turned your passion into a wonderful healing resource for others. I wish you all the best with your work. Thank you again for your time!