You’re in church and the minister is clearing his throat, ready to start the service. But the congregation are looking at you, and you blush all over when you realize why. You are stark naked.
You’re swimming in a glorious pool, as big as the Biltmore pool in Miami, feeling light and free. When you get out, you realize that one reason you’re feeling light is that you forgot to wear a swimsuit.
You are arriving for a private party at a mansion on the hill. You don’t know anybody there, but they receive you as a welcome guest. As you shake hands with your hosts, who are dressed to the nines in black tie and a ballgown, you are shocked when you realize you have shown up in a hospital gown with your butt hanging out.
If you have never been naked or exposed in a dream, you are a rare bird indeed. This is one of the perennial dream themes. It fascinated Freud, who placed “Embarrassing Dreams of Being Naked” at #1 on his list of Typical Dreams. If you are in this kind of dream situation, and you are embarrassed, that may speak about your lack or confidence or sense of vulnerability in a certain situation in waking life.
Showing up pantless at the new job, for example, may reflect your sense that you are unprepared for your new situation. Finding yourself naked in church may speak of your fear that you won’t pass muster with your pious, respectable neighbors – and may carry an entirely practical caution to be careful how you behave and express yourself in their midst.
Embarrassment at being naked in a dream may reflect your dissatisfaction with your physical condition. For example, you don’t want to show yourself because you’ve put on some weight.
On a slightly darker note, if you are worried about being exposed in a dream, you may need to think about what you are trying to conceal or cover up in regular life.
But wait: does anybody notice or care that your dream self is naked or under-dressed? Very frequently, it seems that other people in the dream either don’t notice that you are under-dressed, or pretend not to see, like the courtiers in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
If you are the only one who seems to be bothered by the fact that you are unclad, this may be telling you that it’s okay to show more of yourself in other ways in waking-life situations. You don’t need to fear exposure, or waste time and energy being anything less than your natural self.
Sometimes this becomes obvious inside the dream itself. The man in the hospital gown had a feast at the dream mansion, and woke in pure joy, knowing he had made some wonderful new friends. He was in hospital at that time, so his garb was realistic.
As in his case, we sometimes seem to go around in our dreams in what we are wearing (or not wearing) during sleep, so being naked or in our pajamas may simply reflect our vestigial awareness of the body’s condition. Our dream characters may see us differently.
There are many angles of perception on this, as on any dream theme. Our attitudes, in and out of the dream state, will be conditioned by our personal histories and our cultural formation. If you frequent a topless beach, a nudist colony, or a group practicing “sky-clad” rituals, public nakedness – waking or sleeping – will have distinctive resonance for you.Our feelings around a dream, as always, will be our best guide to what is going on.
We can have more than one angle of perception within a single dream. Some years ago, I dreamed that my (then) current self, dressed only in a towel or a loincloth, was seated above and behind my much younger self, who was armored in a fancy pinstripe suit. My near-naked self was trying to play guide and mentor to that younger, over-dressed self, who was certainly in need of guidance at that stage in his life. I relish the idea that an older self, who is content to live and act in a wholly natural way, could play this role.
Let’s hear from you, and don’t be afraid to let it all hang out!
Image by Ai Tayebashi. Used with permission.