Ever wondered what your dreams and nightmares mean or where they are coming from?
Dreams have fascinated humanity since the beginning of time. Ancient spiritual leaders before religion, shamans in tribes and dream interpreters have all dabbled with understanding the meaning of dreams. Today dream science is still slow to understand the inner workings of dreams or the connections between the various parts of our brain and our dreams and nightmares.
We want to know what our dreams and nightmares mean because they are deeply personal to us:
they “happen” to us when we have the least control over ourselves and our surroundings.
And here is another interesting thing: it’s the nightmares and bad dreams that stick with us, that give us pause and over which we tend to want to gain a deeper understanding; positive dreams can also impact us, though they are not as memorable.
There are many people with just as many theories about the meaning of dreams. It is important to note this because different theories will lead to different outcomes and understanding.
For instance: If you see a Jungian shrink you will look into your unconscious whereas if you see a Gestalt therapist you’ll focus on identifying the parts of yourself that are played in the dream by various objects and people, and so on.
What’s the deal with nightmares?
Nightmares are terrifying dreams from which we wake up, unlike bad dreams through which we tend to sleep. Not always, but many times nightmares are associated with a form of trauma (such as PTSD) or a traumatic event (such as death) amongst other medical issues. If your nightmares occur regularly, seek help, find a therapist. Aside from clinical or severe cases though, the average person will experience nightmares once in a while.
Nightmares mark us, they strike to the core and we are wise to pay attention.
Regardless of your school of thought, nightmares are alarms triggered by something inside you that needs your attention. Some people believe that nightmares are the result of some fears we have. Recent research found that more often than not, more common emotions in dreams are disgust, guilt, confusion, and sadness. Correctly identifying the emotions underlying your dreams is a must if you wish to understand the meaning of your nightmares, address those issues and resolve them. Typically such work requires the help of a therapist.
Discover the meaning of your nightmares and dreams
The meaning of your nightmares is unique to you, that is to say that the same nightmare (if possible) will mean something different to each one that dreams it. Some people are tempted to take dreams out of the context of their life and rely on generalizations or universal loose dream interpretations; when we’re talking about dreams, there is no such thing as once size fits all approach. Everything that makes you who you are will help connect the dots when figuring out the meaning of your nightmares. You can try to figure out the meaning of your dreams and nightmares by yourself. Below are a couple suggestions that will help you along.
Start a dream journal.
There are many phone apps that can help you keep track of your dreams or you can buy a nice journal and keep it by the bed for easy access when you need to write down your dreams and emotions surrounding them. Once you have 15-20 entries you might want to read back and see if anything pops up or if there are any patterns you may be missing out on. Pay attention to the emotions surrounding your dreams, that can be very telling.
I am a photographer as well as a therapist and one way that I have been using for the past 10 years to work on my own dreams and nightmares is by enacting them in pictures (the photo at the beginning of the article is the result and representation of a nightmare).
Exploring your dreams through any art media can be a very powerful and therapeutic experience. Whatever it is you are struggling with you can benefit from some perspective, and dreams offer you just that.
Let me know if you want to give any of these tips a try, I’ll root for you!
Source: Robert G, Zadra A. Thematic and Content Analysis of Idiopathic Nightmares and Bad Dreams. Sleep. 2014.