WHY DO WE HAVE NIGHTMARES?
All of us have experienced them. The scary, wholly uncomfortable dreams.
Why do we sometimes wake up in terror? Unless, of course, it is of some benefit to us...
Our dreams showcase any past experiences which have altered our psyche, either we acknowledge it or not.
Certain encounters with our environment chip away on the health of our psyche causing us to feel uncomfortable or upset. These outer experiences disturb our mental-emotional equilibrium, our inner peace. In time these disturbances affect our mental health and change the way we interact with our environment. It is how we get shaped by our environment, its people, and circumstances.
There is only so much our conscious, awake, and aware mind can retain. Any memes we either don’t need, or don’t want to remember, are pushed into our subconscious - including our unexpressed desires and supressed wishes.
Imagine a main computer with a limited internal memory. It constantly offloads data onto its cloud which has plenty of storage available. Whenever the PC shuts down, the cloud can be then used to restore the main computer. What if our subconscious has the same, restorative role?
Whenever we fall unconscious, our mind pushes that which could potentially harm us long term, if unrealised, back up. Sleep makes unconscious activity possible by shutting down our conscious thinking - the cap over all the, in our eyes, unnecessary stuff. Encountering emotional trauma in waking life, our dreams get highly emotionally charged to such extent that it causes bodily activity like sleep walking or waking up in terror.
If an 'unwelcome' emotion sinks into the subconscious, it is expressed in a dream in a series of symbols as a seemingly crazy movie. Our brain uses ‘emotional associations’ (pictures with a, to us, certain emotional meaning) to put together an encoded message. The object, place, or a person we see are only a picture substitute of what they really mean to us. We don’t usually give our dreams much attention because they don’t appear to make any sense, but I will demonstrate right the opposite in the few examples below.
Would it help us if we could de-code our dreams?
It is important to realise the urgency with which our mind operates in repetitive, very unpleasant dreams. To be able to understand their language however, we must realise that, although what we see may seem random, how we feel about it isn’t random at all. Even though it may look like a very crazy 'people-places-things collage', those are only borrowed representations for our repressed emotions.
For example, a top footballer in our dream may represent someone successful in our life. A star, who in reality is just an ordinary person but to whom we very much look up to. How we feel towards him, or her, in the dream perfectly reflects how we felt towards them in reality. Our feelings, however, were suppressed as for whatever reason they weren't welcome in our relationship with them. Perhaps feeling so made us feel bad about ourselves and/or guilty for feeling these thoughts. Furthermore, in our dream this footballer appears as our same sex partner, living his or her life to the full. We on the other hand are not directly present in their life but feel more like their ghost. Reflecting on how we really feel in such relationship, it transpires that we feel uncomfortable next to them, living in their shadow.
Imagine this was your life partner your mind communicated to you about. Your dream is clearly fuelled by your fears of not being enough in comparison to them, or for them, and your suppressed desire to step outside their shadow.
Now what effect could this have on your future behaviour if unrealised?
As the feelings of inferiority towards your partner set in, you may feel resentful towards them. Not only it can undermine the love in your relationship from this point onwards, it could also prevent you from realising your own desires and reach your full potential in life.
Have you ever appeared naked in your dream with no place to hide? This can be a very disturbing dream which points to a shame you felt in a situation which you have pushed aside. Not knowing how to work with certain emotions, without understanding their precise role in our experiences, feeling them is very uncomfortable and we powerless. Typically, those who had experienced sexual abuse carry tuns of shame inside, which if unreleased prevents them from ever feeling happy with themselves.
Yet another example is you being a child, abandoned on an empty road by your family members. You feel painfully betrayed, alone and scared. This was actually a nightmare of my 5 year old son who had an emotionally traumatic experience in the form of a major disagreement with his grandparent. Together with him we could understand his nightmare and relate it to an incident in his life. Feeling that his parent didn't have his back, but sided with his grandparent, he felt betrayed by those who who were meant to love him. Only by being able to talk about it with us, he could air his worries and release any potentially self-destructive thoughts of 'I am not good enough for others to love me'.
It’s not always clear cut as you may see. An old trauma may play intself out as a very complex dream, hiding it's original message under number of obscure layers. The longer the suppressed emotions, the more such 'dream message' warps, manifesting itself as a seemingly different movie.
As children we dream about ourselves as us. But as we age, a child becomes an as expression of our child Self - our childhood.
Our Inner child needs attention today in order to finally heal past trauma. At the times we encountered our first emotional wounds our unpleasant emotions were unwelcomed because no one was on hand to emotionally guide us get through those experiences. Additionally, it is worth remembering that our level of sensitivity to what is traumatic varies greatly in all of us. What may cause deep emotional upset in one, will not touch the other as deeply. Generally, the more disturbing our awake experience (the more potentially damaging to our psyche and life if left unrealised), the more disturbing and repetitive our nightmare. Children who have nightmares should be encouraged to talk about these experiences, as soon as possible and in as much detail as possible, to release their fears.
Like an iceberg, our emotional baggage floats to the surface of our REM sleep every night, giving us the opportunity to remove the kinks in our emotional armour. Clearly, the messages of our subconscious shouldn’t be long ignored, or they may turn into a silent monster and rule not only our time asleep, but also our time awake...
My tip for you: Keep a diary next to your bed. If you don't fancy writing things down, record a voice memo, as soon as you wake up. Record as much as you recall, without trying to understand it at first! Then, recall how you felt in those scenes towards the people, objects, in yourself. Use your conscious mind to do the investigation into what or who this could be about. Remember that your subconscious only borrowed pictures from your 'memory library'. By substituting the real thing it attempts to remind you how you truly feel, but suppress.
Ask yourself 'What am/was I afraid of in my dream, and how this relates to what I have been through?'
To become an expert on understanding your dreams you only need to practice de-coding their hidden message and see the impact of your insight on your awake life.
Thank you for reading. If my article contributed to understanding yourself, please be generous and share it with others.
Copyright © 2019 Michaela Patel