Ten Questions about Dreams

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Ten Questions about Dreams

1) Can nightmares be dangerous?

Nightmares will only damage you if you allow them to. Of course a repetitive nightmare which wakes you night after night in a cold sweat of terror is worrying, and if it persists over a long period there is no doubt that it can have an effect on your confidence and self-assurance. The answer is not to give in to it; go to bed, not fearful of the dream that is waiting for you, but ready to face up to it, to ask what it is trying to say to you, and to answer its statement.

Nightmares are not the product of overeating, overdrinking, or any other physical activity. They are the result of some waking anxiety which is so acute that it bursts into your dreams. Childhood, in particular, is full of such anxieties, often attached to the process of getting used to the world and facing problems which may seem stupidly minute to those who have forgotten what it was like to be five years old. Ifyour child wakes screaming in the night, it will usually be the result of a ‘bad dream’ which has been forgotten by the time you reach the bedside. There is nothing you can do other than comfort the child, reassure her, tell her that ‘it won’t happen again’ - which will probably be true, for she is very unlikely to have another nightmare the same night. If nightmares occur night after night, the problem is more serious, and you must look for the waking problem which is prompting them. Your child may feel insecure at school or at home; may be being bullied by a fellow-pupil or even a teacher; or may be distressed at your response to something she has done or not done.

Most importantly, consider your relationship with your partner. Children are remarkably susceptible to atmosphere, and often (especially if they do not have enough vocabulary, or feel they cannot discuss things with you) pick up tension or stress. Loneliness or jealousy can also be turned inwards and emerge in frightening nightmares.

Recurring nightmares in adults also deserve careful study . Jungians would suggest that nightmares are the work of your shadow ; instincts which for some reason you don’t feel you can show to the world during your waking life break into your drcam world and show their anger at being repressed. Ann Faraday, in her book The Dream Game, aptly quotes the fairy story of Beauty and the Beast: once the beast has been recognised and accepted, loved for what he is, he turns into a handsome prince.

You may have as much, or more, difficulty in recognising the true meaning of a nightmare as recognising the motive behind any other kind of dream. Follow the same process, remembering, if the nightmare recurs, to note even the slightest change which may take place in it. Once you have recognised the area of your life - whether it’s an aspect of your personality or your actions -which the nightmares arc attacking, you may find that that alone dismisses them; you will also find it very worthwhile to think seriously about it and whether it needs modification (which is extremely likely).

2) Do I/should I dream in colour?

Some people simply do not know whether they dream in colour or not, and there is no evidence that it matters. Some authorities have suggested that extrovert, imaginative people are more likely to dream in colour than introvert, practical people, but there is not a great deal of evidence to support this view, though it would be very unlikely if an artist, for example, dreamed in monotone.

Needless to say, a colour which you particularly remember from a dream, or which appears again and again in a series of dreams, will be as important as any other symbol, and you should think carefully about its possible significance. Green, for instance, may represent a regenerative, creative force, though there is a traditional association with jealousy and envy, too; red may stand for danger; yellow is the colour of cowardice, but also the colour of the sun; people who are depressed are said to be ‘blue’. Consider all the options (and see COLOURS).

3) Does it really matter if I forget my dreams?

Of course not. Millions of people probably never give their drcams a thought, either forgetting them or simply not trying to remember them, and live entirely happy and fulfilled lives. But there is no doubt at all that dreams can be helpful, possibly even to those who don’t remember them. The Freudian view is that they act as a safety valve, releasing tensions which we may not even know exist.

4) I have one dream which is repeated again and again. What does this mean?

Repeated or recurring dreams are fairly common, and it can safely be said that they are important to whoever dreams them, carrying a message which will be very well worth recovering. If your recurring dream is one which you have had since you were very young, which occurs again and again, it very probably refers to an aspect of your personality which has been a problem to you for your whole lifetime, though not one which has necessarily caused you waking problems. When you have recognised the issue which the dream is confronting, and trying to force you to confront, it will disappear.

Remember, however, that a recurring dream may also have a relevance to some current problem or preoccupation. Consider, for instance, a recurring dream in which a dog appears in a frightening context. It may be based on a subconscious fear of dogs; maybe one frightened you when you were in your cradle, an incident which you have completely forgotten. If you dream of being chased by a dog, the dream may well have its basis in such an incident, but it may recur when you are consciously or unconsciously feeling insecure and vulnerable, under circumstances as different as being offered a position of authority at work, for which you feel unready, or trying to decide whether to make an approach to a woman you fancy, but fearing rejection. Or it may be triggered by something as simple as seeing an advertisement for this year’s Crufts Dog Show!

In trying to work out the relevance of a recurring dream it is specially important to note any changes in the dream itself, even the slightest modification in the events that usually occur in it. This will give you valuable clues as to the dream’s real meaning.

5) Can dreams foretell the future?

Many people would immediately answer ‘yes’, and it’s true that most of us will at some stage in our life stop in our tracks as we recognise a situation or a place about which we remember dreaming.

Sometimes the answer is simple and straightforward. Many people claim to have dreamed of President Kennedy’s assassination. This seems, on the face of it, remarkable. But consider; everyone in the world dreams five or six dreams a night. President Kennedy was a world-famous man. Many people must have dreamed about him on almost every night of his presidency, and presidents are vulnerable to assassination.

On the other hand there have been records of predictive dreams which have convinced extremely intelligent and thoughtful people that they are a means of breaking the bonds of time and looking into the future. The most famous book on the subject is J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time (Faber & Faber, 1927), and no one interested in this aspeet of dreams should fail to read it. Meanwhile, scores of aeeounts of apparently predictive dreams have been published, many of them very persuasive, but equally many of them entirely anecdotal and with no means of checking their accuracy or otherwise. One of the more acceptable is related by Jung himself in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Collins, 1963):

I dreamed that my wife’s bed was a deep pit with stone walls. It was a grave, and somehow had a suggestion of classical antiquity about it. Then I heard a deep sigh, as if someone were giving up the ghost. A figure that resembled my wife sat up in the pit andfloated upwards. It wore a white gown into which curious black symbols were woven. I awoke, roused my wife, and checked the time. It was three o’clock in the morning. The dream was so curious that I thought at once it might signify a death. At seven o ’clock came the news that a cousin of my wife’s had died at three o’clock in the morning.

That is fairly inexplicable, though Jung does not tell us whether his wife’s eousin had been seriously ill and likely to die, which might have prompted the dream. As with so many other psyehic and inexplicable experiences, the safest thing is to go by one’s own experience: and while you should not be frightened by a dream which seems to predict some awful disaster, it is well worth treating such a dream in precisely the same way as any other, making a note of the date and time in particular - it will certainly be trying to tell you something, and maybe its message will be of considerable practical value.

6) Should dreams of death frighten me?

They often will, of course; on the other hand, people who one has loved and lost often appear in dreams to comfort and reassure.

In general, remember that dreams arc never what they seem. So if you dream of the death of a person, or of your own death, that certainly doesn’t mean that anyone is going to die: it may well mean that someone will die to you - that your feeling for them has died; or that someone’s feeiing for you has died. A dream of someone who has been dead lor some time will probably refer to some incident or emotion connected with that person.

Such dreams can be warning dreams, of course; you may unconsciously have thought ‘Doesn’t X look ill?’ when you met her; your dream may be drawing attention to the fact. Whether you warn the person concerned is another matter; it would certainly be unwise to tell them you think they're going to die. but you might suggest a cheek-up by their doctor.

Don’t think that because you dream of the death of someone close to you, you’re wishing them dead. But it might be well worth while thinking about your relationship with them; it may need renewing. There may be the suggestion that a distance is growing between you.

Finally, dreams of death often seem, ironically, connected with birth and renewal. This is perhaps more common with someone who lives within the western Christian tradition, where death has been seen as renewing rather than destructive; but dreams of birth can often signal the beginning of a new project or period of life, often after the end, or death, of a previous one. Thus, death can mean change. The dream may be suggesting that you are ready to make important changes in your life, in your opinions or behaviour. These may be represented by the person who died in your dream (sec shadow, p. 37). Dreams of birth often refer in the same way to change or the need for change.

7) What is happening when I realise, in the middle of a dream, that I am dreaming?

You are experiencing what is known as a lucid dream. Some people cultivate this trick to the extent that they can take part in their dreams almost as an actor takes part in a play - except that they can depart from the script and direct the play in any way they want it to go. Though relatively little research has been done on the subject, it is at least possible that a lucid dream cannot perform the function of a ‘free’ dream: if you are consciously directing it, it cannot spring freely from your subconscious.

It does not matter if you have this kind of dream occasionally - in fact, most people do so (usually when they first fall asleep) and they are usually more ‘realistic’ than ordinary dreams, not as fantastic or outrageous. Certainly it can be useful in dealing with a nightmare if ¿you are able to realise, while you are dreaming, that the fantastic and frightening circumstances are ‘only dreams’.

8) Can a dream lead to sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking is not specially uncommon in children, and can be the result of emotional disturbance; occasionally it seems that a nightmare can be a trigger. It is rare for a child to hurt herself when sleepwalking: she will stumble about, occasionally knocking into the furniture, and perhaps talking to herself; eventually she will return to bed of her own accord. You can try very gently to waken her - it is not dangerous to do so, as has sometimes been claimed. But all things being equal it is probably best to leave her alone.

Sleepwalking in adults is more unusual, but w'hen it happens (never during REM sleep, and usually during the first two hours) it can be spectacular. One American woman put on a dressing-gown, got into her car and drove for over twenty miles on a freeway before waking to find herself at the wheel. Sleepwalking can run in families, and to that extent there may be some physical trigger; but it can be the result of some psychological or emotional disturbance which dream analysis may help to resolve.

9) Is it important if I talk in my sleep?

It is not of very great significance - unless, of course, you say something which it would really have been better to keep to yourself. There seems no rule about talking in your sleep: some people do it, some don’t; sometimes they talking during an REM period, sometimes at other times. Talk during REM sleep seems to be related to dreams which are going on at the same time; talking at other times may be nonsense, or relate to physical facts - the bedroom being cold, a noise going on, or whatever.

10) Can dreams answer my questions?

The way in which dreams can solve problems is one of the most interesting things about them. Artists and scientists alike have found that their dreams can provide the answers to problems, or at the very least put them on the right track (for in this as in everything else, dreams like to work in an opaque way). Whatever your problem, it is worth laying it before your dreams just before you go to sleep, and inviting them to comment. The result may not, probably will not, be what you expect; but time and time again dreams will suggest a course of action, or a new way of looking at the problem, which will be rewarding.

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