Tag Archives: dreams

Why Bad Dreams Are Good For You

dreaming

dreamingI’ve long been an active dreamer. My dreams are lengthy, plot-driven and very detailed. I nearly always remember them when I wake up.

Nor are they particularly pleasant. From the proverbial math test that you haven’t studied for –  to the play you’re in where you don’t know your lines – I regularly experience some of the most common dreams in adulthood.

I’ve always accepted my troubling dreams as a sign that I am…troubled. Not massively so. But for those of us who lack the benefit of a “quiet mind,” I think it’s inevitable that the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside of us during the day are going to need some sort of outlet at night.

Lately, however, I’ve been re-assessing whether the fact that I have disturbing dreams might actually be a sign that I’m on a journey towards happiness.

What Are Dreams?

There are different theories on what dreams mean and how to interpret them. For Freud and others in the psychoanalytic tradition, dreams were a form of wish fulfillment. Even some scholars who don’t fully buy into Freud believe that dreams serve as a way of processing repressed thoughts and feelings (sexual and otherwise) that live in our unconscious.

Other researchers interpret dreams as a form of problem-solving. From this perspective, the brain responds to potential future danger by running – and responding to – a bunch of different scenarios while we sleep, just to keep us alert.

Still others believe that dreams help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the stories we construct in our help us to emotions attached to these experiences certainly are.

Being Lost in Your Dreams

In my case, the dreams I’ve had over the past few years very closely track some of my major anxieties – and personal evolution – during that time.

For a long time, I had dreams about trying to get somewhere. This sometimes took the form of an elevator, where I’d push a button to go to a certain floor and then the elevator would fly off in many directions, never landing at my destination. That dream has also, at times, taken the form of me driving or walking somewhere without a map. I try desperately to figure out where I need to get to but am increasingly worried about being late.

I feel like this is a fairly straightforward metaphor for the journey of professional reinvention I’ve been on, one that has intensified in the last year or so. It’s a dream about uncertainty…and movement.

Dreams About Parties

In the last few months, however, the “being lost” dreams have really faded. In their place have come a series of dreams about attending parties with other people: family, friends, strangers. In these parties, I can always see the fun going on in another room, but something blocks me from taking part.

If you google “dreams about parties” you’ll find interpretations range from social anxiety to needing to let your hair down to partying too much.

For me, it’s simpler than that: I’m on a path towards personal and professional fulfillment, but I’m still not entirely sure that I’m permitted to enjoy it. So the dream is very clearly reminding me that despite all the work I’ve done to construct a new narrative for myself, there’s still a bit of fear and possibly even ambivalence about seizing a life that is better suited to who I am.

Why Struggle is Good For You

I’m OK with that idea – that even as I feel ever closer to being at peace with myself – that I may continue to struggle for a good while longer in life. In this, I’m 100% with self-help guru Mark Manson, who argues in his new book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck ,that a certain amount of pain and darkness is the necessary and inevitable price of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

So I embrace my dreams. They tire me out. But they also remind me that I’m alive.

Image: Dreaming by Eflon via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Telltale Dreams of Adulthood

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, as long as everybody’s now talking about sleep as the next feminist issue, I thought I’d tap into what actually happens when most of us sleep: we dream.

Not all of us, I suppose. An old boyfriend of mine used to maintain that he dreamt mostly in images:  i.e., he’d be standing out in the middle of a field or perched atop a mountain. “Huh?” I thought. “You mean you don’t dream that someone’s chasing you around your kitchen table with a knife?”

Not only are my dreams hopelessly plot-driven and transparent, they are also recurrent. There are four or five dreams that I must have at least once a month, and every time, I wake up bathed in sweat. But once I began to reflect upon these dreams and analyze them more closely, I realized that they are all – in one way or another – telltale dreams of adulthood.

On the off-chance that you’ve had them – or similar recurrent dreams – I present them here so that we can all get a better handle on our collective demons:

1. Test Anxiety – I frequently dream that I’m back in High School – invariably in a Math class. I learn that there’s a test that very day, but I freak out because I haven’t been attending the class regularly or doing the homework. According to this list of top ten recurring dreams, dreams about “preparedness” are very common and signify – ding! – that you feel “lost or unprepared about something in your life.” Since I recently posted on why not being able to conceptualize  a “forever house” may be a sign that I still haven’t grown up, I think I’d have to say: Bingo.

2. Haven’t Learned The Lines – In a similar vein, I often dream that I’ve been cast for a part in a play but haven’t learned the lines. I did quite a bit of theatre as a child and there is a visceral, gut-level dread that comes with not knowing your lines. The odd thing about both this dream and #1 is that I’ve never been unprepared for a test in my life or failed to learn a set of lines I was given. Despite that, I clearly live my life fearing that I won’t one day be prepared for something. (This reminds me of a friend here in London who always shows up 5 minutes early to appointments because he’s afraid he’ll be late.) The moral of the story? Mastery doesn’t negate anxiety.

3. The Elevator Dream – No, this isn’t about being trapped in an elevator. It’s about getting in an elevator, pushing the button for a certain floor, and then having the elevator start moving in all sorts of directions, veering wildly from right to left, up and down…even diagonally. (And, yes, I have read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator.) I think that this is fundamentally a dream about goal-directedness, which strikes me as an apt thing for someone with a kaleidoscope career to worry about.

4. Naked in The Office – This is also apparently a very common dream and is thought to suggest a fear of public exposure. Since I blog about my personal life several times a week, I’m going to over-rule the experts and say that this is really a dream about legitimacy. When you work at home – as I do – you are wracked with worry that by not having the requisite water cooler, business card or Friday bagel brunch, you are somehow less legitimate as a professional. And *that* is the exposure which you fear will be revealed – that you’re really, deep down, a phony.

5. Childhood – I often dream that I’m back in my childhood, witnessing something that upsets me but which I am unable to stop because I am too small or too young or too afraid. I think this is fundamentally a dream about powerlessness, which is of course a central theme of adulthood.

Oh dear. I fear I’ve (once again) revealed a tad too much about my psyche. No matter. According to this study, dreams aren’t really about your psyche. They’re just exercise for your brain.

Phew. Boy, do I feel healthy now.

How about you? What are your recurrent dreams?

*****

For those who are interested, yesterday I posted on PoliticsDaily.com about the on-going sexual scandal-cum-political crisis engulfing Northern Ireland.

Image: Elevator Buttons by Jaded One via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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