We all get nightmares which we have no explanation for. In fact, for some people nightmares are so frequent that, at times, they are reluctant to fall asleep. While we can attribute those nightmares to a million reasons, there is one logical reason that makes a lot of sense. Nightmares are the subconscious mind’s way to communicate its thoughts and emotions. The subconscious mostly thinks in the form of metaphors and images so, if you find yourself having recurring nightmares, your subconscious might be trying to tell you something.
Here is what your nightmares could be trying to tell you about yourself:
1. You might be holding back some emotions
Repressing emotions is not an uncommon behavior in our time; especially, with adults. The rate with which life flows is so fast; it simply doesn’t allow a person to deal with their negative emotions on a regular basis. Eventually, avoiding those emotions becomes the norm since the last thing anyone needs after a long day is to exert more effort.
But while we can consciously run from those emotions, our subconscious mind cannot. During sleep, when our minds go through the rapid eye movement cycles; also known as REM cycles, our subconscious mind becomes more active than our conscious mind. At that point, it becomes easier for emotions which were actively suppressed by our conscious mind to come up to the surface.
Just like our conscious mind translates thoughts and emotions to words, our subconscious has its own methods of expressing itself. According to Sigmund Freud, it mostly does so through images, exaggeration and defamiliarization. When our subconscious is faced with a negative emotion, it tends to represent it in the dream world as another object that symbolizes its essence. Negative emotions can be represented in a disturbing, or a fear-inducing manner because of the way our subconscious perceives it.
2. You might be suffering from increased stress or anxiety levels
Just as we have mentioned before, fear is a negative emotion that we tend to suppress; same with anxiety. As for stress, we tend to find distractions rather than actual solutions to our daily stressors. These are reasons why our subconscious would choose to communicate with us through disturbing imagery.
Through several studies, science has shown that there are some recurring themes in dreams that often signify the existence of an underlying cause of stress. For example, dreams where a person’s teeth fall out, or where they, themselves, are falling, usually point to some sort of anxiety or insecurity in the dreamer’s waking life. These types of dreams are also likely to occur due to your subconscious expressing its thoughts towards you leaving a comfort zone in your waking life.
On the other hand, there are some dreams which don’t really mean what they are thought to mean. Some people often interpret dreams about them dying, or seeing dead people, as them fearing death or symbolically fearing something to death. This can’t be further from the truth; yet, it is a common misconception. According to Sheila Moon from Psychic 2 Tarot, anxiety about death dreams is unnecessary as they usually symbolize an upcoming major change in your life. In other words, the death within those dreams is symbolical, and usually stands for the elimination of a habit or a way of life rather than the death of the dreamer themselves.
3. You might have some sort of a physical illness
Sleep studies have shown that our dreams can be affected by two forms of physical stimuli, in addition to the previously discussed psychological stimuli. Firstly, there are the external physical stimuli, as in, any external factors that affects our bodies during sleep; these include heat, cold, noises, etc. Secondly, there are the internal physical stimuli, which we will be talking about. Basically, they are any internal changes in the body that take place during sleep.
The conscious mind is known to be easily distracted by whichever thought is dominant. As for the subconscious, it has a high capacity of handling several tasks; it is a lot calmer and more perceptive. When our bodies are in a state of total rest, the amount of stimuli we are subjected to decreases. This allows the subconscious to detect any pains, or slight irregularities in the body, as they will immediately stand out.
Taking into consideration the exaggerative nature of the subconscious, any detected irregularity is most likely to be assigned an exaggerated symbolical value, and eventually launched on its way to our dream world. Some pains don’t produce that much of an effect; they don’t necessarily result in nightmares. Other types of pain, however, have a noticeable impact on the nature of our dreams like those resulting from fever and breathing disorders.
4. You might still have some unfinished business with your past or present.
It is commonly known that some nightmares borrow their elements from past experiences; like, the case of the Wolf-Man which Freud had to deal with. Most people who have suffered from some sort of trauma, and never got over it properly, tend to dream about re-enactments of the traumatic event.
One of the nightmares that most of us have experienced at one point, is being chased by someone or something. In most cases, these dreams are brought on by the fear of confronting someone, or facing a challenge, or running from a trauma.
When highly active, the subconscious mind tends to recall memories. Needless to mention, troubling memories trigger negative emotions which the mind perceives as some sort of mental “rot”. It then brings up those emotions to the surface so that they can be dealt with properly, or “treated”.
Sleep psychology and the dream world are two of the most interesting subjects to research, and learn about. One of the keys to understanding yourself mentally and emotionally, is interpreting your dreams and nightmares. In doing so, you gain further insight to your subconscious mind which is where most memories are kept which can help you a lot. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that objects in dreams are often distorted. So, what you need to do when interpreting your dreams is to self-reflect; dig deep, and try to look behind the surface of each object.