Personally, I have more than a few recurring dreams, but one of them is a pretty gnarly nightmare about an ex trying to break into my house. I have not seen or talked to this person in quite some time, but, unfortunately for me, that does not seem to make their appearance in my brain's nighttime theater any less potent. And I know I'm not alone in having this experience. I'm sure you've probably wondered yourself about why you keep having the same dream over and over again, especially if it often involves the same person each time.
This probably won't come as much of a surprise, but the psychological reasons behind these recurring dreams are pretty darn interesting.
Now, while the recurring dream or nightmare is not an uncommon phenomenon, whether or not it has any greater meaning or significance has often been a topic of differing opinion. While some think reading into dreams is poppycock, a good portion of Western psychology formed around creating frameworks for these interpretations, as though they might be the key to unlocking some sort of hidden secrets of the human mind.
So, psychologically speaking, what could be the purpose of the repetition of themes, scenarios, or people in our sleep state?
Elite Daily spoke with Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand, who sheds some fascinating light on the subject of recurring dreams:
The model of the mind is very true to the idea of a computer. When we go to sleep, that little computer will keep churning. It doesn't just turn off and stop. We have a perception that we're blank when we sleep -- but [the brain] keeps going.
He adds that about two-thirds of people experience recurring dreams, and that this doesn't mean that whatever themes or people are showing up are necessarily literal. It's more that these people or stories might symbolize stress or anxiety, or some other specific emotion you might be dealing with.
Dr. Mayer tells Elite Daily,
The dreams are usually not exactly the same each time, but the recurring theme is usually something in your head that is somehow unresolved. It just keeps repeating over and over again in that computer. So if the data is the same in the machine, you need to replace it with other data, or resolve that conflict, or solve that problem.
According to Dr. Mayer, a good way to deal with upsetting dreams is to finish them off yourself.
When you wake up from a dream that feels strange or disturbing, put your head back down, and finish it off in an unexpected and positive way. Choose a new ending, and try to imagine things when you're heading to sleep at night that are immensely pleasurable to you.
Elite Daily also spoke with Laurel Clark, adream counselor and creative coach, who stresses the importance of being aware of and paying attention to your dreams.
She shares the way she has learned to think about dreams:
Dreams are messages from the subconscious mind, or from the inner self to the outer self. They tell us about waking life, and give us messages or feedback on how we are thinking or what we are doing.
And, if you are having a recurring dream, she adds, if you don't act on or interpret the message it might be sending, it repeats itself. So pay attention to them, she advises.
Additionally, a study from the University of Rome shows another link between your emotions and the dreams you're having.
The study researched the connection between dreaming and deep brain structure, and found that the brain activity of stranger and more emotionally intense dreams (which are often remembered) were linked to portions of the amygdala (which plays a major role in processing and memory of emotional reactions) and the hippocampus (which is thought to help consolidate short-term memory to long-term memory.)
Plus, even more research shows that when you dream about people who are close to you, it affects your relationship and subsequent behavior toward the person who appeared in your dream. This is definitely something to consider when you find yourself getting irrationally angry with loved ones who may have wronged you in a nightmare, but not at all in real life.
I don't know about you, my friends, but I'm definitely getting myself a dream journal. Maybe it'll help me work out that scary ex dream once and for all.