There are lots of theories about what dreaming is, including ideas of white noise, in house entertainment during rest, part of the learning process, filing of memories, that it is random and meaningless, that it is a portal to the unconscious, and that it is divine. We don’t really know. However, dreams can have a lot of influence on mood and waking life, nightmares especially so. I think the desire to make sense of things is an intrinsic part of the human state. When something is horrible, knowing why gives us back a feeling of control, a way of coping.
I’ve been prone to nightmares since childhood. I don’t get them all the time, but every now and then something monstrously dark rears up to frighten me. Nightmares that leave me huddled in the darkness, sweating, heart racing, too afraid to go back to sleep. I’ve had a few of those lately. The desire to make sense of them is very strong. What do they mean? Where do they come from? Why are they happening?
My belief is that dreams are your brain doing stuff – that might be sorting and unpacking, going over things recently learned, or fishing up murk from the unconscious depths. Different dreams appear to be different things. Sometimes my nightmares are so dark and disturbing that it really makes me wonder about me. I’ll spare you the details.
What possible use do nightmares serve? Waking in terror and not being able to settle afterwards doesn’t seem immediately helpful. But, if there is fear being held within, and not expressed, then it’s one way for mind and soul to let go. I wonder if nightmares are a way of venting distress and anxiety when other, more helpful channels don’t appear to be viable. It’s very Freudian – the idea that repressed feelings come out by other means, but none the less, I think it may be relevant here. Where possible, it’s better to deal with emotions and experiences as they happen, but it’s not always viable. As with grief – sometimes keeping things together for everyone else delays the grief process, and it comes out in other ways.
Are nightmares just a warning that we need to take some issue more seriously? Or do they help? Is the fear evoked by bad dreams cathartic? Does it help our brains to work through difficulties? My feeling is that they can help, in an odd sort of way, but they aren’t the easiest things to work with. Sometimes it’s very hard to make sense of emotions, and the processes of grief and pain are complicated, confusing things. Nightmares are a way of articulating that to ourselves.
What it boils down to is a fairly pragmatic decision on my part. If I relate to my nightmares as yet another problem for me to contend with, it adds to the burden. If I assume that they are in some way part of a healing process, allowing my mind to vent, then I do not have to be troubled by them occuring. If I imagine they are helping, not harming, then I reduce their scope for harming me in waking moments. I’m not probing them looking for deeper psychological meaning, or imagining that they are dire portents – I could – but what would that achieve? It would only make me more unhappy. So I shall imagine they are useful, and in so doing, hopefully render them so.