Dreams are images and stories that appear to all of us as we sleep, much like the thoughts and daydreams that we have during the day. Everyone dreams. The dreams we are likely to remember occur during periods of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which we have several times each night.
Since dreams contain thoughts that we are not usually aware of, some therapists believe that remembering our dreams can be useful in understanding ourselves better and even in solving our problems.
You may discover you have mixed feelings about a particular situation you thought you were sure about. For example, a man nearing retirement had a dream in which he went to his office and discovered it was completely empty. He was very angry and sad. Before he had the dream, he thought he had only happy feelings about retirement. Afterward, he realized retirement felt like a loss as well.
Dreams are not reality, but they provide important clues about how each of us sees reality. They also tell us about complicated parts of ourselves of which we may not otherwise be aware. Dreams can contain symbols of internal conflict. For example, the dreamer may have questions about his or her feelings or what to do about a situation. Most feelings in dreams are negative (dread, fear, confusion, anger, or sadness). Happy dreams are less frequent for most people.
Many psychotherapists agree with the following ideas about dreams:
Some people remember more dreams than others. Some people keep a dream journal and write in it each morning. Some people have trouble remembering dreams because they do not think they are important and do not pay attention to them. Others try to forget their dreams because they fear that remembering them might leave them with disturbing feelings. Or they worry that the angry or sad feelings the dreams stir up might linger on during their waking hours. Some people feel embarrassed about their dreams and would prefer not to think about them.
In order to understand and learn from dreams, it is important not to take them too literally. The images and actions in dreams are often unrealistic and logically impossible. A therapist may be able to help you understand your dreams, but you are the expert on what they may mean because the symbols come from your mind.
To increase your chances of understanding a dream, follow these steps:
Sometimes understanding the meaning of a dream may come only after several days, or after you have had another dream that is clearer.
In some dreams, the dreamer is aware that she or he is dreaming, and may even attempt to influence what happens in the dream. These are called lucid dreams. People who dream in this way are more likely to recall their dreams.
It may be time to consult a therapist or healthcare provider when: