Nightmares usually refer to frightening dreams that occur when we are sleeping.
Daymares or daydreaming refers to dream-like states that occur when we are awake.
Dreaming for many people is an event that occurs without memory of “what” or “who” the dreams were about. Some people experience vivid dreams with strong emotions that cause them to awake suddenly in tears, surprised, happy or frightened. Nightmares are often vivid dreams that are frightening, and may include surreal content or abstract images.
Some nightmares are very realistic. Others may be dream-like flashbacks to events in the past, that occur when we are almost asleep. It can sometimes be difficult to determine if a nightmare occurs when we are asleep or almost asleep.
Often nightmares can have a reoccurring theme where the images or conversations are repeated. Most individuals will question if there is some deeper meaning behind the nightmare as they seek to understand why it reoccurs. When I discuss dreams in therapy, I will usually ask about the emotion that occurs along with the images and events. I will ask about the age of the person in that dream.
Frequently, nightmares are of an individual’s childhood and most clients are aware what age they are in the dream. This helps a great deal because the age of the person in the dream is often linked to the reasons for the dream reoccurring. Frequently individuals will recall that the nightmare has occurred from their childhood.
In the Freudian days a century ago, most dreams were linked to sex, and most images had some sexual connotation. These days we take a more cognitive viewpoint of dreams and their meaning.
Dreams occur because our minds are trying to recall and then sort our memories from the day into the appropriate files in our minds. Most memories are mundane and not really memorable. We remember nightmares because they are confusing, frightening and often lead us to think of events that have been terrifying or horrific. Sometimes children will have nightmares after watching a scary movie or after they have fallen or been injured.
What sort of nightmares do people bring to therapy?
In therapy, I have found that clients discuss dreams that have strong emotions, that are vivid or distressing. Most distressing or frightening dreams appear to be linked to either past events, or fears about future events. The core emotion of fear is sometimes the best way to explore a dream’s meaning, because as adults we are not often horrified or terrified, so it can be logical to look for the links between events.
I’ve also discovered some medications like anti-depressants can cause bizarre dreams. The imbalance caused by increasing or decreasing an anti-depressant has led some of my clients to thinking that they have lost their mind, when it is only a temporary side effect of the medication.
Frequently those with bipolar or depression have vivid dreams and this may relate to the changing levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Those who have PTSD (trauma) will usually experience nightmares as a very distressing symptom. Health conditions, medications, life experiences and trauma appear to be the main causes of nightmares.
What about Spiritual Experiences?
Many people have spiritual or peak experiences when they experience a vivid dream. Some dreams are not nightmares but may leave individuals obsessed with the meaning of the dream. Because many dreams are linked to core spiritual beliefs, and may include visions of others including past loved ones, this can make it difficult to seek support or professional help if you are concerned that you will be viewed as crazy.
Many of my clients have dreams of significance and feel relieved to pursue a logical discussion around the meaning. If you have seen a loved one or been visited by an angel, then this is quite common and not a sign of losing your mind. It may be that you are very connected to others, and experience your emotions and spiritual experiences vividly.
What is most important is that you feel comfortable to talk about your nightmare or dream, ponder its meaning and come to a “good enough” conclusion about why it happened. I find that having support to make a decision about “why” it happens, can prevent bad dreams reoccurring and provide support for positive dreams to occur.
If you want to book a single session to discuss your dreams or nightmare and would like a sounding board, then please book an appointment.
Author: Vivian Jarrett, B Psych (hons), MAPS, MAICD.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.