October 30, 2018

Dreaming: History & Significance

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

Dreams are seemingly so mysterious and fascinating as it is a common activity that is unique to our minds as we sleep. Some cultures believe that the whole world dreams including animals, rivers, trees and the earth itself. Sometimes our dreams can be silly and seemingly far-fetched, other times they are fearful and disturbing. Maybe you have a dream over and over again. Or maybe you simply don’t remember if you dream at all. Not remembering dreams is a common experience. I believe that understanding and simply reflecting on our dreams can be an additional tool to understanding ourselves more than we know.

What Are Dreams Anyway?

“A dream is a microscope through which we look at the hidden occurrences in our soul.” – Eric Fromm

When you think of analyzing your dreams, what do you think of? Some people usually picture psychics with crystal balls or lying on the couch while a Freud-like psychologist tells them what their dreams mean, but it’s really not any of those things. I believe it truly is another valuable way you can better understand and learn about yourself. Dreams can be a door to symbolism, language, perspective and insight. Some early theorists (like Freud), believed that dreams were the “royal road,” to our unconscious.

Some History

Dreams can be traced back to the Babylonians and Egyptians who believed dreams were prophetic and held heavenly meaning. As the enlightenment era came about, Aristotle also interpreted dreams as psychological phenomena and viewed them as the life of one’s soul while asleep. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century, where scientifically-based dream research began. But, Freud and his book “The Interpretation of Dreams” was what widely opened the door to dream analysis — his theory was the first that incorporated dreams in the context of a helping relationship. Several other theorists adapted and built more theories and information from there; therapy models like art therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy also began to incorporate dream analysis into the healing process.

Theories on Why We Dream:

Dreams help us deal with our emotions.

Dreaming can be the mind and body’s way of communicating between our conscious and unconscious mind. Dreaming lets us play out painful or puzzling emotions or experiences in a safe space, revealing perhaps some of our deepest desires and deepest wounds. They can be a way that allows us to process information or events that may be painful or confusing in an environment that is at once emotionally real but physically unreal.

Dreams help our brains learn, sort, evaluate and process what happens to us during the waking hours.

Some studies and research show that dreams can be part of how we learn. People who are actively learning during the day may have more dreams; one study found that students learning a language had more dream activity than non-students.

Dreams have no meaning and don’t serve any function.

Since there isn’t a lot of research on dreaming and the very nature of dreams can be lucid, evasive, or having a broad range of meanings, we may consider that dreams might just be a byproduct of sleep.

Regardless, there can be many explanations of why we dream and what dreams may signify. So what now? In my next part of this two-part dreams series, I will break down how we can notice our dreams, pay attention and begin to analyze and interpret our dreams!

Written by therapist Tina Choi

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