People have always been fascinated by their ‘secret’ night-time journeys. Over the years there have been many theories as to why we dream and the functions they serve.
Countless ‘encyclopaedias’ of dream symbols and meanings now exist. But these are published on the narrow premise that ‘one symbol fits all’. A new understanding of them shows that this is wrong. In reality, individual minds tailor symbols and dreams to meet individual needs.
They Get Rid of Emotional Arousal
It has been agreed for some time that dreams deal with emotion. However, not all emotion causes dreaming. Only emotional arousal unexpressed while awake causes us to dream. So, for example, if you have a screaming row with your partner you are unlikely to dream about it as the emotional arousal was allowed full expression. (In effect the problem that went into your mind whilst awake was removed whilst awake. Therefore it was not in your mind as you went to sleep.)
However if you become angry with someone at work but cannot express it then this frustration will probably be played out during dreaming. (This disagreement has remained in your mind.)
How Do Dreams Work?
The brain will ‘flush out’ emotional arousal by creating a dream of a scenario that parallels the real-life experience – a metaphor. So, the work colleague from above might be symbolised by a monster and your anger would be allowed expression as you attacked the creature.
If you ruminate angrily over the same issues the next day then you may well have a repetitive dream as the brain solves the same problem in the same way. The problem has not been totally removed from your mind at the first attempt.
One of the most common ways to create unexpressed emotional arousal is to ruminate. Because we do this in our mind, there is rarely a situation where the emotion can be expressed.
Depressed people dream much more than non-depressed people because typically, they do much more ruminating. This can result in physical and mental exhaustion.
Hypnosis, Dreaming and REM.
The deepest trance state you ever experience is when you are dreaming.
During dreaming, you are completely immersed in a self-created imaginary reality with little or no awareness that it is not ‘for real’ (similar to the hypnotised stage subject).
Dreaming is an amazing demonstration of your brain’s ability to ‘simulate reality’ and a clear indicator of why hypnosis works. It is fairly common for a hypnotised subject to vividly experience an imagined reality. Less so than in dreaming perhaps, but absorbing nonetheless.
The rapid eye movement (REM) of dreaming is also often observed during hypnosis. And indeed, a traditional way to induce hypnosis was by swinging a watch in front of the subject’s eyes.
Since dreaming is largely concerned with ‘clearing’ the brain of emotional arousal, it is not hard to see one reason why hypnosis is so good for helping people with emotional problems.
Hypnosis, Catalepsy and Dreaming
A famous stage trick is to lie a hypnotised subject between two chairs and stand on their stomach. This is the sort of demonstration that has led to the idea that hypnosis is something strange. (Don’t try this at home by the way; it’s really bad for your back!)
However, when we consider the link to the dream state, the reason this is possible becomes much clearer. When you are dreaming, your ability to move is inhibited for obvious reasons – acting out your dreams would be highly dangerous for you and your sleeping partner.
This phenomenon also occurs during hypnosis and allows us to create ‘catalepsy’ where parts of the body can become immobile or self supported for long periods without discomfort.