Are our nightmares red flags

Do these mysterious images, these strange nocturnal movies in our head, have a meaning, or are they only pure fantasies?

If your life is affected by dreams that come back frequently or that are very unpleasant, it can be wise to consult a psychologist or an expert in dream interpretation.

There is no unique theory as far as explaining why we dream and if our dreams have a meaning at all. But thanks to advances in modern neuroscience, we now understand much better how the brain functions and its various processes.

When it comes to dream interpretation, it is impossible though to escape from Freud’s shadow.

Freud’s influence

For Freud, the dream is always the realization of a desire. This desire, generally of a sexual nature, prohibited by reality, society, or the law, is repressed and appears only as a mask. The anxiety of seeing it realized generates nightmares.

Freud underlines the need to go through an interpretation: self-knowledge is made by an indirect, mediated way, which mobilizes reasoning. Self-knowledge is what I can know about myself. It is done first by introspection: supposedly direct, immediate observation of my interior states, simple attention to myself.

A century after Freud’s famed Interpretation of Dreams, another theory about dream interpretation is part of what is called ethnopsychiatry.

Another approach 

This discipline indeed proposes to treat mental disorders from the culture of patients. It replaces the scholarly discourse on the unconscious with a collective investigation device on the beings who appear in the disorder. 

Consequence: where psychoanalysis sees in the dream a set of symbols to decode, ethnopsychiatry detects a warning signal calling for a form of prediction.

At the start of this theory, one observation: Freud’s hypothesis, according to which the dream expresses in an encoded way an unconscious desire does not account for the nightmare. 

How can we understand the feeling of oppression it arouses and the liveliness with which we wake up from it, if not as the perception of hidden aggression? 

One idea is that, in a nightmare, our body could be trying to defend itself from some form of aggression. 

That would explain the rapid eye movements during deep sleep. We must then conclude that the dream is not a message to decipher but an action to pursue.

Such an assumption is both ancient and very new. It can be found in Artemidorus’s book The Interpretation of Dreams, a great classic of dream divination dating from the 2nd century, but also in the Muslim and Jewish traditions. 

It is confirmed by recent neurophysiology, which shows that REM sleep is a period of intense brain activity and low muscle tone, allowing the brain to explore possibilities and regenerate its cells. 

Some Neuroscientists deduce a new responsibility for the person interpreting dreams: he must grasp the significant elements in the culture of the one who consults it. This theory criticizes the rise of prefabricated dream interpretation. 

Instead of using a ready-made interpretation grid, psychiatrists should focus more on the peculiarities of each patient.

So beware of some of the general articles about dream interpretation you can find online. It is best to contact a professional that can better decipher your dreams by understanding your culture, your personality, and your history. After all, we are all different. 


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