During one of my trauma livestream events someone asked,
“Why is it that trauma related dreams don’t happen during the trauma phase but after it (dreams start after you’re away from trauma causing source)?”
Our dreams are more than just the biochemistry happening in our brains — they’re windows to the unconscious mind.
Dreams are calling our attention to things we aren’t paying attention to during our waking life. They can help us understand the contradictory and conflicting thoughts that exist in all of us. They can help connect us with our inner wisdom.
You know that feeling of being head down, just going through the motions of life? You know that you’re not paying attention to everything, and probably even avoiding purposeful things.
If you have a recurring dream, or starting to notice a new theme in your dream, that’s your subconscious self trying to say, “hey! You’re ignoring this, pay attention!”
For someone who has experienced a traumatic event, nightmares are common because they are living in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Instead of your body and mind resting at night like it’s supposed to, it’s common to experience insomnia, panic, or nightmares.
From a biochemical perspective, when we are under a tremendous amount of stress there is an abundance of stress hormones running through our body and brain. While you sleep your brain is trying to process “what do we do with this” and it comes up with the content of a scary dream.
During residency I learned how to do dream analysis during a Jungian dream analysis seminar. I’ve used this approach to help patients process recurring dreams, and even to analyze my own dreams.
How can we use our dreams to inform us what we should be paying attention to? Try this 7-step process:
- Write your dreams down as soon after waking up as you can — once we wake up, our conscious mind will try to apply logic to it to fill in gaps & details. You want to catch their dream prior to your anxious brain adding to it.
- Think of associations you have with images in the dream — where does the dream take place, who are the people in it, and what are the significant things that you see? Consider what your conscious mind associates with them: good, bad, etc.
- Consider the relationship with the people in your dream — remember that in your dreams you are the writer, director, and all of the actors. The less significant of a relationship you have with someone in the dream, the more likely that person symbolizes a piece of your own psyche rather than the actual person themselves
- Is there a “day residue”? — refers to symbols, objects, or even people who appear in your dreams because you came in contact with them during the previous day.
- Examine your emotions in the dream — what was the emotional tone of your dream, how did you feel in the dream?
- Look for common symbols — in Juangian theory, there are symbols that tap into our “collective unconscious” and have common meanings throughout our dreams. For example, being chased can symbolize running away from something you don’t feel equipped to handle. Take a look at this dream dictionary for possible meanings of other common symbols.
- Ask what the dream could be telling you — think of the dream of helping you ask the right questions, and asking the right questions is a healing process for you. What questions need to be asked?
This process won’t come up with any “one answer” or “one meaning,” but rather create a series of ideas and questions that you can examine further in your waking life.