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Why Do We Dream?

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New research that shows the function of dreams and how they're essential to our mental wellbeing.

Why do we dream? 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 function dreams serve.

Countless 'encyclopaedias' of dream symbols and meaning now exist, but these are published on the narrow premise that 'one symbol fits all'.

A revolutionary new understanding of dreams shows that this is wrong. The ground-breaking research of the eminent psychologist Joseph Griffin shows us, with the 'expectation fulfilment' understanding of dreams, what the brain is really doing while we sleep.

Dreams get rid of unfulfilled emotional arousal

It has been agreed for some time that dreams deal with emotion. However, not all emotion causes dreaming. Only emotional arousal that goes unexpressed while awake causes us to dream.

So, for example, if you have a screaming match with your partner, you are unlikely to dream about it because the emotional arousal was allowed full expression. However, if you become angry with someone at work but cannot express it, then this frustration will be played out metaphorically during dreaming.

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 symbolized by a monster and your anger would be allowed expression as you attacked the dream 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.

Rumination causes a build-up of dreaming

One of the most common ways to create unexpressed emotional arousal is to ruminate (worry). Because we do this in our mind, there is rarely a situation where the emotion can be expressed or the situation resolved.

Depressed people dream much more than non-depressed people (whether they recall those dreams or not) because, typically, they do much more ruminating without problem solving. The result? A build-up of unfulfilled emotional expectations turned into dreams in order to 'complete the circuit'. But too much dreaming results in physical and mental exhaustion. (For more on this, see the Uncommon Knowledge Depression Learning Path.)

How to understand what your dreams mean

The symbolism in dreams is often simply 'borrowed' from recent events. The feelings in the dream are usually an exaggeration of feelings from the real-life issue that caused the dream. If you feel terror in the dream, think of when you recently felt a little frightened in your waking life. Or if you laugh hysterically during a dream, look for a recent time when you found something funny but were maybe constrained from laughing too uproariously, perhaps because someone might have been offended.

When you find the dream's match, it often feels like a 'clicking into place' - like a perception rather than an intellectualization.

In our opinion, anyone interested in dreams or psychology will be fascinated and amazed by Joe Griffin's website.

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Published by Mark Tyrrell - in Sleep Problems