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December 05, 2019 Thursday 04:09:05 PM IST

The Mystery Behind Dreams


 For centuries, people have questioned the meaning of dreams. Early civilizations thought of dreams as a medium between humans and the gods.  In spite of modern science, dreams still remain mysterious. There are modern scientists who claim that dreams are nothing more than images resulting from random electrical activity in the brain as it “housecleans” itself during the night. Science can offer some explanation of how dreams are related to brain functioning, but only a psychological understanding of the unconscious can explain why a dream happens at a particular time of your life and what it all means psychologically. Dreams contain both manifest and latent content. Manifest content includes information from the dream as the dreamer remembers it. Latent content represents the repressed (Freud), symbolic meaning (Jung), embedded within the dream. Although research indicates that there are benefits to dream analysis, some limitations do exist. Some believe that dreams are purely biological phenomena and therefore contain no symbolic meaning. A dream can rarely be fully understood and interpreted, but the process of trying to understand your dreams matters. They can help us understand our habits and tendencies, and open our eyes to the parts of our personality we tend to ignore or cover up. They can help us understand the contradictory and conflicting thoughts that exist in all of us. They can help us connect with our inner wisdom.

 “Dreaming is non-essential when it comes to survival as a body but is essential with regard to our development and evolution as metaphysical beings,” according to Jeffrey Sumber, who studied global dream mythology at Harvard University and Jungian dream interpretation at the Jung Institute in Zurich. There are no formulas or prescriptions for dream analysis.

“There are no experts other than yourself when it comes to your own psyche. So, don’t stop trusting your own inner guide to your unconscious,” says Sumber.

The art and science of dream interpretation has not really progressed beyond ancient dream interpretation manuals and soothsayer nonsense. Freud’s was the first established theory that incorporated dreams within the context of the helping relationship. Jung adapted Freud's theory, proposing that dreams do not signify repressed unconscious drives but represent expressions of creativity aimed at resolution. Since then, other therapy models like Gestalt therapy, Art therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have used dream analysis in one way or another. However, Dream interpretation is not a one-size-fits-all tool in any capacity. And therapists need to place aside all of their information, tools and associations for universal symbols and dream interpretation with each new client and treat each person as a unique, new world to be discovered.

The Mystery of Dreams
For example, the limbic center, the part of your brain primarily responsible for controlling emotions, is the most active part of the brain during a dream. Simultaneously, the part of the brain that controls logic and reason, the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, is suppressed, which is why dreams that seem perfectly logical while we’re dreaming sound absurd when we try to recount them later. New neuroimaging techniques will allow for better identification of correlations between dream activity patterns and dream images.

               From evidence and new research methodologies, researchers have speculated that dreaming serves the following functions:

  • Offline memory reprocessing, in which the brain consolidates learning and memory tasks and supports and records waking consciousness.
  • Cognitive simulation of real life experiences, as dreaming is a subsystem of the waking default network, the part of the mind is active during daydreaming.
  • Helping develop cognitive capabilities.
  • Reflecting unconscious mental function in a psychoanalytic way.
  • A unique state of consciousness that incorporates the experience of the present, processing of the past, and preparation for the future.
  • A psychological space where overwhelming, contradictory, or highly complex notions can be brought together by the dreaming ego, notions that would be unsettling while awake, serving the need for psychological balance and equilibrium.

Dreams are a universal human experience that can be described as a state of consciousness characterized by sensory, cognitive and emotional occurrences during sleep.

A newer cognitive behavioral technique called image rehearsal therapy has been developed to address concerns like post-traumatic stress and chronic nightmares. In image rehearsal therapy (IRT), the goal is to rewrite the nightmare's story. The therapist may coach the person in treatment to relay the bad dream, write it down, and then change the content to something positive, encouraging the individual to mentally rehearse this new dream script for up to 20 minutes a day in order to decrease the frequency and intensity of the nightmare. Due to its reported effectiveness, IRT is recommended as a best-practice standard for the treatment of nightmares, according to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

 Despite these exciting technical developments we are still no way near to breaking the dream code. When someone offers you an interpretation of your dream, politely decline the offer no matter how expert the soothsayer appears to be. Despite our advances in scientific understanding, the brain remains an unmastered frontier. The mechanics and functions of dreams are still largely a mystery. Whatever our dreams might mean, there’s no doubt that they will continue to entertain, puzzle, terrify, and delight humankind. Dreams use the language of symbols and archetypes to communicate from our inner selves what we’re not able to grasp in everyday life — because of our beliefs, fears, social norms and other barriers to self-knowledge. Through dream interpretation, psychologists can help clients to see themselves and their desires in a way that’s free from all that baggage.

Dr. Jose Cletus Plackal

Licensed clinical psychologist, BET-MRT, Jeevas Centre, Aluva, Kerala.

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