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Nightmares and dreamscapes:
Exorcising your personal bogeyman
By Mike Marinett
You awaken suddenly, in the middle of the night. Your heart races wildly as you wipe the sweat off your brow and recall the horrible images that have just haunted your unconscious mind.
You have just had a nightmare.
But, according to retired psychoanalyst Gotfriede Aufreiter, your nightmares may just help you.
Aufreiter said nightmares deal with the disturbing aspects of our daily lives and often represent unconscious attempts to solve those problems. "Dreams can shine light upon what is really disturbing you while awake, so that you can consciously and effectively deal with a problem that is plaguing you," she said.
"Dreams are a method of wish fulfillment," Aufreiter said. "They find solutions to problems people have in real life."
However, she said the solutions presented by nightmares are sometimes unrealistic. "I once had a patient who had recurring nightmares that he would go out and kill people violently. He was very upset about it, but I assured him that his dreams were not sensible."
Dreaming about doing something does not necessarily mean an individual actually intends to carry out the action in the physical world, Aufreiter asserted. Dreams only represent possible resolutions to anxiety or stress, he added.
One question that has perplexed dream researchers is why children seem to experience more nightmares than adults. Gina Pearlin, a dream educator working at The Twin Lakes College of Healing Arts in Santa Cruz, California, thinks she has an answer.
"Children are going through more developmental stages than adults and they have more growth challenges to overcome," she said. "Because children are challenged by many rites of passage in which they must make a change in their lives, these obstacles are manifested in nightmares."
Like Aufreiter, Pearlin said we often make the mistake of taking nightmares too literally, noting our bad dreams are only symbolic or metaphorical representations of conflicts and obstacles in our daily lives.
Only by analyzing our dreams can we interpret these symbols, Pearlin said. "For example, if someone is being chased in a dream, they should look at what is pursuing them and how they are responding to it within the dream. This could possibly represent a problem the person is avoiding or ignoring in real life," she added.
There is no single symbolic meaning for an aspect of a dream and meanings are largely dependent on individual circumstances, she explained.
But what can we do to prevent nightmares from occurring in the first place?
David Schaffelburg, a practicing psychoanalyst in London, believes he has an answer.
"To prevent future nightmares, I would advise someone to speak the contents of their dream out loud or to talk to someone about it. This could give some clue to the dream's meaning," he said.
Through analyzing the meaning of nightmares, Schaffelburg said troubled dreamers can resolve the real life problems that are causing their nightmares and finally get a good night's sleep.