Ever wondered why we have recurring bad dreams?

written by Meena Azzollini

Young man sleeping in his bed on white pillow

Credit:123RF

When we dream we are transported into another world where we experience various images, thoughts and feelings.

However, most of the time we don’t even remember our dreams and sometimes we recall just a few remnants of our dreams.

But why do we dream and what purpose do they serve?

While scientists are still unclear on the purpose of dreams, it has been thought that dreams may help to process and integrate people’s daily experiences. It is thought that most of our dream material is related to meaningful experiences, especially those that are threatening.

Participants who experienced more frustrations in their life generally reported having recurring dreams with more negative emotions.

A recent research conducted by researchers from the University of Cardiff was the first team to explore whether people’s daily frustrations or fulfillment of psychological needs plays out in their dreams.

The researchers conducted two studies. In the first study, they asked 200 participants to reflect and write about their most recurrent dream.

Participants wrote about their dreams that occurred between 0 and 192 months before the study. Participants then reported on the presence or absence of nine themes in their dreams and their positive and negative evaluations of dreams.

The findings of this study indicated that participants who experienced more frustrations in their life generally reported having recurring dreams with more negative emotions. Their dreams also had somewhat more negative themes present in them.

The study also found that when the psychological need was satisfied it did not relate to any dream experiences, not even in the case of positive emotions in dreams.

It seems that when there are frustrating psychological needs which are not satisfied, then they are more relevant to negative dream themes and emotions but have no impact on positive dreams and emotions.

In the second study, the researchers analysed entries from 110 participants who reported on their dreams over a period of three days. This was done to investigate whether experiences related to psychological needs in real life were related to dreams and the deeper processing that they provide and to understand whether bad dreams were a consequence of poor or even unprocessed daily experiences.

The findings of this study indicate that on the days that an individual felt need frustrated, they experienced bad dreams or dreams with more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions.

Additionally, those who reported as having psychological need frustration in their daily lives, in general, had more negative emotions attached to their dreams. On the other hand, those who reported as having more psychological need satisfaction, in general, had more positive emotions in their dreams. This suggests that people whose basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and feeling competent are not met are more likely to have recurring bad dreams and thus have negative emotions related to them.

The second study replicates the findings of the first study and shows us that people who are frustrated are more likely to have distressing dreams and that may be due to the psyche attempting to process and make sense of the challenging and frustrating situation the individual experiences in waking life.

Both studies indicate that our waking-life psychological need experiences are reflected in our dreams and recurring bad dreams may be because we still need to process our distressing psychological needs and pressing problems in life.

Dreams have a unique purpose and a lot about our dreams is not yet known, but we do know that dreams carry messages from your subconscious, guiding you towards a particular path so that you can resolve conflict or process distressing situations in your daily life.

Source: Motivation and Emotion


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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!