understanding dreams and emotion

Emotions and Mood in Dreams

Dreams often involve intense emotions. This feature examines how to work with these and what part they play in our health.

Emotions and Mood in Dreams
There is a level of human experience which is typified by intense emotional and physical response to life. Such emotions and bodily drives may remain almost entirely unconscious until touched by exploring your dream content in the right setting, or by being revealed by dramatic events in your life. When such feelings and bodily movements arise, as they do in dreams, we may be amazed at their power and clarity. See: processing dreams; movements during sleep.
We are all unconsciously aware of how emotions and mood flow into physical movement and actions as well as influencing our personal response to life. We recognise how someone who is vivacious is expressing lively emotions. Similarly someone who is depressed physically is obviously withdrawn emotionally. In fact emotions are not only what energises us, but also what can pull us down, cause us to withdraw or give up. The feelings we have about people and events are also sensors telling us how we are responding, what frightens us, what excites us. So any means used to deaden emotions also deadens these sensors.
It is now well known that emotions can have very destructive effects on the body, as in grief and anxiety. Also the healing effects of laughter and pleasure are equally marked. Dreams help us see how our moods and emotions are influencing our health and general responsiveness in life.
If we take away the images and events occurring in a dream and simply look to see what feelings or emotions are evident, the dream is often more understandable than if we try to interpret the symbols. Feelings in dreams are nearly always undistorted. We therefore do not need to interpret them, simply to recognise them and see if we can recognise where they occur in waking life.
The images in a dream may be the way we unconsciously pictorialise our flux of feelings and the play of internal energy flows. For instance love or sexual drive can give rise to physical movement – as in sexual intercourse. Repression of sex or love also represses such physical movements, leading to tension and conflict, which might be presented in the drama of a dream.

Example: ‘I was with my wife, walking along a street, on holiday with her. But I felt awful tension. It was the sort of stress I feel when I have turned off my sexual flow – as I have at the moment.’ Brian V.

Brian can easily see the connection between the dream feelings and his everyday life. Making such connections may take practice. But the situation could as easily be expressed as a dream image of a blocked river. The underlying feelings would then be less easy to grasp.

Example: ‘I was in a very ancient crumbling building, confronted by a large stone door, deeply engraved with many designs and creatures. I began to open the door and felt high feelings of anxiety. I realised this was an initiation and I must calm my feelings in order to pass beyond the door. i.e. if I were controlled by my feelings I would run away.’ Derek F.

How we meet the emotions in our dreams illustrates our habitual method of dealing with them. The feelings of anxiety in Derek’s dream were met and moved beyond, but this is unusual. This is because most of us change our direction as soon as there is a hint of fear. The amount of nicotine and alcohol human beings consume suggests how poorly we meet anxiety, considering that both these drugs inhibit feelings, and thereby deaden anxiety. Going beyond fear or pain is an initiation which opens doors for us. We might now apply for the job; ask for the date; raise the issue; express the creativity; make the journey abroad, which anxiety previously kept us from. We see this in the next example.

Example: ‘I had a ring on my marriage finger. It was a thin band of gold. I woke up frightened. Angela LBC.

Angela is not married and feels obvious anxiety about the commitment.
Dreams give us a safe area to express emotions which might be difficult or dangerous to release socially. Anger in a dream may be expressing what we failed to discharge in a waking encounter, or it might be our habitual response. It may also be directed against oneself, causing illness or tension.
Dreams also contain many positive emotions. Sometimes they present a new aspect of feeling which is life enhancing. In the example below the dreamer overcomes the feeling of defeat and death, and in imagery expresses a sense of rebirth.

Example: While heavily pregnant 11 years ago I dreamt I and thousands of Japanese-like soldiers had been at war and lost. Our punishment was beheading. Not wanting to see my comrades killed I went to the front. I felt the cold blade hit my neck, then was dead, outside my body. Dressed in golden armour with a lion symbol I told my comrades they outnumbered the enemy. They won and took my baby from my dead body. BMW – Southport.

Some feeling states in a dream are subtle, and may be more evident in terms of the symbols than the feelings. A grey drear environment suggests depression and lack of pleasure. A sunny light environment with flowers and colour shows pleasure and good feelings. A country landscape depicts quite a different feeling state to a smoky busy city street. We can define these for ourselves using the techniques described under Secrets of Power Dreaming; processing dreams.
Whatever feelings or emotions we meet in our dreams, many of them are bound to be habitual responses we have to life. Where these habits are negative we can begin to change them by working with the dream images as described in Can I alter the dream to find greater satisfaction?
Here is a man’s description of the sort of emotions felt in exploring a dream.
As this came out I started crying from a deep emotion. But right away the feeling was so deep only deep agonised groans of pain could come out. So much agony came out my body was paralysed into silent paralysis with it. I have had a lot of sessions where I have exploded with pain. But this was deep, silent, struggling with pain. My body flayed and contorting with it, my nose clogged with mucus. Gradually it broke up and I cried out with it, deep, sobbing, long held pain. The words by out of me, “I did it. I did it. Love. I killed it. So much pain. So much of it, because I killed love.”


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