Dreams and Self-Actualisation
Our dreams usually occur during REM sleep, which is the shallowest and usually last phase of our sleep. Dreams are a direct window to our subscious mind, and dreaming can be an opportunity for the subsconscious mind to communicate information back to our conscious mind, and for our conscious mind to sort through and organise recent memories and experiences.
Many of us may experience 'anxiety dreams' where we find ourselves in a stressful situation. These stresses or situations are often reflective of fears, limiting beliefs and behaviour, resentment or deficits in our personality and often manifest themselves in such dreams. It should be obvious from the dream what its meaning is, if it is an anxiety dream. Examples of anxiety dreams may include: escaping from a threat; worrying about the safety of your physical body (e.g. your teeth); finding yourself naked in a workplace or classroom at the start of the day; going along with something or someone you don't like and being a 'yes' man; falling into oblivion; being attacked and perhaps having to stab your attacker to death violently with a knife (often there being nothing between fear and the stabbing - no assertiveness or confidence); being unprepared for an activity or examination, etc.
A rough guide to anxiety dreams in increasing order of psychological balance:
- where one is attacked, dominated, bullied, taken advantage of or otherwise humiliated but one does nothing to stop it.
- any of the above, but where one is still feeling threatened and scared but acts in an extreme manner in order to stop it.
- where one fails at a task or cannot complete it because one has preparation problems.
- where one is successful in performing whatever fun or other task one wanted to do, with no problems or confidence or self-belief issues.
- where someone is thinking about attacking, dominating, bullying, taking advantage of or otherwise humiliating us, but we are calm, collected and confident and handle the situation, assert ourselves and ensure our self-respect, and the situation results in a successful outcome and the above potential scenarios never actually happen in the first place (i.e. no sign is present over your head saying 'I am a mug, please tread on me').
Articles examining the meaning of anxiety dreams are listed below.
Our dreams can therefore be useful tools in personal development. When we find ourselves in an unpleasant or disempowering situation in a dream, it is often a form of challenge from the subconscious mind, asking the conscious mind if it wishes to still repeat the fearful or otherwise behaviour or beliefs that we don't want but always end up following or enacting. Such an anxiety dream or nightmare is an opportunity to break the pattern and take control and change the behaviour. To say 'Hold on! Stop! I'm not going through this all over again! I'm going to try something different'. Try to work your way down the list above, so each time you have such a dream you make a slight effort to make it less humiliating, so that eventually you end up at the desired psychological outcome. If you are able to go straight to the bottom of the list instantly, then great! Do it!
So rather than just watch yourself repeat the behaviour and pattern that we do not like, as if we were watching a movie of ourselves, we can instead be the central character in the dream. This may follow the format of a lucid dream, where we feel full self-consciousness within the dream, and can choose anything at any moment...like being free in the dream; or it may take the form of semi-lucidity, which is watching the movie, but being able to select choices, as one would in a role playing game, at certain points, when one forces one's way back into the central role for fleeting moments where we feel it is important to do so and make a choice. Sometimes in such dreams we can say 'stop' when we find ourselves repeating a fearful state or submissive form of behaviour and rewind the scene and replay it out by the way we want it to transpire. This can actually be extremely amusing as well.
Alternatively, if you are not able to break out of the self-deprecating pattern of thinking in your dream, then upon waking, you could make the most of the fact that you are still somewhat in the Theta brainwave mind state, and carry on the dream where you left off, but this time with your full consciousness (awake) and full sense of self and either carry on the dream in a direction that you would have liked, e.g. using it to create a sense of confidence, to take bold action or to have a good time - in other words, to turn the tone of the whole dream around into a positive and empowering experience. As mention above, another take on this is to think back to the decision point in the dream where the situation could have gone a different way and make the positive or confident decision instead, and get your way in the dream or achieve the desired outcome where you are treated with respect but also perhaps have a wild time. You could do the same with any dream in fact, to carry on a positive dream and simply roll with it upon awakening for a while to have a little escapist and character-developing fun and creative fantasy. Why not? It doesn't cost anything.
Pleasurable dreams can be very empowering and a way of connecting ourselves to our core positive beliefs and our true selves, free from anxiety, fear and self-loathing. Many of us experience the odd lucid dream, every blue moon as it were, but very few of us experience these regularly. Some consider this state to be like embarking on a fantasy adventure, like watching your favourite movie, but with you in the starring role. In lucid dreaming, one can simply call upon a certain situation, scenario or place, or specific people, and enact out any scenario we like. It may be boring to turn everything to your will, so the fun is in sponteneity, to choose the initial situation, but let it run its own course, but ensuring that you make the choices that are right for you and the values you aspire to during this fluid narrative.
Dreams often create our waking reality or have a large influence on it, much as our waking reality and relationship with our subconscious affects our dreams. I had two dreams one night on this theme. I had gone to bed feeling positive and energised. In the first dream, I overdid it and was feeling exhausted. I believed I was exhausted in the dream. I woke up and felt absolutely exhausted! In the second dream I was having heart problems and was on the operating table. When I woke up I was having chest pains and palpitations! It could be that my actual physical state created the themes of these dreams. However, given that I had gone to bed feeling quite well, it would seem the more probable that it was created out of belief (in the dream state). Either way, one can see that using our dreams to work on our beliefs and handling of (dream) life in general has a profound effect on our self-beliefs in our subconscious and thus our waking reality.
It is said that keeping a dream diary is useful as we can refer back to interesting or creative dreams, and indeed reflect upon what happened in a dream, why and how we could have experienced it differently if it happened again. It is also reputed to enable one to increase one's level of self-consciousness within a dream. If one is to record one's dreams, it is best to do so immediately after you wake up as one quickly leaves that part of one's mind with access to the subconscious upon waking and one can quickly forget what one was indeed dreaming about within minutes; or at least most of the details. Keeping a notepad and pen next to your bed is a wise idea. This way you can record your dreams and also make a note of anything that you think of or is playing on your mind whilst you are trying to get to sleep. If you are a little neurotic in this manner, which I have been, you can write whatever it is down and then forget about it (or allow yourself to forget about it) - you can always give yourself permission to forget about it anyway, and trust yourself enough that you will remember it in the morning. Or perhaps that it really isn't that important if you only think of it in bed, and just forget it!