If one thing is certain at the moment, it’s that we’re all having vivid dreams. Not only has Twitter been awash with individuals sharing their experiences via the hashtag #pandemicdreams, but a quick Google search for “weird dreams during quarantine” returns a continuous stream of articles that extends until the tenth page.
All have similar titles and aims – namely, wondering why? In case you’ve somehow missed all those, the gist is that vivid dreams are totally normal, and most likely down to altered sleep patterns, stress, or/and decreased daytime stimulation. Although the reasons why we dream aren’t definitively known, it’s believed that they function to prepare us for potential threats (as per Antti Revonsuo’s threat-simulation theory) and help us process waking-life experiences and emotions. In fact, while specifics differ, most theories present dreams as beneficial to our health in some way – whether psychologically, physiologically, or even physically.
However, one aspect of our dreams that gets continually overlooked is our desire to talk about them. It is a truth universally acknowledged that almost nothing is as boring as listening to someone else describe their dream. The simple fact is, if it’s not yours, you couldn’t care less. The single exception to this rule is if you’re in it – but even then, the interest is only fleeting. And yet, despite our experience on the receiving end, we still can’t help offering up our own dreams for discussion. Might the reason be that doing so is also beneficial?
Behind this urge is a desire to gain insight into ourselves. Since Freud, dreams have been viewed as manifestations of – or even messages from – our subconscious, able to be understood through psychoanalytic interpretation. Although Freud’s view of dreams as a form of wish fulfilment has fallen out of favour in scientific communities, his belief that they contain themes and symbols with specific meanings definitely still holds sway with us regular folk. The internet abounds with dream dictionaries, handbooks, and even services that promise to provide “dream analysis” or “prophetic interpretation.” Of the 28 that have been reviewed on Fiverr – there are 85 in total – all have ratings of 4.7 stars or above, and most score the full 5.0. Clearly, people enjoy having the opportunity to discuss their dreams.
Dream therapy is also very much a real thing. However, unlike Fiverr’s psychics, dream therapists don’t tend to interpret the meaning of your dream; instead, they let you talk through what you think it means. And this, I think, reveals what’s truly at the heart of it. Much like reading tarot cards or your horoscope, your attachment of meaning to certain dream events or objects likely speaks to desires and fears that you’re already aware of on some level. Whether or not dreams actually mean anything in the first place – they may, after all, simply be randomly-generated patterns of information designed to keep us asleep long enough for the body to heal – attempting to interpret them encourages us to recognise what we might’ve been ignoring.
In fact, trained counsellor and psychotherapist Linda Mastrangelo suggests dreams are a helpful means of identifying our emotions, which are likely the real driving force behind the strange shapes our night-time visions take. Whether it’s fear, anger, sadness, or something else, figuring out exactly what we’re feeling is a step towards being able to address it. The good news is, you don’t necessarily need to involve someone else to do this; dream journaling is a great alternative for hashing out what your dreams might represent, emotionally or otherwise.
However, talking about dreams with others may have another purpose that is less readily reproduced via writing: establishing connections. As a 2019 study by Mark Blagrove revealed, dream sharing has the capacity to increase empathy in the listener towards the teller. Given empathy is vital to relationships, talking about your dreams might therefore also be a means of reaching out, or soliciting compassion – which is particularly understandable given lockdown has us feeling more disconnected and isolated than ever. What’s more, this study shows that listening to dreams actually benefits the hearer, since it improves their moral imagination.
So there you have it. Next time someone wants to tell you about their dream, let them.