Recurring Nightmares Are A Sign Of Unmet Psychological Frustrations

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Apparently, eating a banana in your dream signifies your hard work will be met with little reward. If you dream that you are a parking attendant, on the other hand, you are lacking direction in life. On the upside, it also means that you are always helping others achieve their goals. That's according to an online dream dictionary so the scientific reasoning behind these omens can be viewed as shaky at best, but there is solid evidence to show that the content of your dreams reflects your psychological wellbeing.

New research from psychologists at the University of Cardiff, UK, reveals that recurring nightmares indicate an unmet psychological need the dreamer needs to address. The paper, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, seems to be the first to investigate the relationship between dream content and the frustration or fulfillment of certain psychological needs: the need for autonomy, the need to feel close and connected socially, and the need to feel competent.


The scientists – led by Netta Weinstein, a senior lecturer in social and environmental psychology at the University of Cardiff – undertook two studies. In the first, 200 volunteers were asked to report if and how often they experience one of the nine most common nightmares, and then reflect on them.

Interestingly, the most common recurring dreams in the study were being attacked or pursued, falling, and being frozen in fear, whereas the most common one-off nightmares were being attacked or pursued, being frozen with fear, and being locked up.

In the second study, the researchers analyzed three days worth of dream diary entries from 110 participants. The idea here was to explore if and how psychological well-being relates to the deeper level of processing that dreams provide – essentially, whether “bad” dreams are the “left-overs” of unprocessed daily experiences.

Despite certain limitations (for example, the studies relied on retrospective self-reports, which are not always the most accurate), the combined results suggest that people's psychological frustrations do indeed affect dream themes. Those whose psychological needs were not met, either in the long or short-term, reported feeling more frustrated and had more dreams that were frightening or sad in nature. Based on these results, the scientists argue that when psychological needs are unmet for an extended period of time, a dreamer will experience recurring nightmares.


"Waking-life psychological need experiences are indeed reflected in our dreams," Weinstein explained in a statement.

"Negative dream emotions may directly result from distressing dream events, and might represent the psyche's attempt to process and make sense of particularly psychologically challenging waking experiences."


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