Why Do We Have Recurring Dreams And What Do They Really Mean?

By Alyse Borkan  |  Dec 9, 2015
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Whether you’re escaping a pit of hungry alligators, re-living your seventh grade dance, or showing up to work naked, you never seem to be doing anything particularly enjoyable in your recurring dreams. They’re stressful by nature, incredibly common, and often misunderstood. According to Psychology Today, 60-75% of adults experience them at some point. But what do they mean? And why are so many of us replaying the same subconscious stories night after night?

Doctor Lynn Matteson, a practicing psychotherapist in Northampton, MA, who often sees clients with recurring dreams, says they can be evidence that “a person’s unconscious is signaling their conscious mind about something that isn’t fully resolved.” Rather than immediately dismissing them, she often advises these clients to “consider all parts of the dream are parts of themselves. Often, unacknowledged issues to be brought to the surface, theses can be desires, fears, or something else entirely.” These can be simple: a desire for more recognition at work, a need to make up after a fight with a friend, or they could be harder to untangle, depending on the clarity (or lack thereof) of the dream’s images.

Though they’re frustrating, recurring dreams can be useful. Even the darkest and most disturbing can be proof that we’re making progress toward our goals. Psychology Today cites a study that found students who had recurring anxiety dreams before an exam actually performed better, suggesting that the dreams indicated a stronger drive to succeed academically.

These familiar nighttime scenarios can also help resolve more serious psychological issues. Dr. Matteson explains that, “In the case of PTSD, a recurring dream can be a haunting reminder of a traumatic incident. In that case, a client may be remembering having been trapped in an unsafe situation where their nervous system’s reflex is to respond in the fight or flight mode, but physically could not.” With time, these reminders can help to heal old wounds. Matteson suggests that clients “imagine successfully running away to safety or successfully fighting off the danger. In this way you can almost program your own dreams as a corrective experience.”

For many, recurring dreams will stop once the underlying source of stress has been resolved. For others, they’ll continue to crop up during difficult times — whether or not the dream’s scenario is relevant to the situation at hand. However they manifest, and whatever they entail, give your recurring dreams some thought when you wake up. Any excuse to spend an extra 5 minutes in bed, right?

Contributed by Carlos Mejia

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