The moment of terror you feel when being chased by a masked killer, running for your life through a dark alley. You cry out and scream for help but no one can hear you. You fall, and before you know it, the masked killer is standing right in front of you. He pulls out an axe and you wake up drenched in sweat, realizing it was all just a nightmare. We all have experienced this moment, maybe more than once. Nightmares can be very disturbing because it is hard to understand what produces it and why it acts a certain way.
Nightmare is defined as a dream during the rapid eye movement, which provokes intense negative feeling, such as panic, fear, terror, or anxiety. Everyone has experienced a nightmare one time or another in his or her lifetime. But what happens when nightmares start occurring constantly?
The fact is more children experience nightmares more frequently than adults. It is estimated that 50 % of the population does not experience nightmares, according to research done by Tucker Shaw. Approximately 5 to 10% of the population only remembers nightmares once a month, but only small percentage of the population remember nightmares that are disturbing enough effect their lives.
According to Freud, the first psychologist who paid much attention to dreams, stated that nightmares occur based on painful experiences of the past, to startling events that occurred in childhood and even birth itself. These alarming memories of the past left behind psychic problems that an helpless infant could not solve in that given time period. In fact, any grieving experience may leave a nightmare sufferer in angst and guilt. In this perspective, built is associated with the energy used for repetition of undesirable thoughts occurring in both real life and dreams.
A person constantly dreams about “unfinished” situation until that person is able to work through their guilt or angst. Freud called this situation a repetition compulsion. This pattern was also portrayed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth wants Macbeth to kill the kind, first she does not feel any guilt for committing such a sin. But her guilt occurs itself in a nightmare, which makes her go insane.
A physical illness can also cause nightmares, but it is not yet proven whether it is the illness or the stress that causes it. Neurological disorder can also be the cause associated with the occurrence of nightmares such as epilepsy and postencephalitic Parkinsonism. Stressful events in a person’s life such as time of midterms/finals, jobs, moves, or the loss of a significant, can all produce nightmares.
One proven generalization of nightmares is that it always leaves a person feeling helpless. In frequent nightmares that involve getting chased by masked killer, or falling off a cliff, generally leaves the dreamer in distress and feeling powerless. A decrease in nightmares usually occurs as a dreamer becomes more confident, and more mature.
There are some myths about nightmares that are associated with demons or evil spirits that can be the cause of these unpleasant dreams. Some people believe that a person feels an anxiety attack when a demon is pressing up against a dreamer’s chest during their sleep. These anxiety attacks occurring during sleep were considered a form of black magic, or even affiliated with possession. Some people also believe that eating something distasteful before going to sleep maybe also be the cause of it, but there isn’t any solid evidence for these myths. In psychology, there are different perspectives to nightmares. Some scholars believe that nightmares have no actual function.
However, others believe that nightmares reflect the actual fears and attitudes of the dreamer. In this study, a nightmare appears as a process of events that occurred during the day. Latest study proves that dreams do have an important function. “Evidence suggests that dreaming, like most other physiologic events, is important for learning and memory processing, gives cognitive feedback about a person’s mental functioning and helps a person adapt to emotional and physical stress” (Moffitt, 1993, p. 118).
The themes of nightmares seem to be quite universal. These nightmares have symbolic interpretation and show the part of personality where a problem most likely exits in real life. It seems as if nightmares have complex function.
“Nightmares.” 123HelpMe.com. 30 Sep 2013
Time life books. Dreams and Dreaming. 1990 Time life Books Inc. Tucker, Shaw. Dreams. New York: 17th Street, 2000.