I don’t have a lot of nightmares, but when I do, they’re always strange and disturbing in a way that nothing else in life ever is, a bad acid trip crossed with a Stephen King story and wrapped in fat blanket of seriously freaky ugly.
I had one last night. Nothing major. Just a bad dream that jolted me awake in the dark. And I lay there thinking: what’s the up with these things? If dreams are a way for our subconscious to process information and make connections we can’t see consciously, what are nightmares? Do they have a role to play, too, or are they just our brains choosing trick instead of treat?
Nobody really knows. Like a lot of what goes on in the dream state, nightmares are as mysterious as all the wack they throw at us.
One theory I found says they’re a way for our minds to take negative forces like fear, stress, guilt, or sadness and transform them into memories. Because memories exist in the past, they’re easier to cope with than anxieties that live in the present and project the future. In this admittedly weird way, our nightmares may actually be an emotional release that helps us move past current troubles and regain positivity. That could be why we’re more likely to remember our nightmares than we are our dreams. That recollection lets us put whatever prompted them behind us.
Nightmares may also be trying to clue us into things we should be working on. When we have a bad dream in the absence of an obvious trigger, some say it may be guiding us to a personal issue we need to stop avoiding or something that’s bothering us subconsciously and demanding attention.
Others think nightmares are a “rehearsal for adversity,” a chance for our brains to practice handling trouble in case it ever comes.
Whatever the answer, it seems we shouldn’t run from our nightmares. Better to poke around and see what they can teach us. If you ask me, ignoring the wisdom they may hold is a lot scarier than whatever terrors they use to deliver it.