[Written around 2005.]
Dreams and traumatic experiences have much in common.
Both involve intense emotion, though in traumatic experiences the emotion results from external stimuli, whereas in dreams it comes from internal flashbacks of the split-off trauma we carry in our psyche. No surprise that adults and children with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder often have terrible flashbacks in their dreams.
Both involve periods of dissociation. Many trauma victims emotionally “fly away” in their minds to escape the horror they are experiencing. Not surprisingly, flying dreams are common.
Both are connected with our parents. Our parents in childhood are our primary traumatizers, because when we were children they had more power over us than will anyone later in our life. It’s no surprise that parents, either overtly or covertly, symbolize so much in dreams, especially when our primary traumas start to bubble up.
Both are connected with psychosis. Extreme traumatic experiences can cause psychosis, whereas dreams themselves are nothing more than psychosis during sleep. And the most traumatized people do their dreaming while awake – by hallucinating and having delusions.
Both involve denial. Society denies all but the most intense traumas and minimizes the rest; most people do the same with their dreams. In this vein, most people believe they had a happy, non-traumatic childhood; these are the same people who wish you “sweet dreams” at night.
Both involve the repetition compulsion. We compulsively replicate our unresolved traumas in an attempt to heal them. Likewise, we often have repeats of the same dreams – or dream themes.
Both rupture the borders of our personality. Traumatic experiences force their way through the psyche like a nail through a board, whereas dreams are the psyche’s attempt to pull the nail out of the board.
As such, both involve the essence of our life’s process. Traumatic experiences destroy life; dreams hope to reclaim it.