Our nightmares are our allies

Paralysis, aggression, fall into the void ...: these agonizing scenarios haunt our nights in moments of hardship. If they reflect our inner dramas and conflicts, bad dreams can also be good guides.

Isabelle Taubes

I'm in a building that looks like a disused hospital, maybe it's a factory or a prison. Everything is dark, but I feel a presence. Suddenly a monster, half-man half-snake, emerges. I want to run away, but my body refuses to obey me. The horrible creature approaches whistling. Anxiety goes up. At that moment, I wake up in a sweat ...

Here are some scenes from a typical nightmare, which we all experienced, with a few details, one night or the other ... Three-quarters of dreams submitted to our specialist, the ethnopsychiatrist Tobie Nathan, are nightmares. And it makes sense, because the more a dream worries, the more its author wants to understand the meaning. Nightmares are the transvestite and dramatized reflection of our experience, the questions we ask ourselves, our professional, family and conjugal conflicts. Also, in times of stress, after a divorce, a dismissal, we conceive more. They are by no means a sign of pathological ill-being, unless we produce terrifying ones every night, to the point of becoming insomniacs, a situation that may indicate a latent depression.

These oppressive dreams that our ancestors considered as demons have long been almost perfect unknowns. And even today, they are far from having delivered all their secrets. The interpreters of the dreams of Antiquity were suspicious of it, they preferred to prescribe to the dreamers some rituals to accomplish to get rid of them. In his "science" of dreams, Freud saw in them an attempt to achieve forbidden sexual desires, thanks to the drowsiness of consciousness. An assumption that has not been verified or invalidated by current knowledge. And psychoanalysts themselves have always been a little embarrassed by these bad dreams seeming to conceal no desire. The vast majority of psychologists believe that they help us manage our internal conflicts and regulate our emotions. Putting all our senses on alert, they could well be remnants of the prehistoric era where, deprived of predators, we needed to remain constantly vigilant to survive.

A hidden message?

But the mechanics and function of nightmares remain mysterious. Indeed, studying them scientifically, in the laboratory, is very complicated: reassured by the presence of the researchers who observe them, the dreamers tested sleep peacefully.Thanks to contemporary work on sleep, neuroscientists are still able to distinguish two types of nightmares: those that occur during REM sleep, bad dreams leaving us with a feeling of bitterness, frustration, anger or guilt upon waking ; and those that occur during the deepest sleep, the most distressing, that can go as far as those nocturnal terrors from which we are unable to extricate ourselves, and from which we wake up trembling, sweating, our hearts beating wildly. One certainty - to which almost all of us adhere - connects the dream interpreters of ancient times and the contemporary psys: our dreams have a hidden meaning!

According to Tobie Nathan, an ethnopsychiatrist who helps us understand each month, the nightmare, if properly interpreted, "allows us to perceive truths that we feel confusedly, but that we do not want or can not He shows us the hidden strategies of other humans: a classic example: in a company, it is decided that a person will be fired, his superiors have not told him anything, but in this atmosphere full of secrets, the employee will he will have nightmares to prevent him, and they will stop as soon as he can actively cope with the situation. " Would our bad dreams be more reliable than our conscious sensations when it comes to evaluating what we actually live?

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