Q: What about dreams related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? How do you interpret those?
A: This is a really critical question and, while it’s not a standard dream exploration, I think it’s an important inquiry. For our readers who are less familiar with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), this is the diagnosis that returning soldiers are often given, along with many other individuals who have experienced a traumatic event and/or endured stress over a long period of time. When the body cannot just “shake off” a bad situation, the experience can sort of get stuck, and its residue can be very hard to get out of our systems. Reflections of that residue can show-up in dreams. PTSD often includes symptoms such as a pervasive feeling of unease and negativity in the world, restlessness, sleeplessness, anger, irritability, paranoia, confused thinking, and often lots of nightmares. Nightmares related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are in many ways very different animals from other nightmares and recurring dreams in that they are so persistent, viscerally real, and often relatively true to events actually experienced.
Dreams related to PTSD can feel like a skipping record or a repetitive movement. There is a sense that rather than the unconscious engaging in it’s normal, healthy digestion and processing of events (as can be seen in a great number of dreams, and as I tend to explore here), something is broken and blocked. Nothing is moving, there is no end game, things are just stuck and repeating. Repeating. Repeating.
So what does one do with these dreams? First and foremost, if you are being woken in the middle of the night even occasionally by disturbing dreams, it would be valuable to go talk with someone to sort through where they’re coming from. In general, no amount of ignoring or avoiding these dreams will get them to go away. Not all scary dreams, even recurring ones, are related to a diagnosis of PTSD, but their existence suggests that you could be supported in your well-being by working with someone on them.
Working with PTSD dreams can involve interesting techniques of “re-dreaming,” consciously recreating a negative dream by altering the images and events. This work should be done with the support of a trained person, but the overall structure of this technique begins with re-telling the awful dream and then finding more comforting images within your psyche to offer healing. The symbols are unique and ingrained in each person, but one might replace an image of death with one of life, an image of violence with one of a comforting scene. This happens more intuitively than you might imagine, and the very act engages the unconscious just as we do in sleep, but through intention instead. In this way, one can help to jump-start the psychic rebirth cycle that is natural to all of us. With a little conscious charge, one can support the unconscious skipping-record to get back on grove.
Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!
Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in Jungian psychology and the years of Quarter-Life. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com