Tuesday, August 3, 2010

emotion-processing through dreams

I've been having a repeating theme in my dreams lately -- of someone I was once very close to avoiding me or not wanting to associate with me; basically just being rudely dismissive of me. The emotion I feel during these dreams is an unpleasant feeling to be sure -- and leaves a bit of a bad taste when I wake up. But, still it's just a dream and I can usually brush it off and go about my day just fine. Like most bad dreams.

Today however, it crossed my mind to wondering why I've been having so many of these types dreams about this single person -- who is not in my life much these days -- and shouldn't be turning up so often.

I don't think it's a coincidence that this afternoon I listened to the Radiolab podcast that I did -- though I just popped on the next one in line. I got some very interesting insight. According to the podcast, current research about sleep shows that the brain not only reviews/replays experiences during sleep but sorta re-mixes experiences -- blending events together into new events -- making connections (a kind of learning & creating). The brain choose what to use by keeping track of the emotions you feel -- it puts "a sticky" on everything that is difficult during the day to "work on it later." In sleep it uses those things to create these sorta "free associations" -- creations i.e. dreams prompted by things that happened that caused strong emotions. The hypothesis is that strong emotions need the vivid dream in order to be processed.

I've been learning to consciously pass through my emotions better these last few month -- When they come upon my I step through them and move on, rather than dwelling in them. However, there are still flashes of strong resentment and feelings of having been abandoned by this person who used to be at the core of my life and I think that unconsciously all the moments of strong emotions associated with not hearing from him or not getting a response to letters, along with other daily reminders that I don't know anything about his life and that we are no longer connected-friends anymore -- while they aren't overpowering me while I'm awake -- are manifesting themselves in the processing of my dreams.

An example: I send an email, a couple days pass with no response, I think "oh well he's busy" and move on...but the emotion that he just doesn't care for or respect me enough to respond, even though I don't let it get beyond just a flash of emotion, still gets flagged and then manifests itself in a dream about him brushing me off...make sense?

What I'm driving at here, is how interesting an idea it is that the body aids itself in taking it's emotions (physical responses) and processes them in a physical way (a dream). To me, it seems like my body is helping me to remove the emotional reactions I have to this person.

After some online searching I found that there is new research, presented at a meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Seattle, which confirms my idea that I am using sleep to process a complex emotion. "Sleep essentially is resetting the magnetic north of your emotional compass," says Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley in a Time article. He explains that "one function of REM sleep — dreaming, in particular — is to allow the brain to sift through that day's events, process any negative emotion attached to them, then strip it away from the memories." Like applying a "nocturnal soothing balm" which “tries to ameliorate the sharp emotional chips and dents that life gives you along the way.” Not that it is to make you forget, it's just a way to make a memory no longer an emotional episode because “If you don’t let go of the emotion, what results is a constant state of anxiety.”

It really is an interesting and complicated process when it's slowly drawn out over a long period of time -- as in this particular instance in my life. To be honest, it seems to be making it a more complete and thorough dissolution of all emotions tied to this person.

Any input/ideas/similar experiences?

(I found a hefty article related to the topic in a psychological science journal that I will read and report on asap!)

No comments:

Post a Comment