Distressing Dreams

Join discussion

Distressing dreams.

Almost all deaths come as a shock; even when we have been expecting it, the finality of death delivers a psychic blow. One way in which we adjust to that blow is by dreaming.

The style of such dreams is very varied; no two people’s experiences will be the same. Some dream of happy memories. Others have a clear “wish-fulfilment” component. Some seem to follow a given pattern, with minor variants. Some are frankly unhappy, perhaps, for example, displaying a side of the deceased that always caused difficulties. In some the deceased is never actually present; always hinted at, never realised.

For some people, dreams constitute one of the worst aspects of grieving. “It’s as if I just can’t let go of him. Nor him of me….I dread going to sleep.” No matter how rational and matter-of-fact one tries to be about the part the unconscious plays in coming to terms with the new reality, the fear of bad dreams inevitably has a very lowering effect - and makes all the other sources of stress the harder to bear.

Sleep is a vital part of coming to terms with grief. No one likes taking sleeping pills (not least because some are habit forming), but this is one occasion in your life when a sympathetic GP will readily prescribe something that will help. As you know, sleeping pills come in many forms and strengths. If the one that the GP initially prescribes for you is not strong enough, do not hesitate to ask for something else. (And by the same token, if the first form of pill leaves you feeling weird the next morning, it clearly is not the right one for you.)

How long will such dreams persist? No one can say. Some people continue to have them, though usually with decreased frequency, for years. More usually, they cease almost entirely within a few months. But be warned. You may think, after a few weeks, that they have stopped - and you will breathe a sigh of relief. Then - bam! Out of a clear blue sky you will have a very vivid one which will seem to reopen the wound. That is hard. What it is telling you is that the unconscious still has not completed its healing. It needs more time - and perhaps a little attention in the form of meditation, mindfulness, solitude, “inner work”.