The Psychology Behind Good And Bad Dreams

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What we hide away, comes up via the dreams. We get our answers of what is important in our life and what’s not.

In order to behave in a society with the rest of the living creatures, we adapt. We alter our personality, or rather it alters our perception of self, to communicate with the world around us. Among these alterations are boundaries set with the other, including the words we say and the actions we do. However, these boundaries aren’t innate within ourselves. In other words, there are no limitations to what we can think about. Physical signals try to stop us from killing our bodies by damaging them or taking things to an extreme. This free space, otherwise known as the mind, is yours and yours exclusively. As of today, we haven’t developed a technology that allows us to read ones thoughts clearly. And so, we are left with the freedom of thought. What does that entail? What about internal prejudice and ethics? Do they not influence the way we think? Is it truly a free space if our thoughts, supposedly exclusively private, are dictated by our perception and reception of the world around us?

What is the Psyche?

There are three levels of the mind model: conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. There is a tendency to mix subconscious and unconscious but the further we delve into the matter of the mind, the more we’ll understand how different they are. The conscious, to simply define it, is the collection of thoughts and actions. There is a kind of awareness that occurs throughout our waking – sober – times. It registers all the information gathered from the actions done, to do, and future situations. It draws links and send signals throughout the body and mind to determine the comprehension of our surroundings, to communicate, and to further evolve in our existence. The subconscious is the hard drive of the conscious. Everything we experience with all of our senses is thrown in the subconscious, a place we supposedly aren’t aware of, to harvest and grow. Eventually, it determines our thoughts and actions. So, it fuels the conscious. Finally, the unconscious; it is the deepest part of the brain. It stores all memories and past events. We can paint an image of the mind as a computer, but it is scientifically called “the psyche”. The things we see, the information stored on the device itself, and the external drive. How do they coordinate? How do they operate in sync, complementing or destroying each other? How does the data transfer from one place to another? How aware are we of our situation?

Conscious: Everything You Experience

First, the conscious. Taking a daily scenario simplifies the logic behind the upcoming statements. Our bodies are machines that are meant to rest and recharge to function during waking hours. Our time of rest is hugely influenced by our unconscious, but we will discuss this later on in the article. As soon as our eyes open after a period of relaxation and we gain consciousness of our surroundings, it begins. We’re up. Every thought that comes to mind is one that we are aware of. Getting out of bed, eating breakfast, walking to work, sitting at your desk, working on tasks, getting up, talking with co-workers, texting your friends, taking the metro, looking at people…The list goes on, as long as you remain awake. There is an infinite amount of triggers throughout every bundle of atoms perceptible. These triggers ignite specific veins within the mind, generating a response; both are found in other parts of the brain. As the flow seems to run smoothly from one part to another, the conscious remains ignorant of any precipitations until a typically post-toddler age. Suddenly, we gain awareness, and it is the latter’s job to push our conscious to discover what is stored inside. In later years, around puberty once a person begins to develop, the subconscious’s presence becomes imminent. Reactions and behaviors are traced back to an origin, the data that was registered at the moment of reception. Traumas and associations are created when a significant event happens in our conscious life. They’re best described as a patient entering an emergency room; there’s never a reason to go to a hospital unless there’s pain somewhere. It could be internal, it could be an external wound, but it still hurts. If not treated properly complications will occur. Moreover, throughout the day our thoughts do not stop. Whether they are spoken into existence or remain engulfed between the walls of our conscious, their nature doesn’t change. We, as human beings, are vile. In an ideal case scenario, truth would prevail and we wouldn’t need to fear the other or if what he’s saying is true. We lie when convenient, we fake it when needed, and we are more often than not directly going against our own moral code. We have this image of ourselves as these good people among peers, genuine and honest. It is a lot easier to want something and to believe it than to come out with the truth: that we are not who we say we are. Our consistent awareness as we go on with our day reminds us of who we are in the eye of the other and what is deemed acceptable to say. And so, we adapt our words and actions to fit this criteria, only to realize that we’ve been lying this whole time. We try to hide, to disappear. Yet, it never stops. We cannot stop thinking nor being. This is the human condition after all. No matter how deep we bury it, no matter how badly we wish for something to remain out of sight, in the end we’re running from ourselves. The mind model remains intact, it is within, so there is no way out of it. And the more we pretend like it’s not there, the worst it’ll be when it decides to haunt your unconscious. However, we cannot generalize and assume that it is the case for everyone; some people are psychopaths or receive thoughts differently. A murderer, although usually conscious of his crimes, behaved differently in accordance to his thoughts. Whether there was guilt, or as we refer to it “weight on his conscience” is very much dependent on how the subject understands this emotion and on his perception of his actions. You can almost always trace it back to a significant event in the criminal’s life, who’s subconscious stored all of the potential trauma endured, and projected it onto the conscious where the action was taken. On the other hand, guilt, fear, and pain are the most prominent feelings one remembers. And all three are acquired through consciousness. If it is not dealt with quickly enough, the thought will sink into the unconscious like quick sand, and you’ll find yourself being haunted by what happened or what you’ve done. There will hardly be any peace in your unconscious world; your brain becomes your enemy.

Subconscious: Everything You Think

Second, the subconscious. It can best be described as an extension of the unconscious. The latter is the big machine. Our everyday conscious experiences our fuelled by the subconscious. As the name suggests, its present right below the consciousness level. However, the reactions (ie: any conversation you have, the first thought that comes to mind is sent from the subconscious) we get, although not always expressed out loud, are the result of an equation conducted in the subconscious. It gathers all the necessary info needed, composed of judgement, beliefs, opinions, experiences, and perceptions to generate an answer. Your conscious sets the boundaries of what leaves your mouth or what your body does, so any unwanted answer is altered to fit the context. The content present in the subconscious is the wine to the unconscious’s grapes. The wine might taste good, but the grapes are rotting on the bottom. We often try to become “better people”. We try our best to gain control of our actions and thoughts, find a way to make sense of them, perhaps alter the subconscious enough to believe that we are good. Ridding yourself of the judgement available in your subconscious means erasing years worth of construction, unlearning every negative attitude. Interestingly enough, the subconscious is the human in his most vulnerable state, or rather, his most authentic and genuine. All the vile and immoral thoughts, all the disgusting and sinful ideas, and all the repulsive nature of a being unveils. The things we hide from those around us in fear of being judged, or being cornered for the thoughts running through your head. They’re triggered, and suddenly dive into the consciousness. Intrusive thoughts, as their name suggests, are not called for. They appear out of nowhere, and usually disturb the awakened state. And so, we repress. We push a thought down to prevent its existence in reality. There are usually two ways of dealing with things; the first being the concept mentioned, the second is the development of the “letting go” habit. Similarly to extensions found on laptops, adopting the mindset of letting go is adding an extension to your subconscious to clear it out and prevent infection in the unconscious. Nevertheless, flushing out your system is only necessary when you’ve been eating damaging food. This is simply an allegory for experiences endured. By changing your lifestyle and your mindset, you build a healthier way of processing information. The extension added allows you to reflect on a thought and to throw it away if you deem it unworthy of taking up space. By drowning your time in things you love, in hobbies, in your passions, you’re automatically creating a healthier flow of mind for yourself. Nevertheless, it is easier said than done. The disruption that occurs between all three levels stems from a lack of acceptance. Because we have a specific set of morals and ethics, we tend to apply them on ourselves as well. However, our violent nature tends to differ from the ideas we preach. And just like any “abnormal” thing, acceptance is key, quite literally, to unlock yourself from the miseries caused by your own brain. Accepting that you are not necessarily your thoughts, and that the ones you have are not representative of who you think you are or want to be will set you free. Unconditional acceptance of the self reduces the dreadful thoughts, perceiving them as they are, not as we think they are.

Unconscious: Everything You Fear

Third, the unconscious. This huge server encompassing our entire being is located under the subconscious. It holds a collection of every memory, thought process, interest, feeling, and motivation we identified with, and is not accessible for introspection purposes. It is at the core of every ideology developed, every impulse, instinct, intuition, action…It doesn’t discriminate between good and bad, nor does it have a defined meaning to what is good and bad. It simply registers whatever we go through in our conscious times and plants its seed wherever it desires. However, even if the unconscious is not accessible per say, it makes random appearances when possible. Do all three mind levels work in parallel? The unconscious never stops and it only ever reveals itself at the forefront of our mind when the latter isn’t used by the conscious. Furthermore, this can only ever occur in the state of rest: we call them dreams. While our bodies cycle through the phases of sleep, our unconscious begins sending signals to our thalamus – which is located right above the brain-stem and is responsible for regulating the sensory experiences – that are then translated to images, sounds, sensations, smells, and tastes. This is why dreams feel real; nevertheless, the plots stem from the unconscious. So, it can only go as far as your brain allows it. In different words, you cannot dream of literal death. You’ll wake up startled because you have not seen what post-life state is and your brain cannot imagine it. Father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, suggests that the unconscious is the part of the iceberg that we do not see. As it reveals some parts of itself through dreams, we begin to understand that none of it is made up, that the images and the faces we saw are actually a recreation of things we have already seen in our conscious minds. Impacting life events resurface, and the ideas we suppress come back up. One of the main differences between the subconscious and the unconscious is that we repress in the first and suppress in the second. It means pushing down our deepest and darkest thoughts to a place that is so hidden, so inaccessible, and so heavy that no one can ever reach it. Except when it comes back out while you sleep. Any feelings of guilt, anger, fear, resentment, hatred, shame and so on creep up on you when you’re in your most vulnerable state: unconscious, literally. If you’ve experienced trauma as a kid, sexual assault for example, the memory and effects of it are saved. Your entire psyche is altered because of it, but it might take years before you realize how you’ve been affected by it. Your level of awareness varies depending on age and experience, but you might 1) dream of it; this can be triggering and often leaves the subject feeling confused upon waking or 2) react violently; you might respond in a way that you did not expect, or your body might stop cooperating if faced with a provocative situation. Taking the previous example mentioned, trauma is ever-present until it is directly tackled through meditation or therapy. Everything you reject and everything you fear is present in your unconscious; all it takes is a little bit of loss of control for it to surprise you. Aren’t we in control of minds? How can there be a ticking time bomb inside our heads but we can’t even hear it? We tend to forget that we are our own worst enemy. We store experiences in our minds to better understand the world around us and to build our personalities and perceptions among society. But what happens when you’re alone? When there isn’t any stimulating information taking over your brain power? What happens when everything shuts off, when even your body stops receiving, when everything feels so quiet? What happens when all you can feel is the thought stuck like chewing gum under a school desk? Every time you accidentally touch it you feel how disgusting it is. What happens when the walls between the three levels dissipate, and suddenly you can see what you had been blind to. Your unconscious, in all of its dark glory, struts to the front of the stage, smirks as he looks straight into your eyes, nods and sits next to you. He leans down and whispers “you’ve seen it all before”. And so, almost like clockwork, the show begins. All the characters and plots that you buried so deep you forgot they were even there jump around, performing their best dance as you gradually grow more and more paralyzed. Everything you had been running from was now parading in front your own two eyes, the sensory experience making it hard to distinguish between reality and a dream. Or should I say, nightmare? All of it, open to the public, your most vulnerable state throwing dollar bills in encouragement onto the stage. Everything you’ve refused to deal with is now taunting you, and it’s all coming from your insides.

Personality vs. Psyche: Who Are We?

Now that it is clear how the three levels of the mind work, we wonder how our innate personality affects the brain. What exactly is a personality? It is the collection of character traits and individual features that each person has. Based on the previous ideas, doesn’t one’s personality come from the psyche? Personality is subjective. It is determined by two main entities: yourself and the other. We must take into consideration that perception is very much influenced by the psyche. The thoughts you have throughout the day are a result of growing opinions and knowledge. So technically, the psyche is at the source of the personality. Part of it is genetic, some traits we acquire from our parents, but where did those before them get their traits? Is one’s personality just an updated version of their ancestors’ who identified with something that shifted their own? Is the human’s personality a reflection of years worth of data collected in psyches that has evolved? Are we in control of anything? Can we predict how one is and reacts based on an equation? Are we prototypes? If we are a communicative representation of our psyche, do we exist? Is our presence transactional? Do we receive as much as we give? Who we are is the result of every experience registered during our conscious time.

Dreams: Are They A Reflection Of Conscious Life?

After tackling the psyche and personality, we must address what happens when they are not being directly fed because the body is asleep. What really happens when we dream? To begin with, there are various kinds of dreams. Daydreams, false awakening dreams, lucid dreaming, nightmares, and  recurring, intuitive, epic and prophetic dreams. They each have their own description but do not discern between individuals. If you’ve gone through the steps, unconsciously, you might experience one of the mentioned dreams. First, daydreams. As their name suggests, they are the extended version of an active thought you have during your conscious time. It can stem from a sensual need or a trigger, and can wander off to the headquarters of creativity and get lost there. You remain somewhat aware that it is happening, but you are, for a brief moment, letting go of your total consciousness. False awakening dreams appear like a glitch. It feels like you’ve started your car to warm it up, only to realise that you’ve been standing at the door for god knows how long. Technically, it is just a “wrong boot up” of your body where your mind makes you think that you’ve already gotten out of bed, when you’ve actually just opened your eyes. It leaves the subject feeling confused. Lucid dreaming, growing increasingly popular in recent years, is the state of dreaming with your conscious and subconscious active. It is the realisation that you are dreaming. There are ways to prepare the body for lucid dreaming, as many enjoy being in control of the plots in their heads, similar to a “choose your own adventure” experience. It’s the closest thing to being in an alternate universe, conscious but asleep. It makes us wonder about how self-sufficient we are. Next, nightmares. The latter is found deep in the unconscious. All the content and script we dream of throughout the night is a reflection of what is beneath the surface, below the tip of the iceberg. Nightmares are never pleasant; they feel like a bundle of intrusive and hurtful thoughts. They often carry a message to its person signalling that there is a kind of fear that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with. Violent images can appear – sometimes recreating painful scenes accurately and intensely -, and because dreams tend to feel very real, it can leave the dreamer in state of distress upon awakening. There is no escape from ourselves. The things we try to avoid and hide in our unconscious because they scare us, or because they’ve done so much damage that we just want to stop it are never gone. They’re always here, lingering, waiting for their chance to make an appearance. Recurring, intuitive, epic, and prophetic dreams are another way of bringing to the surface the things we do not acknowledge consciously. Nevertheless, we mustn’t forget that it is all inside.


The human mind is a very complex and deep realm. There is an infinite amount of variations and alternates that modify our perception and understanding of life. There is no one definite answer to anything, and every little thing we have ever experienced regardless of its relevancy is stored somewhere. And it has played an influential role in shaping who we are and how we exist among others. The three levels of the mind shape our personality, the one we show to the world and the one we keep to ourselves. One thing that we tend to underestimate is the significance of the data collected and the links created. Nothing is ever lost, it is simply transformed. Nothing is ever escapable, it is always coming back.

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