Why Do We Have Bad Dreams?

By Marianne Mancusi Beach, GalTime.com

Nightmare on Your Street....

When I was a kid, I always suffered a re-occurring nightmare of a man, chained up in a dark hallway. Every night I had to run past him as fast as I could, to get where I was going. But one night I decided to creep past him slowly instead, just to see what would happen. He grabbed me and threw me down, tickling me (in the dreams the tickles hurt!) -- not letting me go.

I woke up in a cold sweat.

Nightmares. We've all had them. The ones that seem so real that when we wake up it's hard to believe that they were just a dream.

Or are they? Are your dreams--both good and scary--really trying to tell you something? We spoke to Jean Campbell, a dream researcher and author, and member of the Board of Directors of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She says there are no "bad" dreams--as each dream, no matter how scary, can teach us something about ourselves.

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For example, children around the age of five often experience "night terrors" -- waking up from scary dreams. "Researchers believe that that night terrors are connected with both the separation process, as the child becomes individualized; and with physical growth and development," says Campbell. "This is the period during which children may begin dreaming of being chased by a monster."

So what can parents do to console a scared child?

"Rather than laugh at these dreams, adults can teach children to become aware that they are dreaming and that they can tell the monster or witch to go away," says Campbell. "In other words, children can learn at an early age to confront their fears in the dream state."

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Adults can also use nightmares as an opportunity to work out their fears in a safe environment. Campbell says frequently these scary dreams are the result of our failure to look at what's really bothering us while we're awake. "They are the voice of our unconscious saying, 'Wake up!'" she says. "Of course these nightmares make us uncomfortable, because they speak to us of things we would prefer to be unaware of. However, if we explore these dreams, we may find them to be the body's early warning system in action."

So how do we use the dream? Well, first off, like with a child, don't dismiss the dream as "stupid" or "just scary," Campbell suggests. "Look at them as the tools of our consciousness that they seem to be. In dreams, we provide ourselves with a wealth of information. We can call on our dreaming selves to provide solutions and answers as well."

If you need help facing your dreams, she adds, there are psychotherapists, dream groups, and other experts to help. Just don't give into the temptation to repress them altogether no matter how disturbing they may be.

"Many people do just that, saying to themselves 'I don't like these dreams. I won't remember them any more,'" says Campbell. "This solution, though it may work at the moment, can sometimes allow pressures to build up that emerges later in physical ailments or other problems."

For more information on nightmares and their role in our lives, you can go to the International Association for the Study of Dreams' website.

What's your biggest nightmare? How did you conquer it...or what do you do to deal with bad dreams?

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