Cosmo Romance Dreams

Cosmo Romance Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyA couple of years ago a reporter from Cosmopolitan magazine sent me a list of dream types she had gathered from other women in her office.  I can’t remember if an article ever appeared, but I thought the dreams were interesting as expressions of the concerns many women feel about their romantic relationships.  Here is the intro I gave to the reporter, the dream types, and my comments. (Note: I just found a copy of the article.  It appeared in the December 2010 issue, p. 112, under the rather lurid title “What Your Freaky Love Dreams Mean.”)

 

Many of these dreams seem to have a distressing, negative tone, so let me say that in general I look at “bad” dreams and nightmares as valuable opportunities for insight and growth.  Such dreams usually revolve around the most emotionally important and challenging issues of our lives.  They focus on our difficulties precisely in order to give us a deeper understanding of what’s going on and what we might do about it.

 

1) You’re back with an ex.
*Is there a different interpretation depending on whether the ex you dreamt about was a nice guy who you had a good relationship with vs. a bad guy who didn’t treat you well?
Dreaming about one’s past romantic partners never ends.  He may be gone from your waking life, but, for better or worse, he’ll linger in your dreams forever.  These kinds of dreams do NOT automatically mean you want to get back together with him.  Rather, they reflect the complex and long-lasting impact any serious relationship makes on your unconscious mind. The details of the dream are important: I would want to know, in what situations does your ex appear?  What kind of emotional energy does he bring into the dream scenario?  If he’s a “good” ex, perhaps the dream suggests there’s still a way in which his presence is a helpful force in your waking life.  If he’s a “bad” ex, maybe it reflects a sense of still being trapped in the relationship, or possibly threatened by something symbolized by his kind of personality.

2) Your partner betrays you in some way (like cheating, lying, or revealing something personal about you to everyone).
This is the price of a committed relationship: a vulnerability to betrayal.  No matter how strong a relationship may appear in waking life, both people inevitably suffer some degree of insecurity, both conscious and unconscious, about their partner’s being unfaithful.  This insecurity naturally comes out in dreams that vividly portray how badly you would feel if your partner violated your trust and fidelity.  It’s possible the dreams are clues to an actual problem in the relationship (again, the details matter), but usually such anxiety dreams are reminders of our exposure to extreme emotional pain whenever we form a romantic bond with someone else.
3) You blow it with your man (whether by having a one-night stand, saying something cruel to him, etc.).
Monogamy doesn’t come easily.  We all have within us complex and conflicting feelings about our romantic partners.  It’s important to acknowledge and accept those feelings when they arise in dreams, even if we don’t necessarily act on them.  That said, if someone were having these dreams frequently, I’d certainly wonder about the quality of their waking relationship.
4) You’re engaged, and there’s something off about your ring—the stone is missing or so small you can’t see it, it’s ugly, etc.

An engagement ring is an ancient emblem of love and commitment, a very public announcement of two people’s plans for a future life together.  This makes it an excellent dream symbol for a person’s feelings about the impending marriage.  Because the focus in these dreams is usually on the appearance of the ring, I’d want to ask if there’s a concern about the appearance vs. the substance of the relationship.

5) Something weird happens during your wedding (like you can’t see the groom’s face).

A wedding is one of the most momentous rituals of human society, a true rite of passage that forever binds two people’s lives into one.  The awesome magnitude of this life change is often reflected in distressing dreams of wedding day disaster.  A Buddhist perspective might be helpful here: In that tradition’s view, a dream of wedding catastrophe could be a good dream because it shows your old way of life is dying and a new and better way of life is being born.  The weirdness reflects the shifting of your reality from the past to the future.  In the case of the groom’s missing face, it might be that his appearance and personality are not the primary focus here; what’s ultimately important is the power of the vows you’re making with him.

Animals in Dreams

Animals in Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyBelow is the section on animal dreams from my video talk for the IASD Australian Regional Conference held last week in Sydney.  I would be very interested in hearing from people whose dreams include types of animals NOT mentioned in my findings, to help us develop an even broader sense of oneiro-zoology (yes that’s a made up word!).

 

Animals: I searched the SDDb for many different types of animal-related words, but I’m sure I missed some, so this is an area needing improvement.  What I found in this study [of 2087 total dreams, 1232 female and 855 male] was 16% of the female reports and 14% of the male reports including at least one animal reference.  Consistent with what previous researchers have found, the children’s dreams in my sample have a higher percentage of animal references (24% for the girls, 20% for the boys).  Does this mean children are “closer” to nature than adults?  Perhaps.  It does seem that a higher proportion of animals in children’s dreams (or should we say a diminished proportion of animals in modern Western adults’ dreams?) is a stable pattern across many studies.

The animals that appeared most often were, in order, dogs, cats, horses, bears, fish, snakes, birds, and insects.  The first three—dogs, cats, and horses—are among the most familiar domestic animals.  Bears are NOT domestic animals, and they actually appear most often to be aggressive, threatening creatures in dreams.  Among different types of fish, sharks appear frequently like bears, as frightening predators, putting the dreamer in the harrowing position of prey, the hunted.  In other dreams, however, ocean dwelling creatures like whales and dolphins reveal an amazing intelligence that teaches the dreamer something new about the natural world.

Dream Recall and Political Ideology: Results of a Demographic Survey

Dream Recall and Political Ideology: Results of a Demographic Survey by Kelly BulkeleyAn article with the title above just appeared in the IASD journal Dreaming, vol. 22(1), March 2012, pp. 1-9.  It’s the latest in a series of research projects I began in 1992 on the interaction of politics and dreaming.  The abstract for the new paper is below; links to the other projects are below that.  All the data for the new project are available at the Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb). 

Here’s a pdf file of the article:

Dream Recall and Political Ideology final

A brief report on the study just appeared in the “Week in Ideas” section of the Wall Street Journal.

The results of this new study are consistent with my previous findings suggesting that American liberals tend to be worse sleepers and more expansive dreamers than American conservatives, who tend to be better sleepers and relatively minimal dreamers.

Abstract: This report presents findings from a survey of 2992 demographically diverse American adults who answered questions about dream recall and questions about their political views. Participants who described themselves as “liberal” or “progressive” (n = 802) were compared to people who described themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative” (n = 1335). Previous studies have suggested that political liberals tend to have higher dream recall than political conservatives. The results of the present survey provide new evidence in support of this hypothesis. On all 11 questions asked about different types of dream recall, people on the left reported higher frequencies than people on the right. The same pattern was found when the two groups were divided by gender: Liberal males reported consistently higher dream recall than conservative males, as did liberal females compared to conservative females. These findings indicate that political ideology is at least one of the cultural factors influencing dream recall frequencies among American adults.

2008.  American Dreamers: What Dreams Tell us about the Political Psychology of Conservatives, Liberals, and Everyone Else (Beacon Press).

2006. Sleep and Dream Patterns of Political Liberals and Conservatives. Dreaming, vol. 16(3), pp. 223-235.

2002. Dream Content and Political Ideology. Dreaming, vol. 12(2), pp. 61-77.

1995. Political Dreaming: Dreams of the 1992 Presidential Election.  In Among All These Dreamers: Essays on Dreaming and Modern Society (State University of New York Press).

 

Mary Shelley’s Baby Comes Back to Life

Mary Shelley's Baby Comes Back to Life by Kelly BulkeleyIn February of 1815 a baby girl was born two months prematurely to Mary Godwin, seventeen years old at the time, and the poet Percy B. Shelley.  Twelve days later Mary went to the child during the night and found she had died in her sleep.  On March 19, 1815 Mary recorded the following dream in her journal:

 

“Dreamt that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby. I think about the little thing all day. Not in good spirits.”

 

It would be easy to interpret this dream as a guilt-driven fantasy, a classic Freudian wish fulfillment.  We don’t know for sure, but we can fairly assume that Mary felt deeply saddened and somehow personally responsible for her child’s death.  The dream, in this view, satisfies her desire to defy death and magically restore her child’s life rather than tragically losing it.

The limits of that interpretation become apparent when the dream’s waking life impact is taken into account.  The dream did not diminish or obscure Mary’s awareness of what had happened.  On the contrary, the dream made Mary more aware of the reality of her child’s death and more conscious of her agonizing feelings of loss.  Far from a soothing delusion, this dream’s message to Mary seems almost cruel in its stark honesty: “Awake and find no baby.”

A better interpretation, I believe, starts with the dream’s emotional impact on her waking life. Mary’s dream marks a significant moment in her mourning process, her psyche’s way of making sense of a devastating loss and trying to reorient towards future growth.  Mary’s dream does not hide or disguise her child’s death.  When she wakes up, her first thought brings a fresh sense of loss and sadness.  But the dream also introduces a spark of vitality into Mary’s awareness.  Warmth, fire, and vigorous activity do indeed stimulate the creation of new life.  Mary’s dream is not delusional about that piece of primal wisdom. Mary may not have been able to bring her baby back to life, but she still had the drive, desire, and knowledge to create again.

Out of her mourning Mary did find new creative energies.  In January of 1816 she bore a healthy son, William.  That summer, she and Percy Shelley visited the poet Lord Byron at his villa beside Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her first novel: “Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus.”

Mary Shelley's Baby Comes Back to Life by Kelly Bulkeley“Frankenstein” surely reflects the same wishful fantasy as Mary’s dream of the previous year, i.e., bringing the dead back to life.  But the differences are significant: In her dream, a mother tries to reanimate her daughter, whereas in “Frankenstein,” a male scientist tries to animate a creature stitched together from many different bodies.  The dream portrays a natural human desire for a personal relationship, while the story presents an unnatural and inhuman desire for impersonal control over another’s life. In “Frankenstein” Mary adds to her dream a dimension of horror and madness, along with a prescient critique of the self-destructive hubris and masculine grandiosity of modern science.  I don’t know much about her relationship with Percy Shelley, Byron, and other male poets, but I would guess that “Frankenstein” also reflects Mary’s feelings about gender, sexuality, and literary creativity.

Mary’s dream of her baby daughter did not simply inspire the “bring the dead back to life” plot line of “Frankenstein.”  The dream prompted a transformative deepening of her awareness about the creative tension between life and death, an awareness that enabled her to infuse “Frankenstein” with critical insight, emotional poignancy, and existential wonder.

 

 

Children’s Dreams: A Word Search Analysis (part 4)

Children's Dreams: A Word Search Analysis (part 4) by Kelly BulkeleyTo summarize the results of the word search analysis so far:

The dreams of this group of 622 children ages 8-18 have more references to family, animals, and fantastic beings, more happiness and sadness, and more flying as compared to the Hall and Van de Castle “norm dreams” of young adults.

As mentioned earlier, it took less than half an hour to search all the dreams for the 40 word categories.  It would have taken perhaps 100 hours to get equally precise results using what used to be a standard method of dream content analysis (i.e., a team of two people reading the dreams, coding them, then comparing results and determining intercoder reliability).

A word search approach doesn’t eliminate the need for people.  It frees them to devote those extra 99 ½ hours to higher-level analyses and intuitive explorations of patterns in the data.

Now that I’ve got this initial orientation to the set of dreams as a whole, I can look in more detail at particular groups.  First up is gender—what are the male-female patterns in this set of dreams?

Of the 622 participants, 228 were boys and 394 are girls.  It’s a girl-biased sample, which for various reasons is fairly common in dream research.

The boys and girls have similar frequencies on perceptions, with the boys using somewhat more intensity words and the girls having more references to color.  The girls have somewhat more fear, and the boys more happiness.  They are mostly the same on cognition and nature words.  The girls have more family and animal references and more friendliness, while the boys have more physical aggression.  The boys have more references to Christianity, the girls more to death.  (see the table below)

In adulthood, women tend to have higher frequencies than men on many dimensions of dream content and recall, which was mostly the case with this group of children, i.e. the girls were higher than the boys on many categories.

The biggest exception is the higher physical aggression among the boys, which fits with previous studies of gender differences in dream content.  If confirmed by other studies of children’s dreams, this finding would indicate that a gender disparity in aggressive dreaming appears very early in psychological development.

More unexpectedly, the boys had a higher frequency of happiness in their dreams.  If the continuity hypothesis applies here, does it mean boys are happier in general than girls?  I’ll have to look at the dream narratives in more detail to see what that might be about.

Part Five:From numbers to narrative

YQ Males YQ Females
(N=228) (N=394)
Perception
Vision 20.6 20.1
Hearing 3.5 4.6
Touch 0.9 3.3
Smell 0 0.5
Taste 0.9 0.5
Intensity 19.7 15.2
Chromatic color 4 5.6
Achromatic color 2.6 5.3
Aesthetic evaluation 11 14.7
Emotion
Fear 17.1 21.1
Anger 2.6 3.3
Sadness 4.4 4.8
Confusion 1.3 2.8
Happiness 12.3 8.1
Cognition
Awareness 2.6 4.6
Speech 12.3 16
Imagination 0 0.8
Planning 0.4 1
Choice 4.4 2.8
Effort 1.8 0.5
Reading/writing 0.9 2.3
Nature
Weather 2.2 2.3
Fire 4 4.8
Air 5.7 3.3
Water 11 9.4
Earth 6.6 5.3
Flying 6.6 4.1
Falling 5.7 7.4
Characters
Family 39 45.4
Animals 18 20.1
Fantastic beings 6.6 5.3
Social Interactions
Friendliness 28.5 37.3
Physical aggression 22.4 16
Sexuality 2.2 1.5
Culture
School 16.7 16
Transportation 12.7 11.9
Technology 7 5.1
Money 4.8 2.5
Christianity 5.7 2.3
Death 4.8 7.6

Lucid Dreaming Quiz Answers

Lucid Dreaming Quiz Answers by Kelly BulkeleyWho is more likely to say they have had a dream of being aware they are dreaming:

Men or women?  Women 66.8%, Men 59.8%

People between the ages of 30 and 49 or people age 65 and older?  Between 30 and 49 68.6%, 65+ 54.8%

Whites, African-Americans, or Hispanics? Hispanics 67.3%, Whites 62.4%, African-Americans 58.9%

People who make less than $25K a year or people who make more than $100K a year? <$25K 67.8%, $100K+ 64.8%

People who are politically progressive or people who are very conservative? Progressives 68.9%, Very Conservatives 58.3%

People who live in the Southern US or people who live in the Western US? Western 66%, Southern 59.6%

McCain voters or Obama voters? Obama 67.3%, McCain 56.8%

People who say they are “spiritual not religious” or people who say they are neither spiritual nor religious? Spiritual not religious 66.1%, neither spiritual nor religious 59.4%.

OK, what do you think we should we make of these results?

The differences aren’t huge, and in every case the low end of the spectrum is still greater than 50%.  I’d say these findings, based on a survey of 2992 American adults, adds more evidence to the idea that lucid dreaming is a widespread phenomenon among the general public.

Women tend to remember dreams than men, and younger people tend to remember usually recall more dreams than older people, so the results on gender and age make sense.

The racial/ethnic finding is intriguing.  I don’t know of any other research on this question.

The political results are certainly consistent with my previous research on this topic. 

The political dynamic may account for the regional difference, with somewhat more lucid dream recall in the West than the South.  As a California native this seemed an obvious one to me, but no one guessed it.

The spirituality/religion results mayreflect the appeal of lucid dreaming to people who are spiritual seekers of one form or another. 

The income difference isn’t that large.  From what I can tell of the results from the whole survey, income has more of an impact on the recall of frightening dreams (higher among those lower on the income scale).