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Try This Exercise If You Have Difficulty With Complex Emotions in Dreams


Last time, I wrote about an exercise I came up with that helps battle procrastination. Today, I want to talk about an exercise I created when I had a dream that brought up difficult and conflicting emotions.

Recognizing and dealing with complex emotions is a difficult process for people with schizoaffective disorder. For me, I feel like my disability — schizoaffective disorder — and related complex emotions led to my addictive behavior in adulthood. Now that I am in recovery from addiction, I have to deal with the complex emotions I have on a daily basis in productive ways — ways I never learned when I was younger. Regularly, I go through life pushing my emotions aside so I can tackle the task at hand, whatever that may be. Sometimes, the only way my feelings come to the surface is through emotional and elaborate dreams that leave me feeling upset and confused the next day. On one particular day this happened, I decided to write out a few details of the dream and the emotions it brought up. It turned into an exercise that I want to share with you today, I call it: “The Bad Dream Feeling Analysis.”

If you have a dream that leaves you feeling emotional and confused in the morning, one good thing to do is start with a fresh piece of paper and write “Dream Feelings” on the left side, and “Real Life Feelings” on the right side. Try to remember your dream from roughly the beginning to end and how you felt at each stage. Here is an example from a recurring dream I have. I have a dream I am back in high school and I am performing in a school play. The only problem is that it is opening night and I realize I haven’t practiced at all. I don’t know any of the blocking or cues, let alone my lines. How did this make me feel in my dream? Well, I was confused, scared, embarrassed, angry, ashamed, sad and hurt.

It took time to recognize and name these feelings but after thinking it through, I was able to label them. There is something about naming and labeling dream emotions that comes much more easily than real life emotions for me. I think it is partly due to the fact these feelings are “not real” to some extent because they are brought up by the far-fetched scenario of the dream world. But the magic of this exercise is the fact that labeling your dream emotions can open the door to labeling your real-life emotions too.

After I had worked out how the dream was making me feel, I went back to the day before and thought about the emotions I was feeling during the day. I came up with the four emotions — confused, frustrated, scared and guilty. I found it very interesting that two of the key emotions – one that started the whole scary scenario in my dream and one that followed soon after – were also present in my real life day before I went to sleep. Maybe the feelings I was having during the day, and I didn’t recognize, popped up in my dream, demanding to be dealt with. I don’t know enough about how dreams work to know for sure, but this analysis seemed to make a lot of sense to me. For someone who has schizoaffective disorder and difficulty facing, naming and recognizing emotions, going through this exercise might be rewarding. I know it was for me!

Just to reiterate: I entered my dream feelings in a bullet point list down the left side of the paper and the dream scenario that led to those feelings. On the right side with the real-life feelings, I wrote the feeling I had on the left and the reason I felt those feelings arose in the first place. This really helped me get over the feeling; once it had been recognized, it no longer hung around to haunt my day and I could face my work distraction free.

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash