Make no mistake about it, breakups are traumatic. Dreams that are haunted by an ex are an entirely natural, if draining and painful sign of post-traumatic stress.
No, we aren’t going insane. In this article I’ll attempt to illustrate why these dreams are necessary and how to reduce the chance of them occurring in the first place.
Nightmares Aren’t Senseless
Dealing with recurrent ex-related nightmares can initially seem a little senseless. Why is our subconscious mind hellbent on making our present miserable, what purpose does this serve?
The role of nightmares in post-traumatic stress remains a little scientifically murky (to me as a scientific layman at least), however, given the context of a breakup, I find William’s interpretation (1983, p. 4) to be the most resounding. In this case, the trauma-borne nightmare is simply a way for our subconscious mind to navigate:
an adaptive pathway in the search for personal meaning
Convincing ourselves consciously that we’re better off accepting our predicament is only half the battle. Our subconscious mind must also grieve the loss of a comfort zone. So, how does it do this?
- By simulating.
- By attempting to resurrect the past (it wants its routine back).
- By trial and error.
This subconscious stress response (the nightmare) is not something we can control, and is wholly independent of conscious thought. On the plus side however, this emotional tug of war with the conscious mind is a sign that a battle for long-term acceptance is being fought. Sooner or later the subconscious mind will come to naturally accept a new reality, and stop lamenting the old one.
Helping The Subconscious Mind Heal
Once we realize the futility of attempting to simply “snap out of it”, that our pain is not a character driven weakness, we can begin to make things better by helping our subconscious mind transition through its own grief.
The quicker we can usher in a new day-to-day routine (whether it is immediately fulfilling or not), the quicker the subconscious mind will stop ruminating over the previous one. In this case, when I say moving on, I mean it literally not figuratively. Here are a few quintessential examples:
- Re-acquainting ourselves with our social circles – Chances are that the breakup has caused a great deal of dust to line our list of ailing acquaintances. Engaging a new social spectrum is a powerful subconscious way of building a new routine that our mind is comfortable embracing.
- Physical exercise – Physical exercise not only calms the acuteness of our body’s autonomic stress response by releasing naturally occurring painkillers (endorphins), it also improves our overall health and self-image (repairing self-esteem is critical to moving on).
- Experiencing new things – Picking up new hobbies, traveling and indulging the senses are a great way of gently tearing our brains away from fixating on grief and processing something else instead. Essentially diluting the acuteness of emotional pain (and making it bearable).
The list is endless. Although it may seem like a round-a-bout argument to make, stopping the frequency of having our ex crown our nightmares involves keeping the mind and the body physically active and focused. Of course, adjusting our existential philosophy isn’t the only way to combat grief, particularly if it is severe.
When And How To Get Help
At the end of the day I am just a guy with his dubious opinions. I am certainly not qualified to dispense clinical psychological support. If your nightmares are beginning to severely affect your overall health I would advise seeking professional help. There’s no reason to wallow in sorrow, and much can be done to address emotional trauma in a clinical setting (results are often overnight).
If visiting a psychologist is either too expensive or not something you are prepared to do, you might want to consider tapping into a free relationship support hotline (operated by personal qualified to give you the feedback you need).