Okay, time to get a little ‘academic’ here, yes I know that I’m about to lose half my audience with that word, but read on for I’m about to talk about the ‘emotional’ side of dreams and dream recall.
According to Rosenberg (1998) emotions can be thought of on both state and trait levels that is on the ‘state’ level emotions are temporary and frequently related to what’s happening in and around a moment or period of time whereas at the trait level we’re talking about individual differences such as with mood tendencies i.e. how one generally reacts to emotional stimuli.
Our dreams are generally emotional in nature and interact with emotional oscillations in our waking state and both state and trait emotions affect our dream content and narratives. This is why I encourage those who send their dreams to me for analysis to include the emotional content of the dream as well as what is happening in their waking world circumstances.
Interestingly those people who’s typical response to emotional material is to repress it or deny its existence or that it has any effect on them are those that have trouble recalling their dreams. This may be due to the fact that the personality tendency to repress during wakefulness shows up in their ability to recall e.g. some part of the overall psyche of the individual inhibits the recall because of its emotional content (Kai & Yu, 2013). These so-called repressors also tend to disavow negative social experiences and negative emotions in general.
Research done by Wegner, Wenzlaff, and Kozak (2004) also suggested that thoughts suppressed prior to sleeping and dreaming would tend to show up in one’s dreams. This idea that suppressed material relegated to the unconscious would revisited us in our dreams has been a theme in many of my writings on the subject over the years. Kohler and Prinzleves (2007) also suggested that “dream memories that elicit more unpleasant feelings and stronger skin conductance responses (as one might find in a lie detector test) are more likely to be forgotten.” This might explain why some can’t recall their dreams especially when they have a high emotional content.”
Though emotional repression tends to protect from immediate emotional disturbance, research shows that those with a repressive or denial coping style tend to have higher anxiety traits than those who don’t i.e. than those who tend to deal more directly with their emotions (Weinberger et al, 1979).
My experience in the interpretation of people’s dreams has shown across the thousands of dreams that I have worked with that females tend to share more of the emotional content of a dream as well as their waking life emotional content that may affect their dreams. This gender difference has been generally supported by studies that show that women tend to share dreams more often than men (see Schredl & Shwainski, 2010 overview) and have a higher dream recall than men. Women tend to recall and share nightmare material more than men as well. This of course would be consistent with the general tendency of people exhibiting the feminine orientation toward the social-emotional versus the masculine attribute of being action oriented. These gender differences might also explain why most of the dream groups I’ve been associated with as a participant or tangentially as an observer or researcher have been overwhelmingly female.
Dream recall can also be affected by one’s attitude to dreams i.e. the willingness to express one’s dreams affects recall (Schredl et al, 2013).
None of this of course suggests a direct relationship to why people in general tend not recall their dreams. I think that most of us could increase our dream recall with greater focus, attention, and interest in the usefulness of our dreams to problem solving, self-understanding, and self-development. But that’s a subject for a later day.
Kai, C., Yu, Ching, (2013). Superego and the repression of affective and dream experiences. Dreaming, 23, 4, 266-276.
Kohler, T. & Prinzleve, M. (2007) “Is forgetting dreams due to repression?” Swiss Journal of Psychology, 66, 33-40.
Rosenberg, E.L. (1998). Levels of analysis and the organization of affect. Review of General Psychology, 2, 247-270.
Schredl, M. , Kim, E., Labudek, S and Schadler, A. (2013). Gender, Sex role orientation, and dreaming, Dreaming, 23, 4, 277-286.
Schredl, M. & Schwainski, J.A. (2010) Frequency of dream sharing: The effects of gender and personality. The American Journal of Psychology, 123, 93-101.
Wegner, D.M., Wenzlaff, R.M. and Kozak, M. (2004) Dream rebound: The return of repressed thoughts in dreams. Psychological Science, 15, 232-236.
Winberger, D.A. ,Schwartz, G.E. & Davidson, R.J. (1979). Low anxious, high anxious, and repressive coping styles: Psychometric patterns and behavioral and physiological responses to stress. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 88, 369-380.