The different way men and women express emotions especially as manifested in their dreams.

 

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As I’ve been preparing to do a presentation to some of the men of the church on the meaning and usefulness of dreams I’ve been focusing on both masculine and feminine experience as they manifest in dreams. Earlier this week I spent some time looking at the differences in gender regarding the experience of emotional events as they are expressed.

Both genders seem to lose their “voice” at a young age. Boys are just as emotional as girls but their expression of it is altered by society over time. What voice am I talking about? Girls lose their masculine voice while the boys learn to moderate their feminine.

Research has shown that a boy’s emotional aspect is often different from a girls. Often the extreme sensitivity that boys feel when younger has been suppressed and demeaned. This can leave a boy feeling as though there’s something wrong with them i.e. broken. This can happen with a girl as well and it leaves them feeling insufficient. In truth we are all born somewhat alike with the primary differences being in how we express that likeness or in how we learn not to from the society we live in.

In a Psychology Today article (Sep 9, 2011) it’s claimed that men dream of other men or men in general more often than women e.g. 67% of characters in a man’s dream are men as opposed to 48% of characters in a woman’s dream being women. Men’s dreams are frequently about aggressive encounters with other men who are typically strangers while women tend to dream of women whom they know or are familiar with.

The article also points out that these different trajectories and content patterns are both biological and socially affected.

In the emotional arena Paul Hudson in June of 2015 as reported by the Elite Daily suggested that men may very well be more emotional (read as sensitive) than females in general. However, the study showed that men just hide these emotions better i.e. men have been taught (usually by society and culture regardless of upbringing) to keep their emotions to themselves. Men are often taught to be ashamed of their emotions and one learns quickly that as a man you can lose acceptance and respect by sharing your emotions.

So how do these differences manifest themselves in men’s and women’s dreams? In an article written by Gabrielle Gresge in Sept of 2017 as reported by Brit+Co a study discovered to no one’s surprise that the top dream topics were sex and intimacy, feeling paralyzed, chased, some future event or about a cheating partner. This is consistent with the nearly 4000 dream stories sent to me for interpretation over the years.

When gender is considered women (35%) reported dreaming of relatives who had died with men showing much less of this. In the area of cheating women treat these dreams as symbolizing the need for some tough decisions where as many as 39% of men take the dream more literally in that they think that they may have feelings for someone else. In my experience with people who have these dreams women experience their male relationship cheating in dreams when they themselves are feeling disconnected as though the romance seemed to have left the relationship.

Another somewhat significant finding suggests that women tend to look for meaning in their dreams at about twice the frequency that men do.

Women in a man’s dream often speak to a man’s lost gentler and more patient or caring side while men in a women’s dream can help bring back certain aspects of their hidden and suppressed masculine nature such as assertiveness and decisiveness.

In this way our dreams come to us as arbiters of our health and well-being. They often bring back aspects of our lost selves and our so-called lost voice so that we can function more healthily and authentically.

Dreams are emotional in nature

 

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The Artist’s Dream by John Fitzgerald (1857) 

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.

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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.