Bad Dreams May Be a Symptom of Unmet Psychological Needs


Exploring bad dreams

Do you have bad dreams? Are some of them frightening? If the answer is yes, you wouldn’t be alone. At some point, all of us have unpleasant dreams – even nightmares (Borreli, 2015).

So why do they happen and what do they mean?

According to new research, bad dreams may be a reflection of psychological frustrations that your mind associates with a failure to adapt to challenging situations.

Dr. Netta Weinstein, a professor of psychology at the University of Cardiff and lead author of an article, “Linking Psychological Need Experiences to Daily and Recurring Dreams”, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, offers her insight.

More: What death related dreams mean

It is her beleif that unmet daily psychological needs linked to autonomy, relatedness, and feeling competent may lead bad dreams. Additionally, she beleives that frustrations can cause the dream to reoccur. In turn, this causes people to analyze their dreams in a negative light.

The meaning of dreams has been written about since the time of the ancients. In the modern era, famous analysts, such as Freud and Jung, have added their own insight.

What is unique about Weinstein and her associates research is the mission of the research itself; to explore whether a person’s daily frustrations or unmet psychological needs plays a part in dream content.

The investigators conducted two unique studies. The first one asked 200 people to reflect on their most frequent recurring dream. The second study assessed the entries of 110 people in “dream diaries”.

More: What dreams about your ex mean

The purpose was to explore the relationship between psychological needs during waking life are somehow linked to the subconscious processing of material during dreams.

It was hypothesized that “bad” dreams might be a kind of “left over” of non-fully processed (or poorly processed) daily experiences.

“Waking-life psychological need experiences are indeed reflected in our dreams,” remarked Weinstein.

Both studies offered results demonstrating that frustrations and emotions linked with specific psychological needs do influence various themes that happen while dreaming.

Research participants who had unmet psychological needs, be it daily or over longer periods of time, felt more frustrated. They also reported having more negative type dreams, like nightmares, or ones where anger surfaced.

Participants were also asked to interpret their dreams. More often than not, they would use negative words to describe the experience. The exception was for subjects who reported having their psychological needs met.   In their case, they were more likely to speak about their dreams in a positive light.

“Negative dream emotions may directly result from distressing dream events, and might represent the psyche’s attempt to process and make sense of particularly psychologically challenging waking experiences,” explains Weinstein.

Participants who were frustrated with their daily lives reported having “bad” recurring dreams. Common themes included feelings of failure or being attacked.

More: Dreams about snakes

According to Dr. Weinstein, recurring dreams may be more sensitive to distressing psychological experiences that a person still needs to process.

“Researchers and theorists have argued that recurring dreams challenge people to process the most pressing problems in their lives, and these may be thought to result from their failure to adapt to challenging experiences.

“As such, dream content may be more affected by enduring need-based experiences,” says Weinstein.

Source: Springer


Borreli, L. (2015, March 31). A Bad Dream Is More Than Just A Dream: The Science Of Nightmares. Retrieved from Medical News Daily:

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast