Recurring Dreams -or- Groundhog Day in the Global Village

Jim, 36

I have had recurring dreams based on these circumstances at least 100 times. They seem to happen after I wake up in the middle of the night, say at 3AM or 4AM, then fall back asleep for 2-4 hours, but not always.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Problem Solving -or- The Archetype of Sisyphus

My experience with recurring dreams is that for the most part, they are variations on the concept of functional fixedness. A number of ideas can be pointed out;

Adaption, Coping and Problem Solving

Dreams have always provided humanity with adaptive tools and coping strategies to solve problems. Dreams primarily recur because of the functional fixedness of the dynamic frame of conscious-unconscious problem solving. If we look at the dream as an unconscious simulation of problem solving about the human condition and everyday life, it stands to reason that when a simulation fails, it will recur until insight learning has been achieved. In Freudian terminology such cognitive framing simulations are known as "reality testing". The conscious mind has not transfer learned, perhaps because of resistance to the message. Said otherwise, consciousness has not learned its' lesson deriving from the dream training situation/simulation. This conscious fixation of reasoning procesess, can be social, cognitive, emotional or even physical. Often these recurring dreams represent a person's cognitive lacunae and tragic Achilles heel. Many people enter therapy, because they have become functionally fixated about certain life problems and do not have the tools to understand how to solve these problems. Some because of emotional repression, are only dimmly aware what the problem is. The recurring dream would then be caused by the "return of the repressed".

Gestalt and Rational Emotive Therapy

In Gestalt therapy, there is a concept known as "unfinished business". This concept can be applied to dream work. When the sublimation process of dream work fails, unfinished business is often the result. This unfinished business is sometimes seen as a consequence of "emotional baggage" from past emotionally unresolved relationships. In therapy, dreams point out the lacunae of the conscious mind, to what Freud called "gaps" in memory caused by faulty reasoning and "motivated forgetting". Psychologists tell us that we are at times driven by ambiguity and ambivalence, however we also desire and have a need for closureRational-emotive therapy attempts to work through these blind spots and ambiguities by facilitating rational closure to the emotional problem at hand. If stories have a beginning, middle and an end, then a literary sense of ending is experienced when dramatic catharsis is achieved. From an artistic perspective, successful sublimation of dream work amounts to the experience of the sublime. From a popular political perspective, the appeal for collective closure surrounding ambivalence was called for in the American presidential election of 2000 which involved a recount. It appears that many Americans are to this day not sold on the outcome, just as many Americans still believe that there was a conspiracy behind the Kennedy assignation. Nations, not only individuals always have unresolved dream work and unfinished business. 

Recurring Dreams and Literal Meaning

The most often used method of interpreting dreams is to look for a metaphoric or symbolic meaning. Other interpretive avenues often need to be explored. Case in point, a literal meaning is sometimes advised, such as in the case of this recurring dream; where let's say hypothetically the children come into the bedroom while the parents are being intimate. I think that most parents have been concerned about this prospect. After discussing such a dream a couple of times with someone, I heard that the dream was still recurring, I was left asking a silly question, that being, do you have a door on your bedroom? I received an ironic answer, namely that the door wasn't on because of renovations! A dream does not always point to psychological problems, they can also point to real physical mental health and security issues. A client I once saw, had a recurring dream that led me to recommend that he see his family physician. Sure enough the dream was pointing to a medical condition. Another client whose dreams were not recurring as such, instead they were just plain and simply bizarre led me to refer this person to a sleep disorders clinic. The report that I received from the clinic indicated sleep apnea for periods up to two minutes.

Groundhog Day -or- Sisyphus and Love's Labors Lost

From a popular film perspective, the film Groundhog Day (see video clip) staring the weather news reporter Phil Connors (Bill Murray) and his news producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) conceptualizes the sentimental essence of many recurring dreams. When Connors finally learns the meaning of empathy, giving up his self serving egocentric attitude and replacing it with one that altruistically serves the community, he is finally released from the archetypal Sisyphusian labors of life. Part of the film's songtrack is Nat King Cole's Almost Like Being in Love.  

Hope this helps to understand some of the reasons for recuring dreams.

Mark H

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.