Vivid Dreaming and Loneliness

It’s not unusual for highly sensitive, neurodivergent, or gifted individuals to have extremely vivid dreams and potent dream experiences on a regular basis.

There has been some focus in dream literature on the correlation between sensitivity and nightmares. My feeling, however, is that sensitive individuals are likely dreaming vivid dreams fairly regularly, but vivid “bad” dreams tend to be more memorable or less easily forgettable than vivid “good” dreams, or vivid dreams with less emotionally potent content.

While it’s often nightmares that prompt people to seek support from dreamwork practitioners (especially as dream therapy has been proven effective at lessening PTSD symptoms), what I want to touch upon today is how and why vivid dreams–even those with more mundane narratives–can lead dreamers to feeling a sense of loneliness upon waking from a particular dream, or even chronically lonely. 

On my recent Patreon audio chat, I spoke a bit about why we feel compelled to tell our dreams to others. In part, the answer is that the human need to be seen and heard is fundamental, even if the intensity of that need varies from individual to individual. Being seen and heard (as well as reflective listening to and witnessing of others) fosters intimacy, attachment, and connection; which in turn, improves a person’s sense of belonging and general well-being.

To this end, we want people to hear about or care about our dream experiences (especially when they are so vivid for us) for the same reasons we share events from our waking lives or memories from the past: We want others to know us, and our dream experiences, however surreal or confusing they can be. We desire their empathy, their understanding, their comfort, or their acceptance in response to our dreams the same way we do when we share stories from our day. 

Often, though, our vivid dream experiences fall on deaf ears. People who don’t recall their dreams, or who don’t have as vivid dream experiences as you do may place little value on your dreams. This alone can make a person feel lonely, even in a life filled with people and activity.

But for vivid dreamers, whose experience inside the dream at times may feel as “real” or even more real than waking life, there may be a significant feeling of isolation; a side effect from no one in your waking life knowing your dreaming self; a dreaming self that may transform or shapeshift multiple times a night, depending on the dream point-of-view.

Vivid dreamers may visit three different cities in one night; may slip in and out of eras, in and out of fashions; be in relationship with people alive or dead, familiar or unfamiliar. Vivid dreamers may meet up in dreams with entities that don’t exist in their waking lives. They may have talents or skills, material possessions, or children that disappear from “reality” upon waking. All of these experiences feel hyper-real to the highly sensitive vivid dreamer. And just as nightmares can be hard to shake for the highly sensitive person, so can the lives they just led across the many hours of sleep the night before.

One of the primary reasons I became a dream researcher and a dreamwork practitioner was this chronic loneliness, even though I didn’t realize it until I started working my own dreams with a dreamwork practitioner and showing up for dream sharing in groups.

However, in the years since, as I’ve given more attention to my own dreams, and sought out trustworthy others to share my dream lives and dream selves with, I’ve become increasingly aware that, indeed, keeping our vivid dreams to ourselves is a very isolating behavior with potential consequences; one of which is loneliness.

I’m certainly not blaming anyone for not sharing or working their dreams. At least in Western cultures, doing so is not taught, modeled, or encouraged. At worst, the very natural desire to share a dream with someone close to you can lead to disparagement or ridicule. 

While there are some advocates of dreamwork within the psychotherapy field, it’s not even common practice for most therapists to ask, “How are you sleeping? How are your dreams?”

Of course, some of our dreams may instigate in us a deep desire for sharing, but that desire is accompanied by a fear of doing so. Even when compelled to share, we may not do so in the end if the dream content sparks feelings of terror, shame, remorse, or guilt.

My main point in touching a bit upon vivid dreaming and loneliness is to let those of you who are vivid dreamers know that you’re not alone if you suffer from occasional or frequent bouts of loneliness. There even may be times when derealization (a feeling of being detached from your environment) creeps up for you in waking life, the day after a particularly vivid or salient dream. It may be difficult for you to ground yourself back into your waking life on such days, and it may even be challenging to presence yourself in your body and in your daily activities or interactions. 

Personally, I have found that working with a dreamwork practitioner, and showing up in dream circles to share and listen to dreams, are at least temporary remedies for the isolation that sometimes accompanies vivid dreaming.

While it can be challenging to report on our dreams in a way that feels accurate or satisfying, if you’re opposite a well-trained, empathetic dreamwork practitioner, or inside a circle of soulful dreamers, it can sometimes feel almost as good as re-experiencing the dream itself, with a friend along for the ride.

There is healing medicine in that almost-shared experience of the dream in the re-telling and in the listening. More of that in our lives can lead to less loneliness and more connectedness in a way that’s inclusive of all our realities, experienced both in waking life and dreams.

Just like your sensitivity, your vivid dreaming is a gift that can allow you access to rich, meaningful, and sometimes sacred encounters. Honoring the realness of a dream by allowing time during the day for reflection, on your own or with another, can also make it easier to transition back into our waking life roles and relationships.