Abreaction is a release and re-experiencing of painful or traumatic events or emotions. In many dreams it is obvious that the process underlying dreams is attempting to trigger an abreaction. This suggests the dream process, as Jung and Hadfield say, is a self-regulatory one in our psyche. In many cases where a person explores the feeling content of their dreams in a confident way, abreaction occurs. Although it has been given different names in recent years, such as Primal Therapy, Rolfing, Discharge, Catharsis, abreaction is still a basic psychological healing process.
Example: ‘For some considerable time now I have been troubled by a nightmarish dream which is so realistic sometimes I think I am going to die. In my dream I have swallowed something which is literally choking me or is going to poison me. I wake up and rush down the stairs to the kitchen spitting and choking, holding my throat and making all sorts of disturbing noises which frighten my wife. I have had this dream as many as five or six times a night. My doctor says it could be to do with the last war. I was a child then and my dad had to constantly wake me up to take us down to the shelter, sometimes as many as four times a night, and we were bombed out twice. I cannot recall having any fears about this at the time.’ Mr. K. T.
Parts of our experience become repressed because there is an automatic reaction in us to avoid pain. Therefore painful experience may never be fully felt or understood at the time. Reliving such experience allows us to review and integrate vital information about ourselves. At times of great physical or emotional pain or anguish we unconsciously make decisions that influence the way we behave thereafter. We may for instance, in feeling abandoned by a parent, reactively decide never to trust a man/woman again. Frequently all the analysis in the world cannot relieve a neurotic pattern or decision until the repressed emotion holding it in place is released and understood.
“Mere abreaction is of no lasting value, unless the associated emotion is also released, “digested” and accepted by the patient. This is the reason why in many cases the repressed traumatic family relationship or experiences has to be brought up a number of times before it is fully integrated.” Quoted from Lysergic Acid and Ritalin by Ling
The strength with which we hold out against allowing our body to spontaneously abreact is seen in the above example. Again and again Mr. T. is brought to the brink of reliving or releasing what may be his very stressful childhood experiences. Yet he manages to avoid actual memory, and in particular, the experiencing of any childhood emotions and fears.
‘For several hours I could find nothing about the dream. My mind simply wandered. But with help I persisted. Suddenly I seemed to break through, first to seeing how the shop was a place in which I had unconsciously experienced great emotional pain. My father was always criticising. Never a word of encouragement. Then I burst into powerful sobbing as I felt the pain of wanting my father to love me, instead of criticising all the time, and help me grow into somebody capable of meeting life. And then, something I just had not wanted to see, the thirty years of my life I had wasted by avoiding any contact with authority. My father was THE original authority in my life. I had cut off from him because of the lack of support, and I had done the same with school and other authority situations. The worst bit of all though, was to see that in my desire for my father’s love, I had been seeking older males in a form of latent homosexuality. I wanted love at almost any price. But what a relief to understand myself, and to meet that young vulnerable boy I used to be. How I loved him and understood him/myself’ Clive.
The opposite is shown in this account by Clive, who explored a dream with me about being shot in the arm in his father’s shop. In allowing his painful emotions to be released, Clive gained enormous insight into his own behaviour, his past, and personality. He also began to move on from being trapped in avoidance of authority figures and the seeking of love from older males. See: Life’s Little Secrets; LifeStream; self-regulation; assisted passage; compensation theory; movements During sleep.