Comforting Versus Distressing Dreams of the Deceased: Relations to Grief, Trauma, Attachment, Continuing Bonds, and Post-Dream Reactions

Omega (Westport). 2021 Dec;84(2):525-550. doi: 10.1177/0030222820903850. Epub 2020 Feb 9.


Why are some dreams of the deceased experienced as comforting, while others are distressing? We propose that there are different types of dreams serving diverse functions. In particular, we considered three: processing trauma, maintaining a continuing bond, and regulating emotion. We also examined the impact of post-dream reactions on the bereaved's experience of their dreams. Participants were 216 individuals whose romantic partner or spouse had died. They provided reports of dreams of the deceased that were content analyzed and completed measures of grief intensity, posttraumatic symptoms, attachment style, internalized versus externalized continuing bonds, as well as questions about the death, and ratings of how they experienced the dream after awakening. Support was found for the three proposed functions, suggesting dreams of the deceased can actively facilitate adjustment to bereavement. In addition, there was evidence that post-dream reactions can impact both the perception of the dream and grief.

Keywords: attachment; continuing bonds; dreams; grief; trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Bereavement*
  • Dreams*
  • Grief*
  • Humans