In many cases, dreaming about an ex may help you process your emotions. For instance, if you’ve recently started a new relationship, it may not be uncommon to dream about an ex. Similarly, if you recently saw your ex, then it might make sense to dream about them. Sometimes, your ex may show up in your dreams for no particular reason. If you’d like to further analyze your dreams with the help of a mental health professional, you might seek help from a licensed therapist online or in person.
Why Do We Dream?
If you’re dreaming about an ex on repeat, you might take a step back and ask the bigger question: Why do we dream in the first place? While the exact cause generally remains unclear, scientists and psychologists can offer a few likely explanations.
1. Dreams May Help Us Process Our Emotions
Some scientists believe that dreams offer a simulation of reality and that the heightened emotions we tend to experience while dreaming may help us develop tools to cope with these intense feelings.
While more research is likely needed to provide support for this theory, scientists are developing a significant body of research on this topic. Most recently, in 2022, a group of researchers illustrated that the brain employs a “triage” system to strengthen positive emotions and weaken negative or traumatic emotions during the REM stage of sleep, when many of us experience our most vivid dreams.
2. Dreams May Support Memory Storage
During a typical day in your life, think of all the images and information you see and consume. At the end of a long day, where does it all go?
Research suggests that dreams may play a role in organizing, consolidating, and transferring all this information as we sleep, potentially resulting in either short-term or long-term memories. When this information is organized, we generally have cognitive space to continue making memories the next day.
To illustrate the connection between dreams and memory, many scientists study “post-learning sleep,” when people learn a specific task and go to sleep shortly afterward. Studies indicate that when people dream after learning something new, they tend to dream about the recently acquired skill, encode the memory needed to perform that task, and ultimately improve their performance while awake.
3. Dreams May Keep Our Brains “Fit”
A more recent theory suggests that our brains might dream to stay in top mental shape. Dr. Erik Hoel, a researcher who studies human consciousness, uses this theory to explain why you might go to bed feeling “stuck” on a problem, only to wake up with the solution the next morning.
The human brain can become caught in a repetitive cycle of daily tasks, says Dr. Hoel. All those logistical tasks, like driving to work or filling out your weekly timesheet, can cause your brain to become “overfit.” This generally means that, while may consistently be able to do some things well, your brain might not be as receptive to new learning.
This is where dreams might come in. As we sleep, they usually break the cycle of monotony and “add noise” to our thought processes, potentially challenging our brains to engage in more flexible or complex thinking. Dr. Hoel compares this process to machine learning, since programmers often introduce random variables (also called noise) in files to prevent artificial intelligence from becoming overfit.
Why Am I Dreaming About My Ex?
For the recently single and aspiring dream interpreters, it may be a question as old as time. Why do I continue to dream about my ex, perhaps months or even years after the end of the relationship?
Although the answer usually depends on your relationship history, brain chemistry, and current lifestyle, the dream theories mentioned above may offer some direction. Here are some possible reasons why you keep dreaming about a past love, followed by strategies to process and move on from these dreams.
1. You’re Processing Old Emotions
Why do I dream about my ex? If dreams are a way to “practice” coping with intensely emotional situations, it can make sense that an ex may appear in your dreamscape! Encounters with a past partner, even if they’re just in a dream, can bring up plenty of emotions, as well as memories of trauma.
Traumatic memories may include abuse* or even the death of a partner. Regardless of its cause, trauma can resurface in dreams, possibly as the brain’s way of coping with grief. These dreams can be intense, and while only you can “see” the full extent, a licensed therapist can help you navigate these memories and process your emotions in real-time.
*If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.
2. You’ve Started A New Relationship
The beginning of a new relationship may be filled with hope and excitement. At the same time, you may be adjusting to this new partner and connection, which can be emotionally overwhelming. At the start of a new romance, and even well into an established, healthy relationship, your dreams about an ex-partner might revolve around infidelity, jealousy, or other concerns that shaped your previous relationship.
In this case, these dreams might be your brain’s way of processing past relationships, as well as your current connection with a new partner. Some research suggests that dreams about infidelity and jealousy may reflect the current state of a new relationship, or of a person’s waking behaviors during the daytime.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that dreams are “proof” of dishonest behavior. If anything, dreams about your ex, as well as cheating, jealousy, and other relational concerns, can be reframed as an opportunity to reflect on the health of your current relationship and potentially reach out to a mental health professional for further support.
3. You Recently Saw Your Ex
If dreams are the brain’s way of consolidating images and memories from your day, it could make sense to dream about your ex-partner if you saw them during the daytime, particularly if the encounter was unexpected or emotional.
In today’s digital era, simply seeing your ex on social media may provide enough content for a vivid dream. If repeated dreams about a previous partner result in emotional pain, your therapist might encourage you to hide or block them on social media to avoid resurfacing old memories.
4. You’re Just Dreaming! (In Short: There’s No Reason)
It can be common to dream about familiar people, and this may include ex-partners. You may have spent months or even years with your ex, so it could make sense that they might reemerge in your dreams.
A 2015 study found that about 35% of people in relationships regularly dreamt of their current or former partners. In comparison, 17% of single people usually dreamt about their ex-partners, suggesting that people in relationships may be more likely to dream about romance, which could include both past and present flames.
Not all dreams may be explainable. By slowly learning to accept this reality, you can eliminate some of the pressure of figuring out the “why” behind your dreams. Based on the current science, many dreams can be written off as products of fundamental brain processes, which generally help us encode memories, process tough emotions, and stay mentally fit.
Online Therapy Can Help You Make Sense Of Your Dreams
If you’re looking for someone to help you parse through dreams and begin the next stage of your life, a licensed therapist may have the tools and wisdom to support you.
Benefits Of Online Therapy
Online therapy may help you connect with a licensed therapist who has helped others with similar challenges. If you’re interested in discussing your dreams with a mental health professional, an online therapy platform may allow you to schedule early-morning sessions so that you can talk about your dreams when they are still fresh in your mind.
Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
Research indicates that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy. For example, in a study of online cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), researchers found that online CBT-I generally reduced the frequency of nightmares. While more research may be needed to assess the benefit of online therapy for patients with recurring dreams, psychologists normally agree that online therapy can benefit individuals with a variety of mental health conditions.
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Does dreaming of an ex mean they miss you?
Some cultures and individuals believe that dreaming of an ex means they miss you, but there is, of course, no way to corroborate this theory. Dreaming about an ex when you fall asleep doesn’t necessarily have any connection to real life besides the fact that you were thinking of them, you saw them, or that they were simply a big part of your life previously. Thinking about possible dream interpretations of what occurred with your ex in the dream could potentially tell you something about your own emotional state, but it doesn’t reflect anything about theirs.
What does it mean when you dream about an ex you don’t talk to anymore?
If it’s a recent ex—particularly if it was a bad breakup—dreaming of them could simply be your subconscious mind’s way of processing the breakup and related emotions, such as feeling rejected, relieved, uncertain, regretful, or sad. Dreaming of an ex you haven’t been in contact with in a while could be the result of running into them, seeing something about them online, or having been reminded of them in some other way in your waking hours. If you’re unhappy with your current partner or have unresolved feelings about this ex, the dream could also be a reflection of this emotional unrest.
Is it true that if someone is thinking about you, you dream about them?
Some cultures and individuals believe that someone appearing in a dream means they’re thinking of you, but there’s no way to verify this. Although there’s still much we don’t know about dreaming, scientists and psychological dream analysts generally believe that dreams are more linked to your own waking life than anyone else’s.
Should I tell my ex I had a dream about him?
If you have a romantic dream, a sex dream, or any other type of dream about an ex, it’s not necessary to tell them. People dream about past and current partners, friends, coworkers, classmates, and even celebrities all the time as a part of the way the brain processes information from the day, so there’s no need to share this information when it happens. However, if you’re interested in reopening the lines of communication or even rekindling a relationship with an ex, you might decide to share this information with them. It all depends on what your relationship is in your current life and what your goals are for future relationships with this person, if any.
How do I know if my ex is thinking about me?
There’s generally no way to know if your ex is thinking about you unless they tell you. If you want to know whether they share your positive or negative feelings or feel the same way about your past relationship, talking to them is your only option.
What does it mean when an ex appears in your dream, spiritual meaning?
If you have dreams about your ex—especially romantic ones—it could mean that you’re interested in getting back together with them. Or, it could simply mean that your brain is processing your time together, especially if the relationship ended recently. Paying attention to how you felt about them in the dream could give you more information. Remember, however, that researchers still don’t understand exactly why we dream, so it could be as simple as your brain processing information or responding to something during your day that reminded you of this person.
What to do when you dream about your ex?
If you keep dreaming about your ex, it could indicate that you have unresolved emotions related to them or your relationship. What you do with these is up to you. Some people may choose to reach out in an effort to gain closure or even rekindle the relationship. Other people find it helpful to journal about their feelings to sort them out, or to meet with a therapist to get to the bottom of what they’re feeling and why. Dreaming about an ex may also not have any particular meaning, as it could just be the way the brain processes information. In other words, you generally don’t need to do anything if you’re dreaming about your ex unless it’s bothering you.
How do I stop dreaming about my ex?
It’s generally not possible to control your dreams; however, addressing emotions in your waking life that may be causing troubling or distressing dreams could help. Journaling, practicing mindfulness, and meeting with a therapist are all strategies that you may find useful.
Why do I keep dreaming about my ex, spiritual meaning?
To try and understand what a dream about your ex could mean, pay attention to how you felt in it. Although experiencing romantic feelings toward them in your dream doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to rekindle a relationship with them, this line of thinking could help you better understand any complicated or unresolved emotions you may still hold in relation to this person. Meeting with a therapist is another way to work toward understanding emotions that may be manifesting in your dreams.
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