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If you think you’re the only one whose mind is festered with dreams about an ex every night, think again. You’re not alone. We’ve all grazed against the painful and disorienting feelings of a litany of ex-infested dreams at some point.
Sometimes our dreams are mundane: we saw our ex in them and then woke up. Sometimes, they’re emotional: crying on our ex’s shoulder. And other times, they’re downright fucked up: having imaginary sex with our ex while being in a completely different relationship in real life.
The length of time you’ll be dreaming about an ex varies from person to person and depends on the intensity of your breakup. If you parted ways with a fling, for instance, you’ll often stop dreaming about shortly, but if you broke up with a partner of 10 years, well… fuck — you’re in for a wild ride.
But why do we do it? Why do you dream about your ex every night? What the hell does it mean? And how the fuck can you stop? Read on and find out.
Reasons You Dream About Your Ex Every Night
Note: The list below is not exhaustive. It’s merely an accumulation of the most common reasons you keep dreaming about your ex every night. Also, know that you can always dream about your ex for not one but multiple reasons.
1. You want them back. The most common reason you keep dreaming about your ex every night is because you, on some level, want them back. Just note that it’s usually not your ex that you miss, but the mere idea of them, that is, the person they could’ve been.
2. You miss having someone by your side. Lots of people mistake this reason as missing their ex, while in reality, they simply miss the emotional connection they had with them. In other words, they miss having someone who loves and cares for them by their side.
3. You lack closure. Closure is another disturbing psychological foe that makes you dream about your ex every night. The first thing to understand about it is that it comes from within you, not external sources. So don’t try to get it by pressuring your ex to, for example, explain why things didn’t work out. As soon as they give you the answers you want, you’ll only want more of them. Instead, opt for accepting your breakup, and moving on.
4. You saw your ex’s social media post. You know the drill. You browse social media. You see a photo of your ex. You feel pain. You feel nostalgia. You start to reminiscence the memories you shared. You dream about them.
5. You keep thinking about your ex. Rumination goes hand in hand with ex-related dreams. If you keep thinking about your ex, you’re probably dreaming about them every night, too. And if you’re dreaming about them, chances are, you’re also thinking about them — perhaps even obsessing.
6. You’re disappointed by reality. Another reason you keep dream about your ex every night is because you thought reality would be different from what it actually is. Perhaps you hoped that your ex would one day become your spouse. Maybe you believe they were “the one.” But now, when those things didn’t turn out as you wanted or expected them to, you’re disappointed and in pain — so much that those emotions promptly spilled into your dreams.
7. You’re lost in an existential abyss. A lot of people slump into a crisis of meaning when they break up with their partner. This crisis pushes anxiety, fear, and hopelessness at the vanguard of their mind. They lose themselves, don’t recognize who they are, and sometimes, even become purposeless. And when you have nothing going on in your life and don’t know who the hell you even are, dreaming about your ex is inevitable.
8. You’re dissatisfied with your life. When people are dissatisfied with their life, they often start fantasizing about a better one. As a result, they even begin to dream about it. And when they’re heartbroken, this “better life” almost always has their ex in it. Put two and two together, and you get an extensive array of ex-related dreams.
9. You’re in an unfulfilling relationship. Maybe you got yourself into an unhealthy rebound relationship, or you’ve jumped into one where your partner is needy, unable or unwilling to meet your emotional needs consistently, or is simply incompatible.
10. You’re under a lot of trauma. When we break up, the trauma we experience afterward is pretty severe. Its consequences include PTSD, panic attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disorders, self-destructive beliefs, a damaged sense of self-esteem, mass confusion, emotional numbness, a loss of hope (depression), and of course, perpetual dreams about an ex. (1)
11. No reason whatsoever. Not every effect needs to have a cause. Life is irrational. Sometimes you’ll dream about your ex every night for no reason at all. And the more you’ll try to explain the phenomenon to yourself, the more confused you’ll become.
The dangers of dreaming about your ex every night
Sometimes ex-related dreams become so vivid and intense that they alter your mood for the day or even a whole week. You’ve probably experienced this before.
You go to sleep. You dream about your ex. You wake up all grouchy and sad and in shock. Some people start crying afterward. Some feel disoriented and alienated. And others go on a temper tantrum and kick their dog in the face.
Bad reader, bad!
Now, sometimes the consequences of dreaming about your ex every night can transpire into even more severe mental issues than feeling bad for a few days. For example, you may experience heightened anxiety and insecurity, lower sleep quality, self-esteem, and confidence, as well as eating problems (undereating/overeating) and depression.
As a result of those issues, you could further develop tendencies to chase and pursue your ex, stalk them, overanalyze their behavior, or show up at their place unannounced, just waiting for that sweet, sweet restraining order.
That being said, don’t get too worried about these outcomes. You’re likely not going to experience them. For the most part, ex-related dreams are totally harmless. It’s only in rare cases where dreams become dangerous for one’s mental health.
What does it mean when you dream about your ex every night
The meaning behind your dreams depends entirely on their content and context.
- If you’re dreaming about getting back with your ex or reconnecting with them, it may mean that you miss them (or at least the idea of them) and, on some level, actually do want them back.
- If you’re dreaming about your ex cheating on you or breaking your heart once again, it may mean you’re hurting and/or feel betrayed.
- If you’re dreaming how your ex is already in a new relationship, your subconscious may be hinting that you should move on and find someone else.
- If you’re dreaming of falling in love with your ex for the first time, it may mean that you’re missing what first-time love feels like — you’re missing the passion and excitement that comes with the Honeymoon Stage.
- If you’re dreaming about a recent ex, you may not be over them yet and are considering giving them another chance (if you’re the dumper) or getting them back (if you’re the dumpee).
- If you’re dreaming how your ex apologized and/or how they want you back, it may be because you want those things to happen, and not, as is a common assumption, because it’s a sign they want you back.
- If you’re dreaming about your ex rejecting you or telling you how they don’t want you back, it may be because your unconscious is trying to push you out of denial and pull you back into reality.
- If you’re dreaming about your ex’s annoying or toxic habit, it may be because you’re getting involved (or are involved) with someone who feels a bit too much like them.
- If you’re dreaming about breaking up all over again, it may be because you’re not over your breakup yet, and are still dealing with its aftermath.
- If you’re dreaming how your ex is killing you, it may be because they “killed” a part of you (they shattered a part of your identity), be that your confidence, ability to trust, capacity to love, or willingness to live.
- If you’re dreaming of you killing your ex, it may be a sign that you’ll soon get over them entirely — or it’s a sign that you have some major anger issues (the same kinds of issues that make you kick a dog in the face).
Whatever the case, your dreams could also mean absolutely nothing. It could all be a purely biological quirk, containing no significance, no signs or signals, only a meaningless pitch-black infinity.
How to stop dreaming about your ex every night
If your recurring ex-dreams are causing you to underperform and stress in your day-to-day life, here are five tips on how to stop — or at least lessen the intensity and number of them.
1. Keep yourself busy throughout the day
The movie you always wanted to watch, the video game that’s calling you to play it, the little errand you’ve been putting off, the work-related tasks you have to do — commit to doing these things.
Keep yourself as busy as possible. But never forget to mix productive AND unproductive activities into your day. Like it’s unhealthy to engage in exclusively unproductive ones, it’s likewise unhealthy to engage exclusively in productive ones.
The more activities you throw yourself in as the day goes by, the more material you’ll be giving your unconscious to build dreams of another kind than anything ex-related.
2. Meditate Before Bed
It’s no secret that meditation dramatically reduces rumination and stress, both major causes of dreaming about your ex every night. I’ve written about the benefits of mediation and how to do it extensively in a previous article, so I won’t go deep into it here.
But I will say this: when meditating, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try guided meditation, body scans, different forms of breathing, adding music or ambient sounds, meditating with a friend, using a white-noise machine, etc.
When meditating, the feeling you get will eventually spill into your waking life and help you think less of your ex. Thus you’ll be more inclined to stop dreaming about them.
3. Do 4-7-8 Breathing Exercises
Corollary to meditation is what most people refer to as “calm breathing.” While there are loads of variations of it, the most popular one for when you’re trying to stop yourself from dreaming about your ex is called 4-7-8 Breathing. (2)
Here’s how to do it:
- Breathe in for 4 seconds (through the nose).
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale for 8 seconds (do it forcefully through your mouth by pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound)
- Repeat the cycle 3 to 5 times.
4. Find Someone Better Than Your Ex
Let me be clear: finding someone better than your ex is arguably the best way to stop dreaming about them every night — hell, it’s arguably the best way to get over an ex for good! However, under any circumstances, do not go and try to find this “special someone” if the prospect of dating does not sound exciting and fun.
Start looking for someone else only when that idea feels pleasant. Don’t force yourself to go on dates. Give yourself a few weeks, or even months. Learn to enjoy yourself by yourself before bringing anyone new into the picture.
5. Give It Time
There’s a funny belief sailing up and down the breakup advice industry: time doesn’t heal all wounds; only actions do. Well, I don’t agree with it.
Sure, time won’t heal your past and current trauma or rid your system of needy tendencies that perhaps got you into your breakup in the first place. But it will eventually get you feeling great and like yourself again. And when you start feeling that way, you’ll also likely stop dreaming about your ex— or you’ll at least dream less about them.
Till then, take it easy.
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