Cognitive Dimensions of Dream Formation in Repetitive Nightmares of Refugees


  • Zack Cemovsky
  • Harry Hunt


Refugees from the Soviet-controlled area of Central Europe often report repetitive nightmares in which they find themselves in their native country, wish to escape again, attempt to or plan to escape, and experience various dysphoric emotions, mainly fear of not being able to re-escape (Pinter, 1969; Zimmermann, 1958). Cernovsky’s (1986) interviews with 100 Czechoslovakian refugees in Switzerland indicated that (1) about 56% report the above nightmares, and (2) the nightmares cannot be labeled as post-traumatic because they do not closely resemble the manner in which the refugees actually left their native country. Thus we find dramatic nightmare scenes of attempting to cross the border crawling over minefields or hiding under a railroad car, etc., whereas most persons interviewed by Cernovsky (1986) escaped in a more peaceful manner. They were able to obtain valid passports with a police permit for travel abroad in the short-lived period of relative freedom in 1967-1969, traveled out during that time as “tourists”, and have never returned. How such dreams might occur and their relation to more typical nightmares is what we wish to address here.