Dream Content Changes in Women After Mastectomy: An Initial Study of Body Imagery After Body-Disfiguring Surgery

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The changes in body perception after invasive surgery and their internalization in dreams have been mostly neglected in the literature on dreams. We evaluated consecutive newly diagnosed patients with breast cancer about their dream content, sleep quality and quantity, and their mood both before and after the surgical intervention (T0 and T1), to determine whether the loss of a body part with specific sexual features (such as the breast) could change body schema and actuate a sexual sphere restructuring. Dream content was coded according to the Hall and Van de Castle (1966) method. Results were analyzed to compare T0, T1, and normative data (DreamSat). In our sample, we found significant differences in the dreams between T0 and T1 in some anatomical elements (torso anatomy self-concept). We also found differences between patients (T0 and T1) and the normative data, with an increased presence of male and family characters, the proportion of dead people, striving elements with failure, and a decreased presence of friends, aggressiveness, and familiar settings in the patients' dreams. Our results demonstrate that dream content in patients who have undergone cancer treatment for breast cancer is different from that of normal subjects and that there is an adjustment of dream content in patients after surgery. These results support Domhoff's hypothesis about continuity between dreams and waking life, in the sense that “the concerns people express in their dreams are the concerns they have in waking life (Domhoff, 2003).

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