Dream Interpretation Nightmares | Dream Meanings
Nightmares draw your attention to the many hidden fears that may be preventing you from moving forward.
In general, nightmares are those dreams that are painful, unpleasant and frightening. Dream analysts have reported two kinds of nightmares: those in which you wake up with a general sense of fear but you can’t recall what it was that scared you—this is often called a night terror—and those which involve you waking up from a vivid dream at its most frightening or threatening part.
Technically, the former is not a nightmare, whilst the latter is.
Many people in the nineteenth century still blamed nightmares on indigestion and it was only with the publication of Freud’s ideas that they became seen as the expression of unfulfilled wishes and sexual anxiety. Jung described them as part of humankind’s ‘collective unconscious’ and said the helplessness we feel in nightmares is a memory of the fears experienced by primitive peoples. Today, most dream interpreters believe these disturbing dreams are sent to warn the conscious mind that something is being blocked or ignored. Rather than putting the nightmare out of your mind because it was such an unpleasant experience, it is important to make efforts to interpret and confront the nightmare imagery in order to identify the waking cause.
The hallmark of a nightmare is that it is frightening. It is often long, detailed and amongst the easiest of dreams to remember. Nightmares often occur when hidden feelings of guilt, self-doubt, anxiety, anger, worry and insecurity are pushed out of your waking thoughts and repressed. In typical nightmares, you may feel as if you are being buried alive, suffocated, drowned or chased by a murderer. Dreams from which you awake with feelings of intense distress or anxiety usually occur towards the end of a night’s sleep. There is no common element and everyone has their own type of nightmare, probably produced by our own hidden fears. Many psychologists—some of them trained in the Freudian and Jungian traditions—believe that nightmares, like all dreams, carry a host of coded meaning within them, and that they are the psyche’s way of alerting us that something is wrong or unresolved in our waking lives.
From this perspective, nightmares are seen as arising from our deepest fears, frustrations and repressions. They are, however, an opportunity for you to discover which part of yourself is threatening to destroy your own happiness.
If you do have a nightmare, try to find out what exactly it is that you fear so much that you have tried to push it away into your unconscious. The stage of your dreaming mind offers you a safe place to enact and work through challenging or scary ideas or situations. When you have a nightmare, your unconscious world is sending you a loud message that you have no choice but to wake up. Examining the content of your nightmares will usually give you clues to the troubling issues or events that you are not ready to face consciously.
When you wake up from a nightmare, take a few moments to orient yourself to the reality that, no matter how frightening the events of the dream, they are not real and cannot harm you. Try to remember as many details as you can, because nightmares are windows into the worries and fears that plague your mind; as a consequence, you don’t want to dismiss them out of hand. One way to help you figure out what your nightmare means is to try and continue the story when you are awake. This gives you a chance to rewrite the dream plot from the point of view of the menacing character or object in your dream. According to ancient dream-lore, if you can overcome what is frightening you in your dream, you can overcome the things that frighten you in waking life. See also DISASTERS; NEGATIVE EMOTIONS; SPIRITS AND GHOSTS; STAGES OF LIFE; SURREALISM AND FANTASY.
Children, especially, are prone to nightmares. Nightmares are common in children, typically beginning at around age 3 and occurring up to age 7-8.
People with anxiety disorder might also experience what experts term “night terrors”. These are actually panic attacks that occur in sleep.
It is especially difficult to remember these types of dreams since they conjure up terrifying images that we would just as soon forget.
In poetic myth, the Nightmare is actually a “small nettlesome mare, not more than thirteen hands high, of the breed familiar with the Elgin marbles: cream-colored, clean- limbed, with a long head, bluish eye, flowing mane and tail.” Her nests, called mares’ nests, “when one comes across them in dreams, lodged in rock-clefs or the branches of enormous hollow yews, are built of carefully chosen twigs lined with white horse-hair and the plumage of prophetic birds and littered with the jaw-bones and entrails of poets.”
Thus, in a pagan world of myth and blood sacrifice, the Nightmare was a cruel, fearful creature. Our modern word nightmare derives from the Middle English nihtmare (from niht, night, and mare, demon), an evil spirit believed to haunt and suffocate sleeping people. And so, in today’s world, when we speak of a nightmare we mean a frightening dream accompanied by a sensation of oppression and helplessness.
The blood-thirsty aspect of the mythic Nightmare, however, can give a good clue about nightmares in general, for in psychodynamic terms nightmares are graphic depictions of raw, primitive emotions such as aggression and rage that have not been incorporated into the conscious psyche. Thus we tend to encounter these “ugly” aspects of our unconscious lives as terrifying dream images in whose presence we feel completely helpless.
Nightmares are quite common in childhood because this is a time of our emotional development when we all have to come to terms with, well, raw, primitive emotions such as aggression and rage.
Traumatic nightmares can also occur as one of the many symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Repetitive, intrusive nightmares following a trauma often contain symbolic themes that mirror the original trauma and relate to threat to life, threat of abandonment or death, or loss of identity.
Therefore, traumatic nightmares need to be treated differently than other dreams. It’s not enough just to “know” intellectually the psychological reasons why you have these nightmares. An event is traumatic because it disrupts your previously secure—and illusory—sense of “self.” And so, to heal from a trauma, you must take the initiative to make conscious changes in your life to accommodate the traumatic shattering of your illusions about life and identity.
Some believe that nightmares have a physiological nature as well. Edgar Cayce believed that Nightmares, which bring with them an inability to move or cry out, usually indicate the wrong diet. To end the nightmarish dreams change your diet.
We found a technique online that can help people who suffer from recurrent nightmares. It is not meant to be a cure-all. It is just a suggested treatment to deal with frightening nightmares. The idea is to use this therapy every night until the nightmare has been resolved. It is called Imagery Rehearsal Therapy.
Here are the steps of Imagery Rehearsal Therapy:
These are the important dreams that help us maintain emotional and psychological balance and equilibrium in the face of stress and fear. Nightmares are those frightening and often very memorable dreams that can wake you up and leave you riddled with anxiety. While there may be underlying neurological causes for nightmares, for the most part they are simply a common experience in the world of dreams; sooner or later, you are likely to have one. There are many emerging theories about the neurological structure of nightmares and what some of the value of having them might be with regard to stress and psychic balance. However, these don’t address the question that most people want an answer to, and that is, what causes them? Of course, the answer to that question is that we still don’t really know what causes nightmares, or any dreams for that matter. We do know that there are some medications that can impact the quality and intensity of dreams, including the frequency of nightmares. There are plenty of old wives’ tales associated with activities that can supposedly bring them on, such as eating red meat or other heavy foods before going to sleep. There are even those who believe the direction you lie in while you sleep can cause bad dreams. These are not, however, proven scientific facts, nor are they validated by my personal experience of interpreting thousands of dreams over many years. Nightmares are not easily forgotten, and the residual emotional reaction they sometimes generate can often linger in our conscious awareness far longer than the fond memories of our more pleasant dreams. However, this inherent capacity to remember them often makes them easy to work with. Additionally, people are sometimes highly motivated to understand them because of the upset they can create.
If dreams are indeed messages from the unconscious, a nightmare is one way it has of telling us to pay attention, as there may be shadow material coming up. This always means there is something important to learn.
Many dreams lead us to feel an intensity of emotion we may seldom if ever feel in waking life.
If the emotions felt are frightening or disgusting we call the dream a nightmare. One of the common features of a nightmare is that we are desperately trying to get away from the situation; feel stuck in a terrible condition; or on waking feel enormous relief that it was just a dream. Because of the intensity of a nightmare we remember it long after other dreams; even if we seldom ever recall other dreams, even worry about what it means.
As so many dreams have been investigated in depth, using such varied approaches as hypnosis, exploration of associations and emotional content, and LSD psychotherapy, in which the person can explore usually unconscious memories, imagery and feelings, we can be certain we know what nightmares are. They arise from six main causes.
Unconscious memories of intense emotions, such as those arising in a child being left in a hospital without its mother. Example: see second example in dark.
Intense anxiety produced—but not fully released at the time—by external situations such as involvement in war scenes, sexual assault (this applies to males as well as females, as they are frequently assaulted). Example: ‘A THING is marauding around the rather bleak, dark house I am in with a small boy.
To avoid it I lock myself in a room with the boy.
The THING finds the room and tries to break the door down. I frantically try to hold it closed with my hands and one foot pressed against it, my back against a wall for leverage. It was a terrible struggle and I woke myself by screaming’ (Terry F). When Terry allowed the sense of fear to arise in him while awake, he felt as he did when a child—the boy in the dream—during the bombing of the Second World War. His sense of insecurity dating from that time had emerged when he left a secure job, and had arisen in the images of the nightmare. Understanding his fears, he was able to avoid their usual paralysing influence.
Childhood fears, such as loss of parent, being lost or abandoned, fear of attack by stranger or parent, anxiety about own internal drives.
Many nightmares in adults have a similar source, namely fear connected with internal drives such as aggression, sexuality and the process of growth and change, such as encounter with adolescence, loss of sexual characteristics, old age and death. Example: see third example in doors under house, buildings.
Serious illness. Example: ‘I dream night after night that a cat is gnawing at my throat’ (male from Landscapes of the Night).
The dreamer had developing cancer of the throat. These physical illness dreams are not as common as the other classes of nightmare.
Precognition of fateful events. Example: My husband, a pilot in the RAF, had recently lost a friend in an air crash. He woke one morning very troubled—he is usually a very positive person. He told me he had dreamt his friend was flying a black jet, and wanted my husband to fly with him.
Although a simple dream, my husband could not shake off the dark feelings. Shortly afterwards his own jet went down and he was killed in the crash’ (Anon.).
Understanding the causes of nightmares enables us to deal with them.
The things we run from in the nightmare need to be met while we are awake. We can do this by sitting and imagining ourselves back in the dream and facing or meeting what we were frightened of. Terry imagined himself opening the door he was fighting to keep closed. In doing this and remaining quiet he could feel the childhood feelings arising. Once he recognised them for what they were, the terror went out of them.
A young woman told me she had experienced a recurring nightmare of a piece of cloth touching her face. She would scream and scream and wake her family. One night her brother sat with her and made her meet those feelings depicted by the cloth. When she did so she realised it was her grandmother’s funeral shroud. She cried about the loss of her grandmother, felt her feelings about death, and was never troubled again by the nightmare.
The techniques given in dream processing will help in meeting such feelings. Even the simple act of imagining ourselves back in the nightmare and facing the frightening thing will begin the process of changing our relationship with our internal fears.
see Escape, Fear, Flight (= Fleeing)