We’ve all had nightmares, you know the awful dreams that you wake up from in a cold sweat, your heart pounding and adrenaline pumping through your veins. But do you ever stop to think about what these fearful dreams may be telling you? Contrary to popular belief, Gayle Delaney, co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, says that we shouldn’t try and forget our fearful dreams. She notes, "Fear dreams have to do with something that frightens you and needs to be fixed," she says. "It’s usually something real that’s threatening to you. Really scary dreams try to grab your attention and say, 'Something in your waking life or behavior is threatening your well-being or the well-being of people you love, and it behooves you to recognize it.'"
While there are some common bad dream symbols that recur throughout many people’s dreams such as wild animals, threatening people, natural disasters, there are also symbols that are particular to the dreamer. For example, if, as a child, you were attacked by a dog, you may associate dogs with pain and fear, even if no such fear exists today.
Delaney believes that through our dreams we can learn something about our waking readily that may not be readily apparent to us. She thinks of nightmares as warnings to pay attention to something that is threatening to us in waking life. So next time you dream about a dark man chasing you through the streets, think back about what this dream might be telling you about a threatening presence in your life. Delaney remembers one client of hers who had a dream about standing on a pier and seeing a cute cuddly seal swimming in the water. In a moment, the seal transformed into a frightening creature with shark jaws. When Delaney asked this woman what the significance of this was, the woman had no idea.
She notes, “I asked her what seals are like, and she said, ‘Oh, they’re so sweet, so dear, with big brown eyes.’ So I asked if there was anyone in her life who’s sweet, with big brown eyes. And she said, ‘My boyfriend.’ And I said, ‘Okay, you look under the water and you see Jaws. What are jaws?’
"And she said, ‘Oh, they eat you alive, and there’s no reasoning with them.’ Then I asked if there was anyone in her life like that, and she said no. So I said, ‘Okay, what about your brother? How does he like your boyfriend?’
“‘Oh, he doesn’t like him at all,’ she said. So I asked if there was any part of her boyfriend that her brother sees as 'shark.' And she said, ‘Well, my boyfriend did threaten to kill me two nights ago....’
It’s amazing what some reflection on your nightmares can bring up in yourself. Perhaps deep reflection after having nightmares will let us all live might insightful lives and will help us to avoid the aftereffects of not taking heed of these warnings.