Nightmares are a universal occurrence that we all experience at some time in our lives. Some people may experience nightmares often. Nightmares are disturbing dreams which may follow us for years worrying us with their persistence and their vividness. Nightmares in ancient times were thought to be caused by evil spirits that would haunt and suffocate people while they slept. The nightmare is often accompanied by feelings of oppression and helplessness. Nightmares make a more lasting impression upon us and the feelings from the dream will often linger on into our waking life the following day. The nightmare serves to get our attention to something that is psychologically important to us often something that has been seriously neglected in our waking life. Sometimes it is possible to deal with the nightmare by coming to terms with it and understanding what our fears are about.

Recurrent nightmares indicate a particularly serious problem in our waking life that needs to be confronted. We may wake from these dreams with feelings of acute distress or worry or even panic. These fears may arise from our deepest frustrations, repressions and inner conflicts. They may also be a form of self-punishment for unacceptable parts of ourself that we need to to come to terms with.

A frequent theme is of being chased or pursued by a monster or demon of some kind. This may indicate some aspect of our emotional life that we are trying to run away from. Monsters in mythology often guard the treasure sought by the hero. They often guard sacred or holy places. We are the hero in our dreams just as we are the hero in our daily waking lives. We must confront and understand the monster in the dream which represents some unwanted part of ourself that we need to confront and integrate in order to recover the treasure which is a deeper psychological understanding of ourself. Often if we can turn around and face what it is that we fear it will transform itself in the dream and will cease to be horrifying once its nature is identified.

We sometimes dream of someone trying to break into our home. This is often an inner psychological figure who may represent some shameful or unwanted part of ourself who is breaking into our consciousness. It is about to break into our awareness and then we will have to confront this unwanted aspect of ourself. The purpose of this figure seems to be to reflect all the worst aspects of our character so that we may become more fully conscious of those traits and accept these unwanted but vitally necessary parts of ourself. These aspects are often quite evident to those whom we live with or know us well but are hidden from our own conscious opinion of ourself and thus will appear alien and scary to us in our dreams. The intruder in the dream may represent some awareness or insight that is about to break through into our consciousness. It appears scary because it is unknown what demands it will make on us but it actually should be welcomed into our psychological house because it brings with it a gift of self awareness. Every aspect of the dream represents some part of ourself. The intruder in the dream represents some part of ourself that we have kept outside our awareness for too long and now needs to be let in. It may represent a feeling or attitude that we need to be more conscious of.

Another nightmare is the disaster dream. These are often extremely vivid and we may awaken terrified and apprehensive. These dreams should not be ignored nor taken literally. The disaster may indicate some emotional upheaval that is taking place or about to take place in our life. The disaster may involve an earthquake, our world is being shaken up; or an avalanche, feeling overwhelmed and buried by some situation we find ourself in or perhaps the thawing out of some frozen emotions; or a flood, being caught up in the currents of everyday life and not feeling on solid ground; or a fire, being consumed by passion or rage or some other strong feeling that may feel out of control. The disaster may be a positive image indicating a significant change tearing down old patterns of behavior and a turning point of opportunity or it may be a warning of something valuable in our life that's falling apart or being swept away. Sometimes it may represent both aspects since change and crisis often carry both positive and negative feelings with them. The nightmare is a dream that needs to be taken seriously. They are urgent psychological messages that something in our emotional psyche needs to be paid attention to and can no longer be ignored or we do so at our own peril.

Richard J. Corelli, M.D.