What a Nightmare!

I was recently honored to interpret some tween celebrities’ dreams for a teen magazine. Many were nightmares, and I was so thrilled to be able to distinguish for these kids the “value” of a nightmare. Like so many adult patients who fly into my office ablaze with fear from an upsetting nightmare, they don’t understand that there’s an important message in that disturbing image.


We are all constantly bombarded with so much information (some studies say over 80,000+ bits per second), that the conscious mind cannot possibly handle it all while focusing on important tasks. So, much of that excess gets buried in the unconscious and collects there. Dreams and nightmares are our way of dumping the trash. If you dream about smoking a cigarette, it does not mean that you want to smoke! It simply can mean that your mind is letting go of what it no longer needs…deleting unnecessary files if you will.

Dreams also send up messages from the deep about what needs to be examined. For example, if you are conflicted about something in your life, your nightmare or dream will send up a message to you in the form of a symbol or image. It has it own world of symbology and images, so don’t try to analyze your dreams/nightmares literally. Instead, break down each image, object, event and ask yourself about your own feelings about it.

There are no universal meanings for dreams; they are relative to the individual, and can certainly change over time, depending on life experiences and circumstances. What you then want to examine is what part of you is reflected in that person/object/image/experience. That is the hidden message in the dream/nightmare.

If you dream about a snake, for example, it does mean that you want to buy a snake or will be bitten by one soon. Rather, you want to ask yourself how you feel about snakes. Then, what part of you identifies with a snake. If you like snakes, perhaps you are feeling sexy and slinky. If you are afraid of them, perhaps you are feeling sneaky or mean. If you dream about your mother, it is not about your mother per se; it is about the part of you (good or bad!) you feel is reflected in her.

I once had a frightful dream in which I was onstage, poised by a conductor to play a flute concerto with the orchestra and have never played flute in my life! While I find flute music to be very soothing and beautiful, the dream was about my feeling unprepared in my own life for doing something soothing and beautiful.

It actually was the night before I had an interview to be a psychological assistant, and my dream was a release of the insecurity of being good enough/prepared enough to do what I find soothing and beautiful, opening up a space to move to the next level in my career.

Many have similar dreams, the “actor’s nightmare,” or students taking an important test and going blank, or a job interview where you forget your resume. Venting that fear allows us to discharge the fear and anxiety, and focus on the task at hand during our waking hours.

Quite a relief, huh? We are so conditioned to criticizing ourselves that we will even find ways to make our dreams wrong! Remember, everything has a positive intent. So embrace your nightmares and dreams for giving you clues to resolving conflicts and seeing yourself more clearly. Look for that gem, even when it is buried in pain. You can do that in your waking hours, too.

Sweet dreams.

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