Nightmares, when explored, are gifts and guides to what is right and next for you.
When energy is suppressed, squeezed into a smaller and smaller container, it eventually can tear the container apart and surge forward. We see it in our kitchens when water reaches the boiling point and the spout of the tea kettle catches the steam. You hear the whistle and know it is time to make tea. The surge is useful information.
But boiling soup or sauce will blow the lid off an unwatched pot. And a quiet subservient person can be carrying unexpressed frustration and pain that grows in intensity until it explodes into violence. The nice, quiet, unassuming person with no criminal record who thrashes out with fists or bullets is well known to newspaper readers and tv news viewers.
A nightmare can be information, an alert, guidance and a warning all at once. When suppressed energy in you is no longer contained it can come surging forward into consciousness in the form of a nightmare. You wake up shaking and frightened. You want whatever the images are to go away, go back to oblivion. You are relieved you are safe and that it was “just a dream.”
But It’s not just a dream. It’s an important aspect of your life that demands entry into awareness. You are frightened because the information it carries may be disruptive to your point of view and the way you live. Burying it only allows it to rally itself in the dark hidden place within your psyche before it erupts again. Repeated eruptions are increasingly intense. Disregard them at your peril.
You are the power and resources to welcome nightmares. They provide wonderful opportunity to explore, understand and nourish neglected aspects of yourself. The nightmare usually presents itself in a frightening image. It takes that form to get your attention, to wake you up, to send out the warning siren.
You can, even while gasping for breath, grab your pen and write down the dream. Describe the frightening image in detail. Describe what it wants, what it wants to do, what it is doing in your dream.
The more you write the more you contain it. But now you are not containing it in a dark prison below awareness. Now you are containing it in the outer world of consciousness where you can explore and think while keeping the energy safely held in your own awareness.
Once you begin a dialogue with the images you will discover the important news you are trying to give to
* Actually, the more I look at this picture, the more cute this little guy seems to me. Nightmares are personal. The most benign looking image could instill fear in the dreaming state, not because of the image but because of what it means to the person. It's the emotion attached to the image, not the image itself, that needs to be explored. But, the image serves as a guide in that exploration. JP
Joanna is a Los Angeles psychotherapist in private practice and author of Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder. For a free telephone consultation contact her at