Experiencing the Varieties of Nightmares

The five nightmares found below were reported to the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR). The nightmares have differing themes of fear, all of which are each experienced individually.

Jan 34

This is a nightmare. It's an old house, three stories, my ex lives there. I know he's there and I live in fear once I sense him. Different scenarios are going on in the house before I become aware of him, then it's just he and I. I am trying to avoid him, to escape from an encounter. I am afraid, I can't scream it's a struggle to try to make a sound so someone can hear me. I've been having this dream since early on in our marriage, we divorced last year.

Mr Hagen's Reply: Divorce -or- On Depression

Jan's dream revolves around the themes of marriage, fear, helplessness (can't scream) and the desire to escape.  In fact, the dreamer has already divorced at the time of the dream, however she appears to be haunted by memories, feelings and images which are still circulating unresolved in her unconscious mind. Martin Seligman's Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death provides an explanation for many nightmares received by the IIDR. Much as in Jan's dream, Seligman's concept of learned helplessness features the inability to escape or avoid stressful "encounters." Bringing psychological closure to the traumatic experiences, unfinished business of past desires and dysfunctional relationships is paramount to ending the nightmare, healing and moving on.

Herb, 23

Last night i had a very clear dream which made my heart beat as if was having a nightmare but it was the furthest thing from a nightmare. Basically i was dreaming that i was in the game Counter-Strike. This is a tactical PC game that people play over the internet. The point of the game is for the Terrorist to explode a bomb or prevent Counter-Terrorist from rescuing hostages. Counter-Terrorists have to defuse the bomb and rescue the hostages. I was recently dating a girl who is now traveling in Australia and as a result we decided to take a break from dating. She was in my dream and in the game with me. However every time i tried talking to her she would not respond to me or even look at me. No matter how hard i tried to get her to talk to me she would be silent. The weird part about it was that one of my best friends was there and they were together the whole time. Whenever i was on my own dealing with counter-terrorists i would occasionally run into her but no matter what i did resulted in no response from her. Well the entire night i kept on jumping from different places. This i think of like changing different maps of the game. Anyway right before i woke up i was on the bus and she was sitting next to some guy who i didn't recognize. After he got off she stayed on the bus sitting in her seat. Then once he got off the bus she looked at me and i felt really sad because of the whole time her not wanting to communicate with me. Once i felt that i woke up and my heart was pounding. I don't know what to make of this because we still email each other from time to time. Can you please shed some light on this?

Mr Hagen's Reply: Gaming -or- The Inception of Relationships

Herb's dream viewed from a physiological perspective ("heart beat") appears to the dreamer to be like a nightmare, however he believes it is not. Herb's dream has taken him into the Internet game Counter-Strike. In his own words, Herb is "jumping from different places", "like changing different maps of the game." Herb appears to be a gamer, a player and a thrill seeker on the Internet. These gaming activities appear to be more important than building an enduring relationship with the girl he has been dating. Yet, he seems to desire both. At the end of his story, Herb tells us; "Once i felt that i woke up and my heart was pounding." That is the point, dreaming can become an escape from reality, the film Inception underscores this idea. In terms of relationships the obsession of gaming can become its own nightmare. This nightmare in-turn becomes a signal to wake up and come back to reality.

Beth, 22

I've been having dream variations on the same theme all my life. Some dreams don't fit these categories, dreams that I consider "random". But many dreams are focused on the same storyline, a storyline that has been developing (I estimate) since I was about eight. I dreamed first about a world, then I became the "queen" of this world. I understood that what this meant was being the ruler of my own "domain" aka "mind". But that's when the weird stuff started happening. The storyline of my dreams since has been complete and encompassing. I have characters, not taken from real life, but dream characters that occur constantly. I have reoccurring places, to the point where I can almost map things out. There are specific rules to my dream universe that I understand while asleep. For instance, if I'm on a road, and I turn right, a nightmare will occur. But left is either safe or boring. I enjoy nightmares because they have interesting stories, much more so than regular dreams. Dreams are one thing that nobody is interested in hearing about as a conversation topic because by their nature they defy input. One has to simply sit back and listen to someone who's telling a dream. But to have the same storyline for more than a decade, with characters you feel attached to, seems like something worth sharing. My dreams are also ridiculously vivid, often violent, and often quirky. I've read so much on dreams, and everything seems to fall short of the sheer immensity of my own little sleep world. That seems like a brag, and of course it is on some level. Who wouldn't be proud of a vast internal world? But, it doesn't matter what you dream; reality is the real trump card. Do nothing with your life and you've....done nothing, no matter how interesting your own little personal thing. I just want input by specialists.

Mr Hagen's Reply: The Dream World -or- What is Real?

Beth is a more skilled player in the Dream Game, she is the "Queen" of her dream domain. For Beth this domain is related to the creations of her mind, desire and imagination. Beth realized at a young age (eight years old by her own reckoning) that the dream world is a fictive imaginary space where the story, plot, characters, literary devices and artistic realism can be worked on and experimented with. Beth on her own account feels proud to be the ruler, who has learned the rules of the dream game world. Beth understands that she can plot the type of dreams she desires. Beth much like Herb has learned that in the dream world you can "map things out". In this cognitive space, turning to the right path means having a nightmare, turning left is either safe or boring. Beth is also correct in stating that you can do spectacular things in the theatre of sleep/dreams, however if they are not brought back into the real world, and acted upon such as found in creating art, poetry, literature, music, building better relationships and so on, this hallucinated world means little to nothing. Beth understands that in the dream game, "reality is the real trump card." The IIDR has attempted to make this nightly innate creative inner space visible for all to appreciate, understand and take part.

Mary, 28

Yesterday I woke to a dream that I was having, almost in a nightmare state. In the dream, I was joining my husband and my children for some sort of family outing. Only it wasnt just us. As I approached my husband and kids, there was a woman standing with them. Then my husband kindly told me that he was leaving me for this woman. I dont remember too much else except for the end part near when I woke up. That part of the dream I was desperate to do anything to make my husband change his mind and come back to me, so I had done some stuff to drive this other woman crazy so she would leave. I dont know if it is significant or not but my husband is in the military and we are stationed on an officer training base and the woman in the dream was a military cadet in training.

Mr Hagen's Reply: Authenticity of Relationships

Mary's dream underscores the dark emotional feelings that exist in marriages and families. With a reported divorce rate of approximately 50% in the Western world, small wonder that such feelings and nightmares exist. Divorce ranks as one of the most stressful events in one's lifetime. The "family outing" could be interpreted as a play on words, as is often found to be the case in dream narratives. The "outing" may be referring to the true thoughts and feelings of one or both partners. Mary's dream may be seen as insecurity and jealousy, where "new recruits", represent a perceived danger to her relationship with her husband and to the family. On the other hand, her husband may in fact be looking for "new recruits." The art of loving can only be achieved through authentic desire and dialogue between the partners, as such, only then can feelings and thoughts be explored and resolved.

Ellen, 27

I don't normally have nightmares.  I awoke last night with a horrible gut wrenching sadness.  I dreamt that my dad and I were working on a project on a high rise building which was my idea but dad was happy to do it.  We were many stories up and what we were working on was something for me and my house though I don't remember it - some kind of project.  We discussed and went over everything and then started working on it which involved anchoring cables to these high rises.  Anyway - right away, dad stepped off the platform, grabbed onto a rope and looked at me - and then let go of the rope and fell stories and stories down.  All I could think was he was still looking at me and I couldn't do anything and I was trying to tell him I loved him.  And I was watching him fall away and hoping that it wouldn't hurt him.  It was just so very vivid.

Mr Hagen's Reply: Nightmares, Loss and Sadness

Ellen's dream appears cognitively and emotionally complex, however it is plain to see that nightmaric fear of the loss of a loved one, in this dream about her father. Ellen much as Herb uses physiological imagery (gut wrenching) to explain the experienced psychological effects of the deep sadness of her nightmare and feelings of loss.


All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.