Death Sentences -or- Occupational Hazards

Dreamer: Veronica, early thirties, North American

Dreamer: Ginger, American 

I have three children. I am a nursing student, and a very busy person.

Three nights ago I had a dream that I died. I was still able to think, see, feel and hear. I was fighting the fact that I was dead, and trying to figure out ways to make myself be alive again. In the dream I was in an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar people. I was trying to ask them how to stop myself from dying. Nobody would answer me. In my dream, I knew that I must leave the earth, but I was desperately fighting not to. When I awoke, I was crying and very scared. I can't get the dream off of my mind. I know it sounds crazy but now I am afraid that I really am dying and my mind or body was trying to tell me something and I am afraid to go to sleep.

Dreamer: Cynthia, American

My dream was so very vivid that I could smell and feel in it. I was being sent to prison for 25 years to life. This seems to have been the result of being at a murder scene along with two others. We were all found guilty. The dream really begins with the sentencing and me saying goodbye to my loved ones, specifically my grandmother who has been gone for four years now. I was hugging her and we were crying. I asked this guard how many phone calls I would be allowed and she said, "Seven" so I told my grandmother that I would call whenever I could. I was sentenced to death.

The overwhelming feeling I got from this dream was severe anxiety, desperation and panic. I have never been in trouble with the law. I am a student of Behavioral Science and I do have an interest in criminology. In this dream I was also talking to my sister while in handcuffs and we were discussing the threat of "them" coming back for me at any minute. I was then sitting on the floor of a cell with a few other women around minding their own business.

I just kept thinking, "This can't be happening! There has to be a way to fix this, I can't live my life here. I have to be with my family. I can't die."

As I said, sheer panic. It seemed so real.

I watch American Justice, The New Detectives-Case studies in Forensic Science (my favorite), and The Justice Files on television whenever I have the chance. Since I had this dream about going to prison I have had a very different feeling when watching someone being sentenced. I feel like I now know what it's like to experience such a dismal fate. Good thing all it took was a dream!

Mr. Hagen's Reply: Death Sentences: Occupational Hazards

Experience is the best way to understanding. Both dreamers above (who are students) are faced with emotional occupational hazards deriving from their vocational choices.

Dreamers often create transference types of experiences described above, in an attempt to understand what others are feeling. In a literary sense, dreamers identify with characters in their dreams. They take on qualities or get into the skin of others they deal with in daily life. Identification has deep roots in the unconscious. According to Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, identification is a fundamental characteristic of dramatic performance: "To see oneself transformed before one's own eyes and to begin to act as if one had actually entered into another body, another character."

This implies that the dream text or playing out the performance (called psychodrama) enables the dreamer to make decisions and judgments based upon his or her dream experience as the other character. If we judge the other to be better than ourselves (a hero or protagonist) identification occurs through admiration. If we consider the other to be worse but not totally blameworthy, identification occurs through compassion, fear and pity. Many elements in such dreams - places and people - are unfamiliar. Unfamiliarity is frightening in itself because we don't know its territory. Death is one such primary territory. The struggle with life and death goes on daily for all of us in different ways. Understanding this struggle is paramount to arranging our priorities and choices in life.

Life is always a poetic gestalt, an amalgam of life and death. When we are young we tend to overlook this fact, because of the fears and desperation identified in dreams such as those described above. We do not wish to experience utter helplessness in the face of death and will use every method to escape its clutches. But there is no way to nurse ourselves around the inevitability of death one way or the other (by natural causes or by death sentence).

A couple of good books by Ernst Becker, The Denial of Death and Birth and Death of Meaning will help you understand your dream. You might also read Norman Brown's "Life against Death". One of the dangers for care providers is over-empathizing with their patients/clients, also known in psychology circles as counter-transference. This over-empathizing occupational hazard makes the care provider a "helpless helper". The book that talks in detail about the dynamics of the "helpless helper", Der Hilflosen Helfer by H. Schmidtbauer is, unfortunately, only available (as far as I know) in German.

From a popular film perspective The Green Mile adapted from the novel of the same name by Stephen King fits the dramatic and sentimental description of the dreams. From another popular culture perspective the film that also fits these dreams is the movie Brainstorm (see video trailer), in which a machine is able record the experiences of one individual and allow others to re-live those memories. The ultimate experience of death has also been recorded by the computer for others to see.

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

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