Nightmares bring alive our worst fears.
Think of a time when you woke up in the middle of the night, soaking in sweat, shaking with fear and feeling your heart in the mouth. Yes! If you have been there, you know nightmares are no fun. They are absolute terror.
And it’s understandable that you might be having nightmares recently, the meanings of which you have no clue about and this is how you stumbled upon this article.
Even a person with sound mental health can seldom have their dreams turn into dark, vivid and terrifying images, interrupting their sleep. Sadly, some people find it extremely difficult to fall asleep, once they wake up from a nightmare.
It is absolutely natural to have nightmares now and then. Many children have nightmares but they generally stop between the age of 9 to 11 years but if the nightmares keep disturbing your sleep past that age, you might as well be having them for the rest of your life. Interestingly, children have more nightmares than adults. About 10-50% of the children have them while only a mere 2.5-10% of the adults have them.
Nightmares can also have their sources in trauma, physical illness, stress or psychopathology. Both the prevalence of nightmares and the relation between nightmares and measures of psychopathology have been extensively studied.
How is a nightmare different from dreams?
Dreams are images and sensation created by our subconscious mind with the help of the information we perceive in our waking life. Unlike nightmares, dreams are not only imageries that have a horrific or fear-evoking element in it.
Dreams can be soothing, based on wish-fulfillment, fun, romantic and sometimes bizarre, disturbing or frightening. Some dreams will actually leave you grinning when you wake up, wishing to go back to sleep to complete it.
A nightmare, on the other hand, has an aversive nature – no one really feels gratified, pleased or pacified after experiencing a nightmare.
Hartmann (1984) defined a nightmare as a long, frightening dream that awakens the sleeper, and awakening from a frightening dream has been used as an operational definition of nightmares by others. (1) Some of the researchers believe that nightmares are categorically an individual experience and hence is better left for the participants to describe.
Nightmares come in different forms and shapes having very distinct themes, contexts, feel and varying vividness.
Your Nightmares might surprisingly be trying to hint you at something you have been long ignoring.
Analyzing the meaning of nightmares is not too difficult when you know the key themes and compare them with your current life incidents.
I will go through 10 common nightmares and what they might mean for you.
Once you go back and retrospect, you will realize they are simply reflecting your life and what you are currently going through.
Often you might dream of drowning in some deep water body; it could either be you slipping deeper into the depths of water by yourself or it might be someone trying to drown you in the water with force while you struggle to get out of it.
Drowning nightmares will characteristically occur when a person is going through an emotionally overwhelming phase of life. A person who has nightmares of drowning might be having some repressed or badly regulated emotions – related to work, career, contemporary relationships, family or friends, which need to be addressed and resolved.
These are the thoughts or feelings that need to be processed and heard in conscious life.
2. Being trapped:
The nightmare theme of being trapped can occur in different forms – either you are trapped in a place where chances of escape are thin or you have been trapped in a place from where escape is possible, with a little effort on your part.
Very likely, a trapped nightmare means that you are facing a conflict situation in your life. It literally means you feel trapped in a life situation from which escape is getting difficult because of your inability to process the means of escape or you find the trapped situation both approachable and avoidable and hence the conflict.
Ask yourself, are you complying with something which you genuinely don’t want to continue doing?
Are you going against your deepest desires?
Seeing oneself physically trapped might reflect the ‘stuckness’ in real life. It can be in varied fields of your life – professional or personal. You might be trapped in an abusive relationship, or in financial debt, lagging behind in academics or stuck at work with no signs of progress.