Did you ever have a nightmare? Who hasn’t?

Though dreaded, at one time or another, the nightmare is known to all of us.

And here’s the question I would ask you—even though you were terrified of something frightening and anxiety provoking that happened—following the nightmare did anything like that happen?

Overwhelming the answer is “No.”

The nightmare is only frightening from one point of view, and that is from the dreamer’s. If a robber is about to break into your house, it isn’t the robber who is anxious. If your car is about to careen off a cliff, it isn’t the car, or the cliff, or some other person who is terrified; it is you.

The nightmare is a dream that is extremely frightening and provokes distress and anxiety in the dreamer who is also the protagonist of the drama. Most often the fear escalates to such an extent that we wake up scared, with our hearts pounding.

Here’s a reason why:

The person who appears as myself in the dream represents the status quo of who I think myself to be at this particular time. The “I” of the dream represents a state of identity, and it is to that state of identity that something appears terrifying.

A lovely, very socially conscious woman dreamed that she was traveling on a long ocean voyage with many trunks of clothes and belongings. Thieves broke into her stateroom to steal her jewelry and handbags. She woke from this dream in a panic and a sweat.

The woman, whom I will call Mary, was on the cusp of letting go of the need to be seen in a particular way. Her identity as a socially prominent, well-dressed person who presented an image of perfection to the world around her was about to be undone. As she struggled to find the part of herself that was spontaneous, artistic, and even out-spoken, her demure persona was going to take a hit.

The nightmare prepared her for what was coming. Her deeper self needed a more expanded identity in order to include parts of herself that she had previously excluded, and so the nightmare was like a harbinger of things to come. The robbers were antagonists to her status quo identity at the time, but they were helpers who wanted to move her forward to a more expanded, inclusive identity.

The next time you wake from a nightmare, ask you self—what part of you is scared and what part of you is trying to expand who you are?

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