There’s good dreams and then there’s bad dreams and then there’s dreams that wake you up in fear. My dreams are experienced in the first person, as I suspect most peoples’ are — I am an actor within my dream; I see and experience things in the dream world as though I were living them in the waking (that is, real) world.
Sometimes I am able to exercise a small degree of conscious control over my dreams and “steer” them like Neo in The Matrix. Most of the time I cannot or at least do not do this; I go along for the ride and deal with the weird shifting realities that make up dreams. Generally, dreaming is a pleasant or at least merely surreal experience, and almost always, dreams are evanescent, vanishing into nothingness within mere seconds of waking up.
I react poorly, though, to dreams in which there is an element of violence. They usually wake me up and I have trouble falling back asleep. It does not seem to matter whether I am the victim of the violence or not — I have a recurring dream of witnessing an act of violence that I am unable to prevent. It elicits a sense of dread and horror that lasts well after I wake up suddenly, sometimes crying out and scaring my wife. Worst of all are the dreams in which I engage in violence. Not only does the act of violence terrify me, it also leaves me riddled with feelings of remorse, self-doubt, and panic no matter how justified my own violence might have been while I was in Dream World. And since these dreams produce strong emotional responses, they are the ones which tend to remain vivid for a long time after waking up.
This happened to me last night. Now, I had a very good reason in my Dream World to engage in violence (self-defense) but I’m not going to record the details here despite a vivid recollection of them. What I’m writing about is the fact that I’m still creeped out about it eighteen hours later.
Maybe other people have dreams of violence, too. For someone who has experienced real, intense violence like military combat or being assaulted by a criminal, that makes a fair amount of sense. But I have been blessed to have had a life largely free of any encounters with violence more intense than some pushing and shoving and a couple of unpleasant episodes with bullies as a young teenager. So why would I have dreams of violence at all, much less dreams in which I engage in the violence myself?
Gratefully, for me such dreams are infrequent. I lack the psychological scars a trauma victim would have. I’m quite confident I’m not the only person who occasionally has violent or disturbing dreams and that it’s very easy to read too much into one’s dreams. But I wonder what they mean, what kind of junk my subconscious mind is trying to sort out.