A recent "20/20 " TV broadcast featured
dreamworker and radio host Kathleen Sullivan. Kathleen, who is the author of
*Recurring Dreams,* described her dream of an eagle caught in a web. She
interpreted her dream eagle as a symbol for herself, caught in the web of
alcoholic addiction. She was able to use that insight to change her life, to
stop drinking and, as a result, her recurring dreams disappeared.
On the same program, another dreamworker, Gillian Holloway, spoke with four
people who were suffering from recurring nightmares. Like Kathleen, she used
symbolic interpretation in an attempt to match dream content with current life.
Afterwards, two of the people interviewed felt that the use of metaphor and pun
unlocked their dreams' meaning and revealed helpful information. But the other
two weren't so convinced.
That symbols reflect current life is only one possible meaning for dreams.
And to pinpoint the "meaning " of nightmares doesn't necessarily
settle upset feelings and emotions. Even those dreamworkers who usually take a
passive approach to dreams will agree that a nightmare is cause for action. Some
examples of behavioral dreamwork techniques are: re-entry dreamwork, Senoi and
Furthermore, to focus solely on 'symbolic interpretation' can miss the
literal cause of the trauma. Just as with any type of dream, each possible
stimulus for nightmare must be considered in order to match it with the
appropriate action. When dreams are multi-layered, several methods might be used
Here are several possible explanations for nightmares and suggested
1. A metaphor for current life attitudes and activities. When you change your
life, the dream changes. For example: you quit a job with a demanding boss and
your chase dreams cease.
2. A metaphor for a bio-chemical glitch or surge. For example: You dream of
your own body's dismemberment, as the pictorial equivalent of intrusive
thoughts. Because this sort of nightmare is the result of the mind-body system
not functioning at optimum (and expressing mental or physical illness instead),
it can require physiological intervention such as diet or drug therapy.
Conversely, drugs and normal hormonal changes can trigger it. For example: you
dream of tidal flooding just prior to your menstrual period. A light touch of
behavioral dreamwork techniques can shift content to a more positive metaphor to
describe the sensation.
3. A psychic copycat of a current situation. For example: your sister has
repeating nightmares. You "dream her dreams " because you are in
psychic resonance with her. Your dreams end when hers do. Or they cease when you
break the psychic bond with her, using cleansing or cutting rituals.
4. A repetition of a past traumatic event in current lifetime. For example:
you dream of your recent rape, a childhood assault or your wartime battle. This
type of nightmare is so deeply etched in the psyche that it can require heavy
use of behavioral dreamwork techniques to modify the content and emotional
5. A depiction of a past or probable life. For example: you dream the last
events prior to your violent death. A request for new information may provide
additional dreams to shed light on the events surrounding this nightmarish
experience. Treatment involves the sort of behavior modification techniques used
for traumatic nightmares.
6. A depiction of the future. Confirmation occurs either when the dream comes
true or when you change your life so it won't come true. For example: you repair
your car brakes so you won't literally slide off the highway, as you keep doing
in your dreams.
Methods that determine meaning plus techniques that modify behavior comprise
the full tool set to resolve a nightmare, recurring or not. But selecting the
appropriate tool depends on what is actually stimulating the nightmare to occur.
There is no one-size-fits-all tool for nightmare work. So, don't rely on that
first hammer you bought, when what you really need is a crowbar or a monkey