One thing that confounds even the most dream-savvy among us is the degree to which some of our dreams are gory and disturbing. Here is one key to understand: the dreaming mind expresses emotional violence in scenes of physical wounding.
The dreaming mind is vigilant about personal evolution, satisfaction and self-expression. These are not trivial “extras” to be delved into someday when we can find the time, but instead are considered the very point of life. When something or someone short-circuits your essence, you may have horrific dreams that depict diabolical evil attacking or draining you. These horrific scenes are vital to explore, because their exaggerated drama is actually an important signal of a reality that should not be ignored, or “made okay.”
Cannibalism: One woman dreamed of dating a new, attractive man who was in fact a serial killer and a cannibal. He captivated people, because what he truly wanted was to kill them and then eat them. Her nightmare was filled with graphic scenes of this character munching on body parts that left her shaken and queasy when she awoke. She also felt a sense of dread, because the dream was ambiguous about what she would choose. Even after she knew this man was a psychopathic killer, she still felt drawn to him in the dream. She was terrified of him, but she was also afraid that she could not trust herself to make the obvious choice for her own survival.
Honoring Your Truth: This woman was happily married with grown children but was in a career transition. She was contemplating entering a career field that held much that attracted her, but which she felt would set her up for emotional burnout. Like many sensitive people, she easily became drained and upset by the rougher side of life, although she felt almost duty-bound to enter a field that would place her in the front lines of challenging conditions. As we discussed her dream of considering a life choice that felt threatening and might “consume” her like a monster, she felt empowered to honor her unique sensibilities. She was, she felt, perhaps better suited to a work situation in which her perceptiveness and sensitivity might be assets, rather than windows through which she might be drained or even exploited. She felt that the dream was “shouting” at her to point out her concerns were valid and valuable information; not flickering shadows she should judge as cowardly and then attempt to ignore. To be devoured by something you attempt to love or help is not a useful fate for anyone concerned. Often grim and violent dreams are an attempt to gain our recognition of a truth we have chosen not to respect.
Blood Loss: One woman told me that for a period of 2-3 years, she was plagued by nightmares of extreme blood loss. In the dreams, she would suffer a seemingly small injury, like a cut, but the bleeding would not stop. Soon, she would be slipping on the floor as she tried to walk around, dodging puddles of her own blood. At that time in her life, there was no daytime equivalent or physical condition, so she could never understand why her dreams kept repeating. When we discussed the way blood loss can sometimes express emotional draining, like a kind of loss of life-force, she immediately recognized a connection. During those years, she had been in a close romantic relationship with someone she loved dearly, but who had been a severe drain on her, emotionally, sexually, and ultimately financially. Although she “knew” this person had problems, she had attempted to stick it out and try to fix up and smooth out the rough spots in their life together. As she reviewed this important series of dreams, she realized they had been telling her: The damage you are sensing is, in its way, quite real. Don’t ignore it. Because we are subtly instructed throughout life to make our subjective experience and truth less important than external reality, we tend to also ignore and degrade our subjective awareness of what matters most to us. When this happens, we essentially cut ourselves off from emotional, spiritual and intellectual nutrition, trudging onward bravely as if ignoring our truth was the noble path. We may only come into awareness of the back-story of our lives when we are severely out of balance, or when we encounter evidence of a terrible unhappiness when it emerges one way or another.
These grim messages are not trying to force us into decisions; instead, they are validating our subjective experience, the imbalance or starvation we are enduring. They are saying: this is real. Honor what you know and feel.
The Marrow of My Bones: A few years ago, I was involved with a man who had “everything.” The master of the small gesture, he was so practiced and smooth that women often asked me if there were “anymore where he came from.” Yet from the time we became involved, I began having dreams of abduction, subjugation, violence and wounding. I knew that this was a very bad sign, but like many people, I was convinced by the “presented self” who was so thoughtful and seemingly kind – I wondered if the nasty turn of my dreams was simply a reflection of the adjustment a life-long single person might have to make in order to be in a suddenly close partnership. One night, I dreamed that this man had awakened and moved close to me. I continued to sleep in my dream scene, while he drilled holes through my skin and muscles, into my bones. Then, vampire-like, he leaned into me and sucked on these holes, until he could suck the very marrow from my bones. I was paralyzed in the dream, and felt the life and core of me being drained away.
When I awoke from this dream, I could no longer ignore my sense that this man, although smooth, charming, and very winning, was determined to somehow pull the life out of me. The very horror of the dream allowed me to sit down and take stock of the situation. It was like spiritual forensic evidence that could not be dismissed. Because of the dream, and others like it, I was able to extricate myself from the situation before I did indeed lose my sense of self.
1. Cross-check for other dreams of the same theme: If you are experiencing spiritual wounding, you will have many dreams that illustrate and express the theme. Look in your journal for all the wounding dreams or restricting dreams you can find. Look at them as a body-of-evidence and weigh them together.
2. Ask a few trusted friends for their observations: Unbiased friends who have your back are often well aware of what is “costing” you or draining you. Ask for their observations and impressions to help flesh out the connections between gory dreams, and hurt feelings or restricted essence.
3. Ask for intuitive impressions: Run your dreams and your concerns by someone who is a great real-world counselor. This may be a therapist, but it may well be your manicurist or your dog trainer. You know best who are the channels of wisdom in your life. Ask this person for a gut-check or intuitive reaction to your story. By asking for a gut reaction, you invite pure knowing, rather than intellectual advice. Whenever you want to bounce something off a wise person in this way, be specific about what level of wisdom you’re asking for.
4. Take Time to Digest: Take some time away from the situation to digest what is coming clear to you. Go on a retreat, take a weekend away, visit an old friend. Physical distance fosters clarity and big-picture awareness. Often during these pullback moments, the reality of a dubious choice or a limiting condition becomes crystal clear and less overwhelming.
5. Trust Yourself: Trust what you know to be true, what you need in this life, and your ability to take care of yourself. If you begin and stay with that trust, you will not go far wrong, and will ultimately be able to correct any course that does not serve your purpose or your happiness.