After experiencing a nightmare — a bad dream during which you feel intensely distressed, afraid, or sad — you may wake up thinking that nothing good could come out of it. But as bad as nightmares are, they do have good purposes. Nightmares bring issues to your attention that you need to notice and deal with in your waking life. In fact, nightmares can be so useful to help you process thoughts and feelings that sometimes God sends warning messages through nightmares. Here’s how to interpret your bad dreams to find the good messages in them:
When you wake up after a nightmare, record whatever you can remember about it, just as you would do after a positive dream. If you’ve experienced a classic nightmare, you’ll likely remember many vivid details about your negative dream. If you wake up feeling scared but can’t recall why, you’ve probably experienced night terrors, which aren’t technically nightmares and usually result simply from your mind processing troubling thoughts to try to understand them better. Pray about any nightmare you experience, asking for the wisdom you need to interpret it wisely.
Common Types of Nightmares and Their Meanings
Certain types of nightmares are more common than others, and these common nightmares often feature images, sounds, or feelings that have universal symbolic meaning. Those symbols direct your attention toward something about which they’re trying to warn you. Common nightmares, and their meanings, include:
* Being lost: confusion or conflict that you need to address
* Someone chasing or attacking you: too much stress in your life
* Being trapped: feeling powerless in a situation
* Dying: loss or the need for a fresh start
* Suffering an injury or illness: suffering loss or feeling vulnerable
* Falling: feeling out of control in a situation
* Performing poorly on a test or presentation: anxiety about a situation or feeling inadequate or insecure about yourself
* Showing up in public naked or dressed inappropriately: feeling vulnerable, embarrassed or ashamed
* Having trouble with your car or other vehicle: frustration about challenges moving forward in life or reaching a goal
* Going through a natural disaster: a problem raging out of control in your life
* Experiencing damage to your home or other personal property: a valuable part of your waking life is at risk
* Missing a plane, train, bus, or other public transportation: missing out on something you’d like to do or losing touch with someone in a relationship
Warnings about Situations in Your Own Life
Nightmares may warn you about personal situations in your life that need to change because those situations are threatening your spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical health. If you have a nightmare about being chased or attacked, for instance, that message may have come to wake you up to the fact that you’re dealing with a dangerous amount of stress in your life and need to simplify your schedule. Or, if you experience a nightmare about being naked in public, it may be to urge you to pay attention to the shame you feel in your waking life and pursue the healing and confidence God wants you to have.
Once you interpret the message in your nightmare, take action with faith. Pray or meditate about what you’ve learned, asking for the wisdom and courage you need to respond well. For example, if you’ve had a nightmare about being in a disaster and realize that the problem it’s referring to is a certain bad habit that’s out of control in your life (such as an addiction to alcohol or a compulsion to overeat), take responsibility for your part in the problem and commit to working to heal and change.
Warnings about Situations in Other People’s Lives
Sometimes you will experience a nightmare about reaching out to help someone else. For instance, you may have a bad dream about a friend or family member who is going through a crisis like a divorce, illness, or unemployment. That nightmare may be a message designed to urge you to pray for the person and offer whatever practical help you can. Or, you may experience a nightmare about an unjust situation that upsets you — such as poverty or crime — and that nightmare’s message motivates you to start volunteering time or contributing money to support the cause of working for justice on that issue.
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.