You have a recurring nightmare. Perhaps you are being chased by something enormous and faceless, something terrifying. Perhaps the sight of something innocuous in a dream causes you unexplained anguish or despair.
You wake in a cold sweat (or with tears on your pillow), sure there must be something wrong with you.
Symbolic Imagery and PTSD
The language of our dreams can be puzzling. Images can be confusing, and are often symbolic.
For abuse survivors, nightmares are a frequent symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) . An estimated 71% – 96% of those with PTSD have nightmares.
Short-Term v. Long-Term Memory
Scientists agree that dreams involve the mind’s transfer of short-term memories to long-term storage.
Dreams can and do have multiple meanings. Only the dreamer can know the true meaning of his/her dreams. The resonance we experience when we realize the significance of a dream is a feature of memory. In effect, we recognize what our unconscious mind was attempting to convey to our conscious selves.
Repression (banishing painful memories to the subconscious) can protect a traumatized child. This coping mechanism may, however, become a problem in adulthood.
“…when the formerly abused child has…matured to a point where he or she can ‘face the facts’ without being crippled or overwhelmed, the dreams, in the service of health and wholeness, will always begin to offer increasingly dramatic and emotionally compelling metaphors of the repressed material” .
The repressed material will, in other words, begin to surface in our dreams.
Dreams in the Bible
The psychiatric pioneer, Carl Jung, viewed dreams as having a spiritual dimension.
In the Bible, God often used dreams to communicate. Examples of this in the Old Testament include Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28: 10-16), Pharaoh’s cows and grain stalks (Gen. 41: 1-7), Nebuchadnezzar’s statue (Dan. 2: 27-45), and Daniel’s four beasts (Dan. 7: 1-28).
Examples in the New Testament include Joseph’s instruction to take Mary as his wife (Matt. 1: 20-21), the Magi’s warning not to return to Herod (Matt. 2: 12), Joseph’s warning to flee to Egypt (Matt. 2: 13), and the caution to Pontius Pilate from his wife regarding Christ’s innocence (Matt. 27: 19).
We may never receive encoded messages from God in our dreams. But God did design our minds so that our dreams – even our nightmares – are always meant to move us in the direction of wellness.
 US Dept. of Veterans Affairs, “Nightmares and PTSD”, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/related/nightmares.asp.
 Jeremy Taylor, “Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill” (Warner Books, 1992).
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