Tag Archives: Anxiety Dreams

Henri Rousseau Sleeping Gypsy

Anxiety Dreams

Anxiety. Inadequacy. Fear. Exposure.

Most dreamers report some type of anxiety dream, often repetitive or recurring, very particular to the individual and still very much like other people’s anxiety dreams. This post does not intend to minimize the anxiety that some people have to an extent that impacts life areas every day. If that is true for you, please get in touch with a professional today whom you can see face to face as soon as possible for evaluation and a comprehensive care plan.

For most folks, anxiety dreams aren’t just for weenies. A lot of people have them, including those of success and power. Take Tony Soprano, for instance. In an early session with Dr. Mefli, he has a dream his penis falls off. Scary.

Tony Soprano ~ James Gandolfini

Mickey Mantle had inadequacy dreams in his retirement – yes, the repeat World Champion, first ballot Hall of Famer had anxiety dreams too. Nobody questioned his courage, ever.

The Mick

And from the old testament, what about the feeble dreams of the powerful kings and pharaohs? The most powerful people in our culture also experience anxiety dreams. The real question is not, “does this anxiety dream mean I am a fearful coward?” but instead, “What can this dream teach me about showing up in my life?”

My own anxiety dreams are common enough: Naked in public. Back in High School or Junior High, and it is test time. Needing to use the bathroom. Waiting tables/bartending/managing the Sailmaker Restaurant  (a job I had 1979-1985) and the place fills up, I am the only one working. Naked in a High school test and needing to use the bathroom all at the same time. Each one is a dream specific to myself and as common to all dreamers as clouds that fill the sky in their unique and never-ending way. So where to begin?

(1) Looking back on the last 24-48 hours is always a good way to approach a dream that shows stress and worry. What has my attention, now? It is not a math test from 1976, I can be pretty certain. But there may be something testing my attention or problem solving skills.  And something I have heard a peer say recently a couple of times applies: “The way we do anything is the way we do everything.”

(2) Who is in the dream that does not fit, and why do they apper now? Remember the picture game, what doesn’t fit? One thing or item is out of place . . . . dreams play this with us. That is why Jung invited us to pay attention to the “little people” in dreams – sometimes they carry as much or more information as the archetypal or god-like figure. Ask the figure why they appear . . . why here . . .  and why now? What do they carry for us that cannot be said by someone in our life now? And who in our life now ar ethey like? Or what is our life dealing with now that we dealt with through them or someone like them?

(3) Follow the feelings . . .  Confusion usually is a cluster of more than one feeling. Allow the feeling in the dream to connect us with what is alive in our emotional life today –  or what needs to be relived, animated, vivified. It is less about remembering “I had an anxiety dream” and more about using any tool the dream might present to the dreamer, including the feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear.

4) Allow figures to come forward: This includes allies, helping figures, mentors, archetypes, family members. It may be an obscure figure seemingly out of place in the dream. Sometimes it is that high school classmate you knew only casually that appears in a dream that carries an essential quality needed to confront life’s current situation. It also includes figures which may be fearsome, unlikable, annoying, or downright scary. Facing these figures, allies at hand, helps to clarify the “message” of the anxiety dream and bring out resources or solutions. The picture below is a constellation of images from a single dream; one scene painted on a rock, and a different (goat) image formed in clay in the back of this altar.


5) Meet these figures on their terms. Here is an example from a different tradition: Recently, a friend recommended the book Feeding your Demons by Tsultrim Allione. Her recommendation in the Tibetan Chod tradition is to visualize yourself turning to nectar and feeding the demon figure whatever it is seeking from you. This happens on an imaginal level of course; one visualizes turning one’s body into the quality or the nectar that the demon seeks and submitting. In dreamwork, the process is similar. It can be as simple and as powerful as an empty-chair Gestalt with the figure. It can be an invitation to take the figure on a walk in nature, as real or as imaginal as you wish for it to be.

Living with anxiety usually means living – with anxiety. Dreamwork helps us place the emphasis on living. There is something leveling and humanizing about powerful figures like Mantle and Soprano carrying anxiety and feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. Living with anxiety can mean living fully; dreams can assist in giving the anxiety a scale and context which helps us go forward more fully, into life.



U.S. Supreme Court 1925

Moms, Pops, and Cops: Authority Figures in Dreams

Keystone Cops

In waking life you have a project due. When you are home with your family, you think about it. There is a vague sense you are about to be called on the carpet, found out as an impostor, fired or judged. For many of us, that’s when we have the dream that we are back in High School and have a test we have to finish to get out. It vaguely makes no sense why we’re back in high school, due to our age or that we finished college long ago or for whatever reason, but in the dream we dismiss that logic. We do that, perhaps, to confront the feeling of being in trouble. Something or someone in our lives today has power over us like that vice principal with the paddle, the nun with the ruler, or the teacher who could shame us in front of our peers.

In a recent dream group, we were down to the last two members who had not yet shared a dream. And on that night, one shared an anxiety dream about needing to be at work in 5 minutes, saving time by leaving clothes on as she took her shower.  The other group Three tenmember shared, “I had the same dream last night” – the main  difference was 11:30 AM was the time due at work for one, 3:00 PM for the dreamer who does not have a formal job these days! So a single dream, shared by two group members, separated by the figure of three and a half hours.

What these two dreams have in common is more than just basic anxiety. Each of the dreamers has an incorporated authority figure – they themselves are concerned with the consequences of their actions in their respective dreams. This usually seems a bit more evolved, say, than someone having to meet in the dream some patriarchal or matriarchal figure, a Zeus or Hera of power, that must call the dreamer on the carpet.

But these dreams have a silver lining! This type of dream, seen often in the “Failure to Launch” group of 18-26 year olds – yes, those people who pay more for car insurance – is a sign of maturation. Dreaming of the authority figure often seems to be the incorporation of an internal decider, the development of an inner judge who will lead the dreamer in waking like to the better decisions formerly suggested by a parent or other adult.

U.S. Supreme Court 1925

So, what if you are having these dreams at 40, 55, 70? That is not about developing a Freudian “Superego.” It may mean simply that you are in a life situation where a grown up decision needs to be made: leaving a job; practicing tough love with a grown child; setting limits or boundaries in an adult friendship or relationship. When the inner judge is awakened, it is time to see if your actions towards others lack decisiveness – or on the other extreme – have become too intrusive and demanding of others.

At age 20, I had a series of intense dreams of my father – angrier far beyond his normal demeanor, that were so scary I prayed to God for dreams of my father to stop. They ceased immediately, which left me to work out in the daytime the task of growing up, of meeting adult responsibilities in an adult fashion. In my case, it took another few years for that process to round out – but current research supports the belief that formation of the personality still has some flexibility into the mid twenties. So if you are dreaming of authority – look to your own authority within, and accept the challenge!