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.
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.
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.