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Learning From the Monster in Your Dreams

by Gillian Holloway, Ph.D. (Dream Discoveries Newsletter, Winter 1995)

Whether you are stalked by a serial killer, chained to a zombie, or wrestle a vampire, the monster in your dream can be a profound source of understanding the meaning of your dream.

The most commonly reported monsters in my clients' dreams are: Vampires, Zombies, Blobs, Gestapo Officers and Burglars. I include the latter two, despite their humanoid status, because within the typical dream scenarios they figure in the same light as monsters. What do these monsters have in common? Each possess unique characteristics that distinguish them from the others; and those characteristics are generally symbolic exaggerations of the real life element that troubles the dreamer.

For example: zombies are dead people who wander the earth in a very creepy way. Pathetic because of their limbo status, they represent a fate worse than death. (Surely nothing could be worse than eternity in their soulless state?) We seldom run into zombies in real life, so why are they so prevalent in our dreams? I believe zombies figure in our dreams so frequently because one of our cultural dictates is to march like good soldiers to jobs we hate, work for organizations we cannot respect and remain in relationships that have lost their aliveness. The subconscious sees things in very simple terms, we are either moving toward aliveness or marching in "the dead zone." When too much of life is comprised of marching in the dead zone this can be reflected by zombies in our dreams.

Vampires are prevalent in dreams because they combine a certain seductive quality with a repellent and morbid tone. (Most addictions for example, share this dual characteristic of seductiveness and morbidity). Many unwholesome relationships are based upon the exploitation of one person's energy for the "feeding" or satisfaction of the other. People who have difficulty with boundaries may dream of vampires as they begin relationships, possibly because they are aware of being thrilled by the very pattern that will eventually prove costly and draining to them. Vampires may also represent a significant unhealthy compromise in the interest of avoiding change. Many people dream of being bitten by and then becoming a vampire. Sometimes this leads them to realize they are engaging in extreme thoughts or behaviors in order to avoid a natural process of change, in the same way a vampire avoids death by preying on the living.

Blobs are inexplicably horrible in dreams, turning up everywhere, oozing into the dreamer's presence without warning, and stubbornly resisting all attempts at extermination. I have observed that blobs tend to represent emotional responses and feelings that trouble the dreamer, more often than people or external events in the dreamer's life. One woman haunted by a personal fear suffered through many dreams of a ubiquitous blob that cropped up wherever she went. Another woman, disturbed by her sexual feelings dreamed of a wet oozing monster that surfaced every few years and turned her life upside down. Since we tend to avoid and dissociate from feelings we dislike or find frightening, this distancing tactic is often illustrated in dreams of a gooey blob that will not go away. Burglars often represent something new and foreign invading the dreamer's personal life, or a violation of personal boundaries.

Gestapo officers figure in the dreams of people who are undergoing an unexpected restriction of personal freedom, as well as a certain sense of persecution or loss of dignity.

When trying to understand the monster in your dream, bear in mind that your subconscious has likely amplified and exaggerated a very real quality that disturbs you, depicting it as a monster, or monstrous figure in your dream. The waking life situation will seem pale in comparison to the horrors of your dream.

Here are some keys to understanding the monster in your dream.

  1. Define it's outstanding characteristic. (How is it different from another type of monster? What horrible powers does it possess? What makes it a monster?) Here you have an amplified version of the genuine element that disturbs you.

  2. What particular threat does it pose to you? (Vampires feed on you and make you become like they are, zombies are dead yet exist and want you to join the ranks of the "un-dead" as well. Gestapo officers take control of your freedom and identity. Blobs are icky, contaminating, and will not go away.) The potential threat posed by your dream monster is a dramatized version of the fear aroused in you by the real life person, event or feeling the monster represents.

  3. What person, event, or part of you feels like it might do that to you? What haunts you, drains you, give you the creeps or seems to be taking over your autonomy? Now that you have identified the source of the monstrous situation, what good does it do you? Here are some gifts my clients have derived from this identifying process.

    • Greater understanding of the source of conflicting feelings can be a great relief. Many of us associate strong feelings with loss of control, weakness or lack of intelligence. Monster dreams reveal what is hurting us, as well as how and why we are so deeply affected. In this way, they help us make sense of pain that may have otherwise seemed like a freak occurrence, or a sign of inadequacy.

    • Recognizing the emotional cost of a given predicament may enable you to make decisions with fuller awareness of the possible consequences to you. You don't have to change, but knowing more about your subjective experience will allow you to make informed decisions, rather than be trapped into a habitual response.

    • Noting your actions, attempts at combat, escape or resolution within the dream will help you evaluate your responses in waking life. Unfortunately fear is such an entrancing emotion that it throws many of us into our least resourceful state just when we need to be our best. Study your dream responses and gauge their effectiveness. If everything you do in the dream makes matters worse, consider whether this is a metaphor for the way you are interacting with the real life situation. Often more-of-the-same is all we can think of to do, even when we keep getting burned by the gas we pour on the fire. On the other hand, if you are very pro-active in the dream, many therapists think this is a positive sign, even if you do not vanquish the monster or make friends with it. We cannot avoid having some challenges in life, nor can we avoid our own dislike of certain situations, but if our dreams show us bravely doing our best, it is likely we possess and will call upon the required resources within ourselves to handle the situation.

    • Occasionally the subconscious slips us a great gift in our worst nightmares. Some dreamers have been "told" by another dream character how to handle the situation. One woman's grandmother figured in a dream about burglars and reminded her to stand up for herself; she tried this with her cranky boss (who was the real burglar) and they have had a more respectful working relationship ever since. If you receive a message, see a sign, or get a revelation in a horrible nightmare, be very careful to attend to that part of the dream. Study the sign as an archeologist would an ancient inscription, for you may have been given a clue that will unlock the door to your own resources and understanding of the situation.

    • Finally, looking at the most melodramatic and blood-curdling version of your present situation often makes the real thing easier to deal with. Your in-laws may make you dream of vampires, but you don't really have to drive a stake through their hearts, or keep a coffin in the living room for when they come to visit. Your real task is much easier than that, and you may suddenly feel that you can handle anything after what you have been through.

Any dream containing a dramatic monster may be heavy with potential insights. Try to look at the dream as a work of art, and appreciate the cinematic qualities, even those that frightened you. These horror stories are usually signals that a deeper understanding is necessary before we can move through the present situation. The more threatening the dream, the greater are the benefits to be derived from exploring and understanding it. If you move forward with courage, you can expect rich rewards for your efforts.


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