The Ultimate Guide to Interpreting Bad Dreams and Nightmares


It’s a Nightmare! Nightmares are dreams that cause fear, terror, distress, and uneasiness while you sleep. These feelings may spill over into your waking life. They can occur at any time, to anyone, at any age.

Nightmares will always make you feel negative in some way. These are full of hidden meanings and symbols warning you to be aware of what is going on around you. These may be things you subconsciously know and are ignoring. It can also be there are things going on behind your back. How often do you ignore your gut instincts? Do you listen to your intuition? Nightmares occur for all sorts of reasons – for example, when under stress, grieving, or you are unwell.

Constant, persistent nightmares may be a sleep disorder and you should consult your doctor for advice.

There are several kinds of nightmares or “night terrors”.  One type of nightmare is an acting out of fears and anxieties being experienced in daily life.  A second type of nightmare is the result of a previous trauma, one that may have occurred recently, or years earlier.  A third type of nightmare, the precognitive nightmare, is more rare, but still common enough to discuss here.

Reflecting Anxieties

Some nightmares are considered mirror dreams in that they mirror your emotions back to you.  These dreams can be relatively mild, or they can be terrifying enough to ruin a good night’s sleep.  They are more common in childhood but anyone of any age can have a nightmare.

Humans are remarkably resilient.  We try not to let things get to us.  We can put on a brave face and go through our day without giving in to our fears and anxieties.  If we don’t want to acknowledge or deal with a problem, we are perfectly capable of pushing it to the back burners of our minds and letting it fester there, barely noticed.

The trouble with refusing to acknowledge and deal with our problems in our waking lives is that our minds will often force us to deal with them in our sleep.  What we’ve pushed to the confines of our subconscious mind will find a way out, often in the form of nightmares.

We do often get warnings before this happens.  Anxiety can wreck havoc on the human body.  Usually we just take a pill and go on about our lives.  Often it’s only when we have recurring nightmares that we begin to seek answers.

Past Traumas Come Back To Haunt Us

Childhood traumas can become adult nightmares.  This usually happens because something triggers a long ago memory and brings it to the forefront of the mind.  This is a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety disorder caused by seeing or experiencing a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.

The trigger can be most anything.  If a child was sexually abused, years later he could see a news story that mirrors his own, or he could see someone on the street who closely resembles his attacker.  The look in a frightened child’s eyes can bring memories of your own childhood roaring back and nightmares can plague you repeatedly until you deal with the memories and put the past behind you.

Precognitive Nightmares

Some people are blessed (or cursed) with precognitive nightmares.  Though these can’t easily be proven, there are some remarkable stories about people who’ve had precognitive dreams.  Abraham Lincoln was one.  He told his wife of the dream he had about two weeks prior to his death.  In the dream he saw a coffin in the living room and asked someone in the room who had died.  Their answer was “The President of the United States”.

One man dreamed that his son had fallen into a lake and drowned.  In his dream he’d taken his son to a lake and while his son sat on the ground by the lake tossing pebbles into the water, he’d run back to the car to grab something he’d forgotten.  When he returned, his son was floating face down in the water, dead.

This man didn’t think much of this dream because his son was with him, safe and sound.  Months later he and his son were invited to go on a camping trip with some friends.  The father took the son to the lake, saw him sit down and begin to toss pebbles into the lake, and told his son to stay put, he had to run back to the car.

At that moment, he remembered the dream.  He ran back and grabbed his son back from the water, realizing that the setting and their actions mirrored those in the dream.

Precognitive dreams, if real, can save lives.

In order to understand what your dreams are telling you, and to get the nightmares to stop, you have to try to remember exactly what happened in your dreams.

Keeping a Dream Diary for Better Understanding

If you want to understand what your dreams are telling you, the first thing you might want to do is get a dream diary.  This should be a blank journal, with or without lines.  You should keep it with you at all times.

The moment you wake from a dream, write down all that you remember about it, no matter how small.  Carry it with you because something might trigger a memory of a snippet of your dream during the day and you’ll want to write it down before you forget.

By keeping up with your diary you are making a conscious effort to remember your dreams and they’ll become easier to remember.  You’ll also have a recounting of the dreams you can examine for symbols and clues to their cause and purpose.

How To Stop Having Dream Nightmares

Change Your Bedtime Routine

Sometimes getting rid of nightmares can be as simple as changing your bedtime routine.  Skipping your midnight snack if you usually have one or having one if you don’t, reading if you normally watch TV or watch TV if you normally read, move your bedroom furniture around so it’s arranged in a way that makes you feel safer, wear less restrictive clothing, etc.  Just change your routine around so that you’re going to bed with a different mindset.  It really can help.

Talk it Out

Talk about your nightmares with family, friends, or a therapist.  Get to the root of their cause and talk about how it made you feel.  Get the nightmare out of the dark and into the light of day where it can be stripped of its power to make you afraid and banished from your life.

Pay Attention To Your Body

When you’re feeling anxious your body will let you know.  Pay attention and deal with your anxieties before they become the stuff of nightmares.

Although nightmares can be a difficult experience to live through, many people have found success with these strategies, banishing their night terrors once and for all.

Deal with Your Underlying Triggers (Past Trauma, events etc.)

When we experience trauma in our lives those feelings can become bottled up inside of us. When emotions get stuck in our unconscious mind, they can become expressed in our dreams. Nightmares are sometimes the result of past emotions that we have pushed in the back of our unconscious mind.

If you don’t deal with negative emotions and feelings from your past, you may find that these emotions rear their ugly head when you are dreaming. If you are constantly having nightmares, getting counseling or therapy to help you release your emotions can help you move forward in life.

Stop Worrying and Release Your Fears

If you are the type of person who is constantly afraid of the world around you, your dreams can reflect that deep worry that you hold inside of you. It is important to understand things in life that are within your control and things that you have no control over. If you worry about things you cannot control, that will cause stress and increase your tension.

Learning how to accept things that are out of your control, is an important step in releasing your worry. While anyone can be susceptible to a nightmare, the people who are bogged down with worry and fear are more likely going to experience these types of dreams on a regular basis.

Related Dreams

Common Dream Nightmares


Dreaming of destruction can symbolize the chaos in your waking life. Things may not be going according to the plan you have to achieve success in your life. This can warn you are on the road to self-destruction. You may believe something or someone is deliberately destroying you.

You need to be heard to help you move forward. This can relate to a recent dispute between you and someone close to you. Seeing a building destroyed may mean you let yourself down in some way. This can relate to any fears you allow to hold you back. A building that withstands destruction can symbolize your inflexibility. You may need to consider staying open minded and willing to adapt. Listen to other wise counsel.

Destruction can represent scattering groups of people or death of some kind. This may indicate the death of a nation under its corrupt leaders or symbolize the absence of justice. It can also represent the persecution of groups of people, which brings untold suffering to bear.

Dreaming of a city destroyed by an earthquake can mean a violation people’s human rights or right to freedom of speech in that place. Seeing an entire city destroyed, flattened to the ground, can indicate widespread corruption from the leaders. You may be involved in trying to find a way to fight back.

Watching a demolition that leaves you feeling uncomfortable can reflect how you feel in your waking reality. It may be you are living your worst nightmare. That you are experiencing the results of drama and chaos perpetrated by you or by others. You may need to get your life in order.

Demolishing a building can represent there are untrustworthy people around you. There are many elements to this type of dream. Do you control the destruction? Are you involved in a struggle for power and control? Do you feel powerless? It can also represent major changes soon coming your way. You may feel overwhelmed or intimidated by uncertainty. You may feel you have lost control of your life. Have you lost your way?

When you dream of large areas and cities destroyed, it indicates a need to keep control of your emotions. You need to avoid taking things personally. Destroyed buildings can symbolize problems with someone you love. This type of dream warns you may need to consider whether the conflict is worth the destruction of the love you have for each other. You may need to seek clarity for you may be overacting, or not hearing or listening to the truth. It may be that it is you that needs to make the peace. This can be a message to be the bigger person to make peace regardless of how you feel.

Destruction can represent stress and unhappiness. This can be caused by a personal tragedy, disappointment, and failure to achieve something. This indicates your stress levels and feelings of being overwhelmed. It may take time to heal what is out of your control.


Dreaming of monsters usually comes from repressed emotions. Of feeling unable to speak your truth without judgment. You may be afraid of the consequences if you speak out. It may mean you need to make tough decisions. You may not be on the right path and need to find your way. Monsters in dreams can also represent your inner demons. What bad habits stop you from moving forward? What or who do you fear? It may warn there are those you trust with hidden agendas.

Negatively, monsters can mean a part of you that may be being closed minded and unfair towards someone or something. A monster can represent someone who has no empathy towards or understanding of what you want out of life. It can also reflect your feelings of wishing harm on another.

Children can dream of monsters after arguing with their parents. These parents may be strict and inflexible making the children feel oppressed. Monsters symbolize the scary side of adults and people in authority. You may have family or friends who are terminally ill, so dreaming of monsters can symbolize your feelings about what is happening to them. You may feel helpless or guilty at the unfairness of what they face.

For greater insight into the meaning of monsters in a dream look at what the monster looks like. Big monsters can mean you have a fear of losing control. A monster with many eyes can mean you feel watched in everything you do. You may feel you have no privacy. Sharp, pointy teeth can represent a fear of public embarrassment.


Dreaming of being paralyzed has many meanings. Seeing your right hand paralyzed can mean you will be severely punished for your failings, mistakes, and sins. It can also mean you make a living by stealing and cheating others. Do you target the neediest of society to cheat them of what little they have? Paralysis of the left hand can symbolize a direct family member may die in the near future. Be prepared

Seeing your thumb paralyzed symbolizes family hardships caused by your children, or of family and friends. The ring finger paralyzed can mean you will fall onto tough times because of the illness of a close female relative. Paralysis of the little finger indicates your daughter will cause you trouble. This may cost your dearly. And, the index finger paralyzed can mean a female relative will intentionally make you suffer.

Your right hand paralyzed in a dream can mean you will lose your job or the ability to earn money to support yourself. It can also mean your selfish actions or words have caused an innocent person major loses. Paralyzed fingers are a warning of a terrible sin.

Dreaming of some sort of paralysis can symbolize emotional paralysis. Your movement or ability to speak can be terrifying. This relates to your inability to make a decision about something. Do you delay solving problems? Do you resist change even though it will have a positive impact on your life? Maybe you feel trapped in dramas of some sort. It can also warn of an illness that may soon cross your path.

Being paralyzed in a dream symbolizes a possible feeling of helplessness in your waking life. This could be about anything. A person, someone you love, a situation, of an event.

Night Terrors

Night terrors are not the same as nightmares. While they are similar, night terrors are a parasomnia disorder where you physically cry, scream, and thrash around while asleep. You can sleep walk and, in extreme cases, dreamers have been known to attack other household members while asleep.

Children can experience night terrors and so can adults who are extremely stressed or depressed, or who have other psychological disorders. Night terrors usually last for up to 20 minutes and the dreamer returns back to the normal sleep state after an episode. A dreamer that wakes up during a night terror attack can experience confusion and a sense of disorientation.

Post-Traumatic Stress Nightmare

Nightmares caused by post-traumatic stress are terrifying because you usually dream of the hard things you have experienced throughout your life. These dreams reflect your past and can cause you to relive the whole thing again. They bring back the hard stuff from the past. These types of nightmares will be exactly the same as the real-life event with small changes to bring things to your attention. They also bring up the hurt and fear from those times. You may awaken feeling emotional. Post-traumatic stress nightmares can be repetitive until you deal with the emotions connected to the event. You need to make the effort to understand the issues.

Reliving traumatic events can keep you living in a constant state of stress. You need to understand why these dreams keep occurring. Over time these will gradually lessen and the dream will begin to intermingle with your every day events. This is a sign of working through the trauma of these past events. If these dreams do not lessen, you may need to seek professional advice to help you understand.


Dreaming of being punished can indicates you feel guilty or ashamed about something you have done. Are you punishing yourself? Do you automatically blame yourself for most things? This may be due to social conditioning or the way you were brought up. You need to speak up, be your true self. Take positive action. There is no need to punish yourself for things that have nothing to with you.

A dream where you punish people you know indicates, that deep down, you do not like these people very much. Do you have a hidden resentment towards them in your waking life? This type of dream can also mean there are aspects of yourself you do not understand and may not acknowledge. Or, you may have hidden fears that stop you moving forward. You need to accept things for what they are. Forgive yourself. Forgive others and the situation. Move through your fears. Have faith and move on if you want peace in your life. Everything can change if you change your perception.

Recurring Nightmare

It is normal for anyone to have a nightmare from time to time. But, when they start occurring on a regular basis you may need to look further to discover why. There may be a connection between the nightmares and unresolved issues buried deep in your subconscious. Nightmare are often warnings to help guide you from that dark place back to the light.

When you have recurring nightmares record them every time they occur. This way you can you can look back to get a better understanding of the messages your nightmares are alerting you to. It maybe there is something in your waking life that needs your urgent attention so you can move forward into a positive future.


When violence is highlighted in your dreams this can represent the chaos in your life. You may fear losing control or never achieving your dreams. Violence is a consistent part of our waking reality. No matter where we are in the world. Violence is used to intimidate and bully others to get what they want. There are also natural disasters and all sorts of other violence such as accidents we can be subjected to on a regular basis.

Dreams of a natural disaster can reflect your negative outlook on the world around you. Do you take responsibility for your actions or do you blame others? Do you have eternal excuses for your negativity? This can symbolize fear. Dreaming of being mugged, robbed, or raped can mean someone victimizes you in real life. The can represent old fears from past traumas or be caused by the stress in your current life and worry for the future. Are you experiencing bullying? Is your partner violent in the home? You need to action or your future will be filled with pain.

Dreaming of being violent can mean you need to find better ways to express yourself. There may be something in your waking reality pushing you over the edge and you repressed feelings can suddenly explode. This can be for many reasons, not the least of them, frustration.

This type of dream is a warning and wakeup call about your own bad behavior. Are you a bully in your waking life? Do you communicate with others in an angry or intimidating way? You need to control your emotions and find better ways to communicate in your waking reality.

Dreaming of violence can also be pushing you to take action, especially if you dream of violence against your children. This may mean you worry about your children and their future. You do not want them to become out of control. It can also represent your feelings about a new project in your life. Being helpless while witnessing violence against your children, in a dream, can mean you have deeply held feelings of repressed anger just waiting to explode. You need to deal with it or it will turn into bitterness. Do you want to become someone others see as a toxic person? If you, you will be shunned.

Violence to animals can represent feelings of helplessness. You may feel trapped and depressed in your waking life. Only you can turn this around. Make an effort to involve yourself in positive opportunities when they cross your path.

Family members involved in violence can represent your worry about your home life. When violence is directed at the head female of the household, it can mean there may soon be a relationship or happiness lost from that home.

Note* If you have had a dream related to this dream symbol or would like to add something that is related to this topic please leave comment below. Comments are a great way to interact with others who are dreaming about similar topics.


About Author

Stephen is a self confessed dream junkie that loves all things dream related. He is a writer for Dream Stop and has been working in the field of dreams for the past decade. He believes that the YOU are the only person who can truly understand the meaning of your dreams. You have to look inside your inner thoughts to find the hidden truths in your dream. These interpretations are for entertainment purposes only. Stephen's interpretations should be considered an opinion, not professional advice.


  1. Crucialkitten19 on

    Had a dream of being trapped in some basement like studio, being chased by a man who I believe was someone I trusted…like a teacher? And he was trying to kill me, no matter how hard I fought back and how hard I tried to escape. I felt as if I played this part before…like a video game when you fight a boss and die and have to restart the level? Anyway….by the end of the dream some other girl came down, not understanding the man was dangerous and was just all smiles and he didn’t kill her, he kept chasing me…it felt as if it was an enviable death and I woke up before he could kill me.

    • I dream vividly every night And recall them 90% of the time until I started keeping a dream journal. At that point I could not remember one dream until the day I stopped trying to record them. Every night since then I can remember them again.

  2. Mark Durham on

    I have really bad nightmares nine out of ten times I don’t remember them I just wake up severely depressed and in later time I experience critical déjà vu I say critical because I go threw the whole day feeling like I lived it already , strangest of all is you don’t remember the episode untill you’ve experienced the second time then that altomaticaly triggers the déjà vu making me remember the nightmare , hard to explain , it’s a curse not a blessing , leaves me suicidal alot and mental health teams just think I’m bonkers which makes it worse

    • i go through the same thing all the time and its messing my life up and half of the dreams are reacurring and half i see the future

    • You need to find the right mental health specialist. I was paying 150 an hour for therapy for my 15 yr old daughter who was cutting herself. There are TOXIC therapists out there and this one was one of them, She actually told my 15 year old daughter to write down all her problems on a piece of paper, stuff the paper into a ballon, blow it up release it along with her problems! I’m paying this idiot 150 an hour for this? This can cause More damage! I hope this helps. Ask your higher power mine I am proud to say is Jesus Christ! to help you! Sincerely, another struggling soul trying to get through life.

  3. From last 2 night I dream that I am in very isolated place where I can hear everyone but not see them, I am very scared please tell me its meaning.

    • This is my opinion, hear me out:
      It might mean you might be excluded from something. Your literal mind doesn’t know, but your subconscious does. Anyone you might know that might do that?

  4. Elyse Renee G on


  5. I have recurring dreams of tornados and waves of water as high as the sky I have always wondered why.I know Im very fearful of that actually happening and im so scared when im dreaming about this and the dreams are very vivid..

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