Upon waking from a disturbing nightmare, we often attempt to shake off the fear that lingers by telling ourselves, "It was just a dream." But according to Gayle Delaney, Ph.D., co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and one of the pioneers of modern dream theory, the last thing you should do with fearful dreams is try to forget them. "Fear dreams have to do with something that frightens you and needs to be fixed," she says. "It’s usually something real that’s threatening to you. Really scary dreams try to grab your attention and say, 'Something in your waking life or behavior is threatening your well-being or the well-being of people you love, and it behooves you to recognize it.'"
Though many dream images are tailor-made to the individual -- “The color blue isn’t scary to some, but it might be to someone who was traumatized by a person who wore blue,” notes Delaney -- images that are frightening to humanity in general commonly appear. They are:
WILD ANIMALS. “Snakes, tigers, lions, alligators -- anything threatening in waking life is what you tend to use in your dreams as a symbol of a threat,” Delaney says. “Before an important meeting with his three partners, one of my clients -- a lawyer -- had a horrible nightmare that he was ‘ambushed’ by three great whites while he was swimming. He lost one of his legs! Later, he realized that the dream had been warning him: His partners did ‘ambush’ him in a surprise attack. They tried to take a case from him that meant both money and prestige. It was a big deal in his career.”