Ask Me: What About Nightmares? Part 13: How Dreams Intervene in Indirect Ways

We have been exploring how dreams can intervene in scary moments, scary situations in our dreams. The examples in the last few articles worked with singular dreams where the scary event and the intervention were encapsulated in one dream or dream sequence. 

In these dream situations, it is somewhat easy to see where the help is offered and in direct relationship to specific situations. I felt imprisoned, a woman tells me there is a way out. I am caught in a building where I landed because I became afraid of my own ability to fly and a man tells me how to work through the fear. 

But how do dreams works with moments where nothing did or could intervene? What about those dreams we all have experienced that were just scary, just terrifying without any help coming from anywhere? What about those moments in our lives?

Because we have all experienced those moments. 


Here is an example of a dream with no direct intervention:

I am with my mother and she is physically hurting me in a horrible way while I watch her do it, without moving and without feeling anything. While she hurts me, she says, “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

Unlike many people, I did not experience physical abuse from either of my parents. This dream is not a literal confrontation of the wound I have carried around my mother. It is, however, the essence of the wounding. An emotional wounding and then the blaming of the hurt on me. My response, in the dream, is to be numb. To just watch because, well, when I was a girl, what else was there to do. 

What else was there to do when I did not even understand what was happening with my mom, when I did not know what emotional abuse was – we just called it “Mom being Mom.” When she was being cruel, we reasoned she would get over it. What else to do when what I was feeling did not make sense and so I believed [and was told] my pain self-inflicted, just angst. The responses to my feeling crushed became “You are so sensitive!” or “God, can’t you just lighten up?” or “Why do you have to take everything so seriously?” I believed there was just something wrong with me that I could not be “normal” and accept my mom’s and my family’s narratives about our lives. 

The dream does not offer a way out. There is no intervention in this moment of wounding.

Because there was no intervention, there was no way out. There was nothing that girl that was me could do – or felt she could do – except go numb. Except question her own self. 

The dream offering such a stark place, in one way, deeply honors my experience. It shows the gaslighting, shows how I responded and shows the depth of the wound between my mother and I. 

It is simple and true. 

At the time, I needed the simplicity and directness. At the time, I needed to acknowledge the truth of the dream. Including the feeling of no way out. Including the feeling of “what else can I do but watch myself be mutilated.”

Weeping Burgher by Auguste Rodin, 1908-09 (French)

But, this does not mean the dreams just left me with the experience of the dream. It does not mean that the dreams meant to leave me with the feeling of “there is nothing to do” like I felt when I was a kid. 

I needed the fullness and grief of the experience of the dream. And I still needed intervention. First, I needed my reality of what I had experienced to be acknowledged so the dreams could intervene.

How does this kind of intervention happen in dreaming? How this works is that we will have another dream around the same time as the difficult dream that brings another perspective or brings the intervention we needed and did not receive. 

But, as with all wounds, we can have healing and intervention later, in different settings when we are out of the experience, out of danger. So, the dreams, in imitation, will bring that intervention and healing in another dream or even several dreams. There will often be a cluster of dreams around our difficult dream to help.

One of the dreams that came around the same time as the difficult dream was this:

I am sitting with a man, feeling at a loss for what to do. I have bandages all over my body and feel defeated, like I will never be able to be healed. The man smiles at me and lightly touches the places where I have been bandaged. Then, he begins to take the bandages off. I flinch, not wanting to see what is underneath, not wanting to see the wounds, but when the bandages come off, there are no wounds. My body is even unscarred. I am astonished and I know that his touch is what brought the full healing.

This dream did not come as part of the first dream. It did not even come the same night as the first dream. It did come around the same time. 

Just as there was no healing in the moment of the wounding, just as the healing came later, so the dreams offer the same experience.

The dreams also offer a wider context – that healing can come even when wounds are old. Healing can come even when we feel there is no way we could ever be healed.

Which is what many of us believe – that when we carry wounds, we will always be walking wounded, we will always be “damaged”, we will always be marked and scarred. 

But this dream tells me another story. If I allow myself to be open to the healing, to be touched by love, to let the touch of the possibility of healing, then something can happen. I do not need be scarred forever. I do not need to be walking with my head down in shame or fear forever.


Working dreams together like this – where the dreams come in clusters and as pieces of a bigger narrative – it is important to work with them in this way. One dream on one night speaks to an issue and other dreams other nights speak to the same issue in different ways. 

The hope and love of the second dream do not, of course, erase the emotional abuse I experienced with my mom. The point is not to “forget” my experiences as if they never happened – that would simply be another kind of self gaslighting. 

The hope and love come to be with us alongside the places where we were not loved. To give us experiences different than what we experienced. To intervene by being with two truths next to each other. The terrifying moment next to the love and wonder. 

To work with the issue, I was with both dreams – the reality of my experience with my mother and the reality of healing, the possibility of healing. I learned to be with both truths, both experiences. 

I also learned that when I felt the old feeling of hopelessness, of feeling forever “damaged”, I could go be with the healing man and let him touch my wounds, let him take off the bandages and see that wounds can heal. I can go to the healing man still, and let him remind me that even when we carry wounds, we also carry a wholeness that never really gets lost. We just need help finding it again.