Ask Me: What About Nightmares? Part 2: Why We Should Be Curious About Scary Dreams

In the last couple of articles, we have opened up the topics of shadow work, the issue of trajectory and now the question of “nightmares” or just plain scary dreams. I want to weave these together this week…


…because for me they are intertwined.

First, let’s weave the trajactory with the issue of the problem with the idea of “the shadow” as Jung defined it, which is from his biased European and Judeo-Christian standpoint. Because of Jung’s racist reality, he named the hard work of looking into destructive parts of the psyche “darkness” and “shadow” at the same time he framed his ideas of the “primitive” and “savage” man, which he based on his ideas of African people and Native American people he briefly met. “Shadow” and “darkness” do not have to be racial charged, of course, but when the root of those words in this context are, in actuality, racially charged, then it is important to pay attention and to name it.

For, if we don’t, the trajectory of those ideals then stay woven into the fabric of the collective and, more, they become more woven, more entrenched and even more “unconscious”. Ideas of evil being attached to “darkness” then being attached to “dark skin” or the ideas of “primalcy” and/or “the primitive” also being attached to “dark skin” creates the illusion that these ideas based on the racism of one person is not just true but universal. 

So, let’s look at the how of why this is problematic from one of my own experiences. I had a dreamwork teacher once tell me that any time a person of color appeared in my dream [I am considered “white”], that the person was either scary to me or represented “primalcy”.

Oh, this kind of assumption which does come, in part, from Jung. So, the trajectory of this particular racist bias in Jung, when not examined/acknowledged, works to not just reinforce racial stereotypes and the terrible [terrifying] Eurocentric view of the world, it deepens, continues and expands it. If I believe this, then I will live it in my waking life and then pass it on to the next generations. And the trajectory of racism does not get altered.

As the dreamer, if I have a dream with an archetype that comes as a person of color and I assume Jung’s or my old teacher’s assumptions, then I am also fitting into a well-grooved set of ideas that makes any person of color “other” or “exotic” to me. That, by suggestions, makes me different and “better” or “normal” in some ways. 

The trajectory of this kind of thinking moves us further and further away from different kinds of inquiry around the questions of race and how race has shaped history. Including personal history.

This kind of thinking also breaks off the exploration of the personal. This particular teacher never asked me questions about my personal experiences around race, around people of color. Never asked how I was affected by racism or how I, as a white woman in the U.S., am racist consciously or unconsciously. Never asked if I had ancestors who participated in the enslavement of other people. Never asked how I may be projecting my personal racism and privilege in the dream. 

Without raising these critical questions, the dream never really unfolds. Without raising these questions, the dream can be used to actually reinforce racism rather than confront it. Without raising these questions, I, as the dreamer, may never look at destructive ideas and narratives I am carrying. Without raising questions that beg to be asked, any possibilities and promises in the dream also get lost or distorted.


Which brings me back to scary dreams. 

Tiger in Repose by Antoine-Louis Barye [French, ca. 1850-1865]

When we come to one of our own scary dreams and we bring cultural/familial/religious beliefs we have been taught, it may be difficult to be with the dream in any way besides wanting it to go away. 

When we are taught that scary dreams may come from demons or some evil place, when we are taught that scary dreams are some indication that there is something wrong with us [i.e. that we are the demon], when we are taught that scary dreams are just from a bad meal, then the idea of just wanting the dreams to go away is more reinforced.

Look up the word “nightmare” and most of the links that come up will be about how to get rid of them.

Isn’t this how we are taught in Western culture to be with what we do not understand? To wish it away, to try to “cure” our “nightmares”, to put peace or calm or some ideal state of “happiness” as the goal. We are not really taught to go toward what is scary. 

We are not really taught to be with what is frightening us. “There, there. It was just a dream!” is what we are taught about scary dreams. To put them aside. To not give weight to our experiences. To not bring curiosity.

The trajectory of a need to “cure nightmares” puts our scary dreams into the same kind of simplistic categories embraced by Jung and other dreamwork teachers, like my old teacher, around issues we face in dreams – like race and like scary dreams. “Scary dreams are bad” is simplistic and a way to not face into something imperative in our inner lives.

It is a way to not be curious, not ask questions.


To bring it to why it matters to us personally is this – when facing a dream in our life [whether from last night or 20 years ago], bringing awarenesses of our own biases around the dream and the contents of the dream can be part of how we can change our trajectory as we move through our life. Bringing awareness to what we are taught about dream and the inherent biases of teachers can be part of how we grow our own autonomy and our curiosity.

Because there are many ways to look at scary dreams – because there are many different kinds of scary dreams. Scary dreams, just like anything else, do not fit into one category [i.e. bad or even good]. 

When we bring curiosity to what makes something scary for us and what we are frightened of and what we carry from our past that was scary, then we can work with our scary dreams in many different ways. Then they are not “bad” or “good”. Just important and wanting our attention.

Next article, then, we will explore some different ways of looking at different scary dreams. i.e.: My scary dream of a tiger may be your thrilling/scary dream of a tiger.