Dream: My 12 year old daughter has been having the same recurring nightmare for the past week and I am having trouble coming to terms with it and why she is having them or what it actually is trying to tell us. Her dream consists of a fire and she is in the fire and sees everything but she sees herself as being dead. Then she sees a black figure who is pushing her into the fire. She feels like the black figure is controlling her and making her do what it wants. I hope you can help us interpret this.
DreamsMaster: Fire is often a symbol of transformation or destruction. Seeing herself as being dead may represent a part of her that has died. A thought that comes to mind is that your daughter is at that age where her child self is dying off as she crosses the threshold to womanhood. Has she begun menstruating yet? It’s not uncommon for a girl to feel “pushed into” womanhood with the onset of a changing body and the accompanying unfamiliar feelings, both physical and emotional. Adolescence is a time in the lives of both boys and girls when there’s the sense of feeling out of control in both mind and body.
Work with your daughter to try to pinpoint what was going on for her at the time she began having the dream. Does she identify with the sense that her body is changing? If so, how does she feel about these changes?
If this physical angle doesn’t fit, is she having a difficult time at school in one of her classes, or perhaps being exposed to some bullying? A dark figure could represent the perceived bully, and the fire could symbolize her rage.
An effective way to deal with a recurring nightmare is to consciously go back into the dream and change the ending. This particular dream ends with “a black figure pushing her into the fire.” When I project myself into the dream, I feel powerless and fearful of the unknown, so I need to think about what action I can take to regain my power and sense of control.
If your daughter is game, sit down with her with paper and something to draw with (e.g., crayons, colored pencils, markers), and tell her to draw a picture of the black figure. Encourage her to draw it with as much detail as possible. Then, tell her to add to the picture whatever it needs in order for her to feel in control of the scene. For example, she could draw a heavy-duty steel cage around the dark figure, or an image of herself that’s 10 times larger than it, whatever fits for her. Then, when she feels like she’s put everything into the picture that she can think of and starts feeling less scared of the image, you can cap it off by having her manually shred the piece of paper — tear it into as many pieces as possible — and invite her to vocalize anything that comes to mind while she’s shredding. At this point it might turn into sort of a game, where you both can shout whatever you want at the figure to prove who’s in charge now!
The primary goal is to help her gain a feeling of power and control by defusing the imaginary threat. Once she feels empowered, then you can start talking with her about what threats exist for her in the waking world (i.e., the symbolism of the “dark figure”). Once the two of you have unlocked the mystery, the dream will no longer reoccur as a nightmare.
P.S. Your daughter is fortunate to have a mother who takes her dreams and nightmares seriously.