- Dreams are often puzzling and cause us to question their root cause—especially when the dreams feature violence and keep us up at night.
- As it turns out, there are several common causes of violent dreams, one being the fear of violence.
- Another common source of violent dreams is your mere thinking about violence; did you just watch a violent movie or video game? Your brain is processing these violent acts.
- You might also have violent dreams after starting a new medication, as they alter the biochemistry in your brain.
- Finally, your violent dreams could be rooted in a traumatic experience: if you were exposed to violence in your childhood, you’re more likely to have these violent dreams throughout your lifetime.
Have you ever wondered what your dreams mean? The contents of our dreams can be quite perplexing—especially when they have no apparent relation to what’s going on in our lives. Take, for example, a recurring dream I used to have when I was a kid: It was always my birthday, and I’d be wandering around my backyard. My friends and family were scattered about, playing on the slide, the swings, and in the bounce house. Then, all of a sudden, a clown would pop up with a big needle in hand. He was dressed as a doctor and insisted on giving me the shot. I did my best to run away, but he’d always catch me and prick me with the needle, prompting me to wake up.
At the time, this dream was terrifying. Every night, I was scared to go to bed, in fear of having this violent dream again. Sometimes, this fear came true. But finally, about a year later, I stopped having this nightmare—and realized that it was rooted in my fear of getting shots at the doctor. While this isn’t your typical act of violence, the possibility of injury and pain fit the bill for me and obviously scared me to my core. But violent dreams aren’t always explained by a fear of violence. Let’s delve deeper into this cause, and several alternative explanations, with the help of Licensed Psychologist Dr. Chris Cortman:
1. Fear of violence.
First, let’s talk further about the fear of violence. As Cortman explains, we often dream about our biggest fears, which for me, meant dreaming about clowns with big needles: “Our worst fears often show up in our dreams. Men who are afraid of going bald will lose their hair time and again in their dreams. People who are afraid of getting lost will lose their way in their dreams,” he says. “I used to strike out, drop passes, and miss free-throws in my dreams because of my love of athletics and fear of failure. People are frequently exposed to violence on TV and in movies and are very afraid of such. There is a real possibility that this fear will surface in their dreams.”
2. Violence is on the mind.
Another simple explanation is that violence is on your mind—as our dreams are often composed of recent thoughts or events. “When it comes to dreams, always remember that they are born from the material inside the dreamer’s head. That is, I will never dream about your uncle Stephen, and you will never dream about my first grade teacher, Ms. Davis,” Cortman explains. “That said, dreams are way of taking unnecessary material from our minds and bringing it to the curb to be tossed out. Before that happens, it is very likely that things that have nothing to do with one another will be thrown in the same blender and come out together.”
3. New medication.
Another lesser known cause of violent or aggressive dreams is the start of a new medication. “Medications can definitely contribute to violent dreams. I remember patients telling me when they got on a brand-new antidepressant, they dreamed that they angrily drove somebody over in their car,” he says. “Medications alter the biochemistry of the brain and therefore can influence dreams.”
4. Traumatic experience.
Finally, your violent dreams might be rooted in trauma. In other words, your dreams can contain contents that reflect your violent past: “Violence can occur in someone’s dreams because they have been exposed to violence in their childhood: watching dad hit mom in a drunken rage, etc. People from rough neighborhoods may have a lot of dreams of violence because they were exposed to the sound of gunfire and screaming in their neighborhoods,” he explains. “Whatever has not been digested may repeat on you. That’s true for the stomach, but also for the mind.”