Oktober 11, 2021

Nightmares as a Profound Bonding Experience


I have recently had the pleasure to read the stunning Testaments by the amazing Margaret Atwood. Among the many sage quotes that are reverberating in my soul is this one:

"I'm fully aware of how easily one can become fatigued by other people's nightmares .... When push comes to shove, only one's own nightmares are of any interest or significance." (142)

This is true in many ways, but it also reminds me of something our wonderful doctor once said: When your child pukes on you you are experiencing an exquisite moment of family bonding. You would never let anyone else do this, let alone forgive it so easily.

I believe nightmares also provide this element of bonding with your children and maybe even on a more profound level. One can safely say that most parents consider their children's nightmares highly significant. They listen and search them for a deeper meaning as no one else will ever do in adult life again.

Between friends there is an element of incomprehension when it comes to dreams: We can never fully fathom the psychological horizon framing another's imagination. Moreover, there is the aspect of indecency in the interpretation of someone else's fantasies. Especially nightmares could actually reveal much about ideas that we do not even consciously acknowledge ourselves. Friends might cross a border when they really try to understand what terrifies us at night. To strangers the context of these shadowy shapes is too unfathomable to be of interest. Even your spouse will never show a profound fascination with your bad dreams  or, should they actually do so, you would evaluate this as very weird behavior.

So, even though other adults might indeed be easily fatigued by your nighttime frights, between (young) children and parents there is an experience of shared significance – albeit on a different level. How astonishing that the most unpleasant experiences reveal the deepest attachments.


Atwood, Margaret. The Testaments. London: Vintage, 2019.

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