About two years ago I began dreaming that a wolf was chasing me. The dreams occurred once or twice a month and grew in intensity and detail over the following year.
First the wolf was chasing me into a mobile home we lived in when I was a child. I was carrying a baby I had to protect from the wolf. I ran in the back door, slammed it, and climbed into the roof by sliding between the ceiling panels. I awakened just as the wolf came into the trailer and discovered my hiding place.
As time progressed, the wolf chased me through each home of my childhood andlater my adolescence. Over time the wolf began to take on the form of a half-man, half-wolf. Finally the dreams ceased.
Background: This nightmare followed the death of my father by suicide (a violent one.) He killed himself on the day my sister (who is now a grown woman) confronted him with the fact that he had molested her in childhood.
–anonymous, age 37, female, single, aliso viejo, CA
Given the background you have provided, do we wonder who the wolf in this dream is? The wolf is your father, who you feared was going to attack (sexually molest) your sister. The baby you carry in your arms (whom you know you must protect from the wolf) most likely symbolizes, at least in part, your sister.
I am sorry to learn of your sister’s difficult childhood. Because no one operates in isolation in a family, I know that your childhood, even if you were not directly aware of this abuse, also was affected.
When we experience traumatic events in our lives, our body often protects us from absorbing the full impact of the experience by filtering it through a psychological “lens,” as it were. For example, it is significant that your father never is directly represented in your recurring dreams. The reason why, most likely, is because it would be very difficult for you to “see” your father in this violent, attacking role. Accordingly, the dream protects you from seeing this disturbing vision, by disguising your father as a wolf.
With time, however, the identity of the wolf gradually becomes revealed. In later dreams we learn the attacker actually is a half-wolf, half-man type of creature. What new information has the dream imparted to us? Your attacker actually is a human being, and he is male. We know from the locations of the dream (houses you lived in as a child) that the attacks occurred close to home.
In dream interpretation circles, your recurring dreams are an excellent illustration of a camouflaged dream symbol, over time, becoming less obscure (less disguised) and more transparent (the representation more accurately reflects our waking world.) This transition in representation — from disguised to transparent dreams — parallels our ability to see these difficult feelings and awarenesses plainly in our waking lives.
The transformation of the dream symbol, and the eventual end of this dream, tells us that eventually you were able to absorb this painful experience into your life and move on. When the dreams ceased, we know that some of the pain of this experience was released. Congratulations, to you and your sister, for being survivors.
Charles McPhee is a graduate of Princeton University and holds a master’s in communication management from the University of Southern California. He received his board certification to perform polysomnographic testing for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders in 1992. McPhee is the former Director of the Sleep Apnea Patient Treatment Program at the Sleep Disorders Center of Santa Barbara, California; the former coordinator of the Sleep Disorders Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA , and the former coordinator of the sleep research laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD. Please visit his website for further information.