Who are we when we act out our violent dreams?

RBD nightmare

‘All I’m saying is, when the shadow comes looking for you, you’re the one who needs to be looking for reasons.’


‘Yeah, the shadow, the dark side of yourself. What d’you think happens to a leper whose face dissolves? You think they’re not there anymore? When things shift, when they go dark on you, you got to find the place where you’re nothing and no one but yourself. Find it, claim it, and there’ll be no need for more mental eruptions.’

‘That might be easier said than done.’

Zebra shakes his head. ‘No. What shifts once can shift back again, like sand, you see? […] It was a dream. And dreams are like thoughts – you can change them.’

My own experience with sleep-walking in childhood and the hundreds of sleep paralysis episodes I had as a student sparked my interest in sleep disorders, so much so that I wrote a novel, Dreamrunner.  In the dialogue above, the main character has just had his first violent dream-enactment episode in which he unwittingly hurt his wife and child while he was dreaming. Unknowingly, Carlos is acting out a supressed childhood trauma, but until he can unlock the memory, he and his young family are at the mercy of these violent dreams.

It may be comforting to assume that sleep disorders are rare and only happen to other people; that we ourselves are not at risk of them. But sleep disorders, or parasomnias, are known to affect millions of people and some can begin at any stage of life, triggered by sleep deprivation, trauma, medication, or genetic predisposition. It’s vital to spread knowledge about parasomnias because if they’re kept hidden by the sufferer through shame or a fear of being classified as ‘mad’, things can go from bad to worse.

I’ll be discussing the ‘Other’ as it arises in sleep and dream disorders in the upcoming Psiberdreaming Conference (PDC); it’s an online conference so not only is it very cheap, but anyone can join! It runs for two weeks live, then two further weeks to allow people to catch up on reading all the presentations and threads. Each presenter will be available to chat on the forum and answer questions. Come and join in the fun! Check it out here:

2 Responses to “Who are we when we act out our violent dreams?”

  1. Don Child, August 1, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Hi, Clare … I’ll be “seeing” you at the PsiberDreaming conference (I’m helping copy edit some of the papers for the conference as we speak). Just wanted to connect because I am also a sufferer of RBD, and spent quite a bit of time looking around for support groups for spouses. I’ve got your book on order, at my wife’s request. Meanwhile, I’m hobbling around the house after breaking a couple of toes while trying to kick a hole in a brick wall in the middle of a dream. It will be nice to connect with someone else who understands some of the issues involved with parasomnias … I was surprised it wasn’t a more prevalent topic at this past IASD conference. Anyway, just wanted to say hi … I’m sure we’ll be bumping into each other at some point down the road.


  2. Clare Jay, August 2, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Hi Don,
    thanks for getting in touch, I look forward to connecting with you at the PsiberDreaming Conference, it’s so important to raise awareness of sleep disorders and help people get more support. If you meditate before bed it can help with RBD as it calms the mind, which calms the dreams. Hope the toes heal fast! See you in psiberspace, Clare

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