Why do I dream about murder and adultery?
June 2, 2009 2:22 PM   Subscribe

dreamfilter: Why do I have scary dreams about killing people and cheating on my wife?

On a semi-regular basis (once every month or two for the past several years), I have dreams where I kill someone or have sex with someone who is not my wife. There is always a "what have I done?" point, where I can't believe the implications of what I've done to my life. It's such a relief to wake up in the morning and realize that, no, I haven't killed anyone or cheated on my wife. Why do I have these dreams, what do they mean?

I'm your basically healthy late 20s guy. No alcohol/drug/abuse/psychological issues. No crime/adultery in my background or family.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I (personally) think dreams are dreams and dream interpretation is New Agey psuedoscience, but I do have a small contribution: please don't let guilt from those dreams carry over into real life. I have dreams where I fuck people who are not my partner all the time. I get kind of nervous in the morning when he snuggles up next to me and asks me if I had any dreams, and have to remind myself that it's not really cheating or anything resembling cheating, and you don't have control over what you dream.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:33 PM on June 2, 2009

It's a stress dream, for me. Took me a couple years to realize this, because apparently nearly all of high school was high-stress for me. Some of those dreams were pretty fucking traumatic, actually.

Now, it's not so bad because I can recognize that it really is just stress. The other thing that has helped is taking up a martial art, because it's given me a much more solid grounding in what real violence feels like and has given me the gut-level understanding that I can, in fact, control myself in a physical conflict.

I have more violence and less taboo-breaking dreams, but I have had both, and they are both stress-related. Dunno if it helps, but you're not the only one.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:35 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eh. I consider myself to be a normal 20-year-old female, and I have semi-regular dreams where I brutally murder someone I love. Not someone I hate, not someone I'm indifferent to, but someone whose presence in my life is a positive, important thing. I just think it's natural, and as long as I don't actually have to fight the urge to do these things while I'm awake, it's not a problem.
posted by Night_owl at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2009

I'm not a psychologist, but I'm going to guess this is related to stress. That's what it usually is for me.

It's also possible that you keep having these dreams because you keep thinking about them. Accept that they happen and that they probably don't mean anything, and you'll soon find your dream self back in school, in your underwear, and not knowing there was a test like everybody else. :)
posted by katillathehun at 2:41 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

i 2nd the stress dream. while i also don't buy into a lot of examine your dream stuff, i do agree with those that say the people and activities in your dreams are rarely the people and activities they portray.

i'd say you're stressed about something (or many things) and this is your brain dealing with that. go for a run or smoke a joint before bed if you're feeling particularly wound up.
posted by nadawi at 2:42 PM on June 2, 2009

I have these dreams sometimes and they're really stressful and I wake up feeling really... wrong somehow. One time I had one of those "being with someone not my partner" dreams and I mentioned it to him in the context of "I had a bad dream" and amusingly he was like "I have those too!" and we got to sort of share our previously-secret shame. I think that most people realize that you don't have control over what you dream and unless you think the dream is some weird wish fulfillment situation [i.e. it's one person you're cheating with and it's someone you have a crush on] I would not worry about it and maybe consider telling your wife in some innocuous way just to get it off your chest.
posted by jessamyn at 2:46 PM on June 2, 2009

Agreed; they sound like stress dreams to me. I have anxiety problems, so stress dreams are a pretty regular thing for me. I've always assumed it's just an overtaxed brain reaching into its deepest recesses to find a way to express what I'm feeling. My typical stress dreams involve lower level stuff like all my teeth falling out, being physically restrained, or suddenly discovering that I can't read. Last year, during a time when the stress in my life ramped up, I went through a period where my dreams suddenly got very violent and bloody and featured upsetting, taboo-breaking sexual stuff.

I was very distressed by the content of these dreams, and it created a feedback loop where my dreams where so distressing they were making me more anxious during the day which, in turn, made it harder for me to get a good, peaceful night sleep. I was scared that those images lived inside my head. It resolved when my life relaxed a little. I used some of my basic anxiety management techniques (deep breathing, meditation, relaxing and reducing stimulus in a controlled way beginning a few hours before bed, having my fiance gently massage my scalp).

Basically, try not to let yourself feel guilty. It's not an expression of deep truths about yourself. It's more like a radio between stations picking up on weird snippets of broadcasts through the static. When you find yourself having the dreams, focus on relieving stress and finding ways to relax your body and mind before bed.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:51 PM on June 2, 2009

I'm not a neuroscientist, but my understanding of the prevailing theories on the etiology of dreams is that they're either random neural firings that your brain connects together in a sort of fragmented storyline (drawing on your memories and knowledge), or they're your brain trying to process/store information you've taken in during waking hours. It could even be a combination of both of those. Our dreams reflect our thoughts and emotions during the day, but not directly, and this does not imply that you want to kill people or cheat on your wife- it could just stem from feelings of anger or being out of control that your brain just happens to connect in certain ways. I'd suggest therapy- I strongly thing most people could benefit from it, but you might particularly benefit, as it could help you process emotions in a healthy way.
posted by emilyd22222 at 2:58 PM on June 2, 2009

I felt alot better about having bad dreams after I read a psychology article that hypothesized that as a species we developed dreaming to allow our minds to practice and rehearse for traumatic events. So hundreds of thousands of years ago, the hunter who dreamed about escaping from a predator would have an advantage over the hunter that didn't because he had somehow rehearsed it in his mind while dreaming.

So these days, a messed up dream is basically your unconscious mind coming up with what it sees as a hypothetical traumatic event that it thinks maybe you should be prepared for. It seems like for most adults these are more social problems than physical ones. I have no idea how true this is, but it's definitely helped me deal with dreams. On some level I'm actually relieved that my unconscious mind's worst fears are things like losing teeth or missing tests - instead of running away from a predator. I've had the cheating on the significant other and being responsible for a friend's death as well. I don't look at it as if I want those things to happen. I see it as more like my mind saying 'hypothetically, if this happened, how would you deal with it?'
posted by ghostmanonsecond at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2009 [5 favorites]

YMMV but sometimes dream dictionaries can serve as a starting point for further consideration.

Ours roughly says that murdering people could be an outlet for suppressed anger over past feelings of abandonment or frustration with being divorced from with some aspect of your personality. Likewise, the adultery could be an attempt to reconnect with some unrealized dimension of your personal growth.

It sounds to me like you need to take a bit more time to indulge in your hobbies.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2009

It's also possible that you keep having these dreams because you keep thinking about them.

I agree with this. I frequently have dreams about sleeping with someone other than my partner. Means nothing, because I wouldn't do it in real life. The more guilty you feel, the more likely you are to have these dreams, because you're trying to push it down into your subconscious, which is where dreams come from in the first place. Violent adulterers probably have dreams about kittens and puppies and flowery meadows.

/not a mental health professional
posted by desjardins at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2009

I am a pacifist, yet I can be highly competitive. Therefore, I seem to have occasional dreams about being in some sort of competitive game that somewhat has the nature of capture the flag, where I win by clubbing all opponents in the head or dashing their brains on the sidewalk. I think this deals with the cognitive dissonance of being compassionate and competitive in my case. But yes, they're disturbing.
posted by lleachie at 3:33 PM on June 2, 2009

There was a study I read about a long time ago, which I wish I could find again. It determined that teenagers who dreamed the most about failing tests or getting bad grades were the ones that did the best in their classes. In other words, it's pretty natural to dream about stuff you would never do, or to dream about the things important to you falling apart.

In other words, rather than looking at those dreams like you're a monster, to me they show that you value your relationship with your wife a lot, and you value not having to kill anyone a lot. The whole "what have I done?" feeling means you're a decent person. Don't sweat it.

And yeah, I have dreams about doing horrible stuff frequently enough. Maybe once a week or so.
posted by Nattie at 3:36 PM on June 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

I agree that this is normal and not indicative of anything other than stress.

However, if it's really bothering you, a few sessions with a therapist might help. I really poo-poohed the whole "dreams meaning something" theory until I discussed a dream with my therapist and I was blown away by what I discovered. I've been waiting to have a really disturbing dream that I can bring up but that hasn't happened since I've been going to therapy (and I actually think that's related, as well, since I'm not as stressed out as usual).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:57 PM on June 2, 2009

Yeah, I think the point of these dreams is that they suck. The "my god, what have I done?!" moment is actually the whole point of the dream. Whatever their cause, I think they ultimately reinforce your own personal moral code. When you wake up, you're glad that you're a moral person who would never do what you did in your dream. Perhaps these dreams are part of what keeps us good, in that they help us realize how horrified we are at the thought of being bad.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:13 PM on June 2, 2009

So hundreds of thousands of years ago, the hunter who dreamed about escaping from a predator would have an advantage over the hunter that didn't because he had somehow rehearsed it in his mind while dreaming.

That would kinda suck if the dream's solution to fleeing a predator was flying, or running on water.

I still hold to the idea that dreams are akin to your brain acting as a random story generator. And the exact same dream scenario could mean different things to different people anyway. One person could dream about drowning their poolboy, and may actually want to do just that. Another person may think their poolboy's the greatest guy in the world. Still another may live in Saskatoon.

We all have bizarre, off-the-wall, logical-yet-illogical dreams that couldn't possibly have any literal or metaphorical significance (like... you're on AskMeFi, but the background is orange). I just chalk it up to completely random nonsense. The theories/anecdotes about being in a time of high stress in one's life is interesting, but I'm sure one wouldn't need crazy dreams to tell them that they're currently in a time of high stress.

Still, you could read up on "lucid dreaming," which allows you to realize when you're dreaming and maybe even take control of it. Not that I've been able to effectively use any techniques with regularity, but I was able to make myself fly once. And wake myself up a couple other times. (And boy, was I tired).
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:48 PM on June 2, 2009

My dad is a psychologist. He always said that dreams are easily divided into two camps: those you secretly wish for and those you secretly fear. You decide.
posted by hollygirl at 11:03 PM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have my most apocalyptic dreams when I'm sleeping in a situation that is physically uncomfortable. Maybe my blankets are too thick, so I'm too hot, or maybe the fan overhead is blowing too strong. It's as if my mind is trying to wake me up so that I can remedy this.
posted by umbĂș at 12:39 PM on June 3, 2009

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