Why am I having this recurring negative dream about my dead Dad?
May 12, 2020 10:23 AM   Subscribe

My father passed away almost a month ago. We didn't have a terrible relationship, but it wasn't the best. Now, I'm having what borders on nightmares every night about him still being alive. I feel horrible about it, because I should be sad that he's gone...but I just want him to stay gone. Why?

While our relationship was one I would describe as "awkward", it wasn't until he was dying of cancer and my younger brothers and I (we're all in our 30s-40s) uncovered many disappointing facts about him while putting his final business in order (proof of affairs, hurtful things he wrote or said about us, possible children with other women, a drinking problem, etc.) that I began to see him in a completely different light. He was never physically abusive to us, but I would say it would be fair to say he was emotionally and verbally abusive at various points in our childhood. He was a very threatening man, and unstable as far as his temper goes. When I left home at the age of 22 finally, I had nightmares of him coming to "get me" in my own apartment that I was paying for with my own money. He actually said something to me to the effect of "I'll always know where you are, so don't think you'll ever be able to hide from me." Of course, there were also times when he was good to us, when he praised us, told me how proud he was of me, how much he loved me, etc. So, when he passed (and he passed while I was out of town, so I never saw him after he died - there was no wake, either), I had mixed emotions. I was sad, but I was also...relieved. So were my brothers. He couldn't "get me" any more.

Within a few days after his passing, I began having dreams of him, in my mother's house, still alive. Every single night. These dreams would feel wrong and unhappy, and at first I was trying to point out to others in the dream that he should be dead. In the first dreams, he was weak and dying like he was at the end of his life, just shuffling around. I actually asked my dream Mom, "Is he basically a zombie?" and she said, "Yes, I think so." In later dreams, he began to get better looking and stronger, always in the house while I tried to convince others that he shouldn't be there and that something was terribly wrong. Every single night. Last night, though, he looked stronger than ever, like he was maybe 10-15 years ago. Last night, he spoke to me for the first time. He had a mocking smile on his face and my brothers were there although they couldn't move or speak. He was arguing with me that I was basically overreacting and invalidating everything I thought about him. He told me, "I never punished y'all - I was just training you - like a dog." He never raised his voice, but it was obvious he was very perturbed. I screamed at him that he did not belong here, I was tired of his shit, and since this wasn't real I could make him leave (this was the first time I was aware this was a dream). I pointed at him and said something that sounded like magic words and he just smiled at me and walked out of the room, disappearing completely as he went toward his bedroom.

What is going on here? I've never had a recurring dream every night like this? How can I get it to stop? It is very disturbing and I prefer not to remember him like this and move on with my life.
posted by jspierre to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could try over-the-counter sleep aid medications to help you sleep, or prescription ones from a doctor. Untangling the symbolism of the dreams and figuring out how to move on in the aftermath of your father's death might be best accomplished through working with a therapist, though.
posted by XMLicious at 10:37 AM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

That sounds awful and taxing, and I’m sorry. This sounds like something you should discuss with a therapist to get at the roots, but, in the meantime, you need to manage your stress about the dreams — I have friends who have done visualizations before bed to try and direct their dreaming. Maybe make a bedtime chant “XYZ is dead and gone and has no power over me or my life,” or something similar.

As for why? Brains are weird, and this is a stressful time, so things are extra weird. I suspect you will need to take power away from your father before he stops inhabiting your dreams, however you imagine doing that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:41 AM on May 12, 2020

Best answer: So sorry to hear you're going through this.

There is nothing really more to it than there is stuff about the situation that your subconscious is trying to sort out. It sounds like you have a lot of feelings to sort through about your father, and your relationship sounds really complex; that must mean there's a lot of complex stuff you're trying to wrestle with now that he's dead, especially since it sounds like you only recently discovered a lot of information that's reframing your own history with and about him.

The only thing I can suggest is to spend some time thinking about it when you're awake - let your conscious brain take over for a while. Talk about things with a therapist if you want, or just word-vomit in a journal, write down all the random stuff you think about him - no matter how ugly, weird, confusing, or ridiculous - so it's out of your head.

It may not be an immediate solution, and don't be surprised if it goes on even after you're starting to feel more settled. I had my own recurring nightmares for a while, and they were about nuclear war in my case; it wasn't every night, but more like once every other month or so, during my teens and 20s. This was absolutely because in my teens I was grappling with the very real possibility that we would have a global nuclear war (hi, I was a Cold War kid), but it kept going on for a while in my 20's even after the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended because there were parts of my brain that still needed to sort out a couple things. The good news is that they got a lot less scary as time went on; I've even started having a couple more nuclear war dreams recently, but they are NOWHERE near as scary as they once were. I used to wake up with heart pounding, literally too afraid to fall asleep again, but now I wake up from one such dream - like the one I had a couple nights ago - thinking "huh, weird, I guess I should avoid the news for a few days."

A professor of mine once said that "a dream is your own private mythology". It sounds like there is just some stuff about your relationship with your father that your brain is trying to sort through, and maybe doing it consciously will give your subconscious a break.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2020 [14 favorites]

This is happening to my SO. She’s been dreaming of her deceased father and their relationship was also rather strained. One theory is that the quarantine is preventing us from forming new memories and so our brains are re-visiting old ones as a sort of coping mechanism.
posted by cazoo at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: For the most part, this is just your brain processing trauma (in a time of extraordinary trauma, so probably weirder than usual).

It sounds like you are actually making progress in processing, since the dreams are moving to a point where you can argue back/banish him, and there's no reason to think the dreams will continue much longer.

You can work on some of that processing during the day - you've done that just by writing out this question. Keep doing it if you need to, pour it all out in a Word document and get it out of you.

In the evenings, as you're winding down for bed, take a few minutes to sit quietly and remind yourself that if he bothers you in dreams you can tell him to go away or walk away. You can even do a visualization exercise in which you do exactly that, turn around and walk away if he's bothering you. If you're comfortable doing it, you can imagine (or write, or say out loud) a conversation in which you encourage him to move on and leave you alone.

I'm sorry, brains are weird and things are extremely weird right now and dead dads are really complicated. Mine died about five weeks before lockdown started, and all my stress dreams are about masks now, but I definitely had some cruft surface in the first month or so.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:42 AM on May 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

I pointed at him and said something that sounded like magic words and he just smiled at me and walked out of the room, disappearing completely as he went toward his bedroom.

You may actually find that this is already over, and that what you're describing here is the last you'll see of him.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:45 AM on May 12, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like your brain is at work processing his death. Even if you had a bad or mixed relationship with a parent, their passing is going to inspire some feelings that need to be dealt with. If we're not confronting these feelings in the daytime - either because we're not fully aware of them or actively avoiding them or too distracted or any of the million other reasons why feelings can percolate along in the background unattended - they'll crop up when and where they can, like in dreams. In addition, a month is really not that long ago! Having vivid dreams about a family member who died that recently sounds very, very normal to me, though I understand why it's so upsetting. Someone has already suggested therapy, and I will also recommend that if this continues to be an issue for you as time goes on - that's likeliest to be the fastest and most direct route to moving on.

You say "I feel horrible about it, because I should be sad that he's gone...", which is how a lot of people feel when their reaction to a death is something other than what we might think of as a stereotypical reaction to grief. You should go easy on yourself to the extent that you can. Dealing with death is very weird and our cultural scripts for it (I am assuming you're coming from a Western background) are very prescriptive and inflexible. Your feelings are your feelings and they are neither good nor bad, they just exist.
posted by superfluousm at 10:47 AM on May 12, 2020

Best answer: My dad died a little over a year ago. We didn't have a great relationship (I don't think it was as bad as yours -- he just basically ignored me my whole life) but he was a man with a temper and very emotionally/verbally abusive towards my mother. I went through a lot of grief related to his death, which I was not expecting at all, to the extent that I got really terrible migraines and had a lot of rage-y outbursts in the following months. I also had a lot of dreams about him in the months after he died -- some of the zombie-type dreams (like going to his wake and he was sitting up in his casket and I was asking if he was dead), some of the just "he's around in this dream but we all know he's dead," and they were all disturbing on some level. These leveled off after a few months, especially once I was mostly through the grieving process. I still have occasional days where I see the one picture in my home of my parents and think "he's dead" and just start sobbing, and I definitely still dream about him more than I used to (which was basically never when he was alive), but I really think this will ease up as you move through the grief process. I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by jabes at 10:49 AM on May 12, 2020

When people who hurt us are alive, we often repress our feelings about them to survive and just to not let them dominate us. Once they are dead, those thoughts are released, *because* it's safe now. They can never hurt you again, not in real life. And so old emotions come out, which can overwhelm you.

You've been through a real emotional rollercoaster, it's not surprising your dreams reflect it. A therapist can definitely help if the dreams and feelings are disrupting your life.
posted by emjaybee at 10:51 AM on May 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

Also, I don't remember which articles in particular, but there were a ton of websites about grief that really helped me when I was dealing with my dad's death. Some really general stuff like this just hit home at the time in ways that it doesn't now.
posted by jabes at 10:52 AM on May 12, 2020

Best answer: It’s also perfectly fine to not feel sad when someone dies. Don’t necessarily proclaim it to people who might be grieving, but you are allowed to feel how you feel.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:53 AM on May 12, 2020 [7 favorites]

I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this. If you were having nightmares before that your dad was coming to get you after you moved out of the house, your brain might be having a hard time adjusting to the idea that, for the first time, he cannot come to get you anymore. And if you have some hard emotions around feeling relieved that he is gone, your brain might be framing these dreams as nightmares. Maybe if you can think of something to say to yourself throughout the day along the lines of “he can never come after me again and it’s ok to be relieved about that” it might give your subconscious some space to work with the idea and stop turning it into nightmare fuel.
posted by corey flood at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's not uncommon for people to experience unexpected emotions, such as relief, when a parent dies - even if the parent wasn't abusive. Your feelings are what they are and it's okay to have them.

I haven't had your recurring dream but I did have a recurring dream for a long time that was mildly upsetting but not traumatic, and at some point I resolved whatever was causing the dreams via therapy and experience, and they stopped. So I'm also wondering, as Ragged said, if the fact that your father did leave in your last dream means that you're done with these. If not, journaling and working with a therapist and/or a grief support group might help you process whatever issues are seeking resolution via your dreams.
posted by bunderful at 11:03 AM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had these dreams, too.

They lasted longer than I ever would have expected. I used to wake up thinking he had tricked me into thinking he had died. Somehow that would remove all the progress I had made since his death. It would take me quite some time after each dream to convince myself that it really was over. Sometimes I'd even have to do something physical to prove he was still dead; read his death certificate, look at possessions and wife and job and know that those were all my accomplishments, sans him.

But they gradually became less of an "Oh no, he's still alive and injecting himself negatively into my lie," and more of "dad is back in a dream again and even though he's at his peak of strength and youth he can't affect me".

He still pops up in a dream now and then, but what used to be a nightmare has become "Oh yeah, that's what used to cause nightmares." My parents have no power over me any more, either awake or asleep.

Dad's been dead thirty years.
posted by lothar at 11:13 AM on May 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

I've always had reoccurring dreams about people and even animals I am attached to after they've passed away (most recently it was my cat and, although those have mostly ceased after 4 years, they happened a LOT at first and still happen every so often and they are always the same theme). Despite your very strained relationship with your father you still had an attachment (which is only natural, we're literally biologically wired to be attached to our parents and it feels literally inescapable even as we age and become independent), and you are grieving. This is how you are processing your own version of grief with this person, even if it sounds, honestly, very terrifying.

I can't say why this is happening psychologically but I guess just know that it is not odd to have these dreams after someone you are attached to dies and it is not an indication that something is wrong with you.

I always recommend everyone obtain some form of grief therapy, as it is a trauma that can impact your life for a LONG TIME, so that may not be a bad idea in this case.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:16 AM on May 12, 2020

Best answer: How can I get it to stop?

I'm not going to address the other aspects (i.e. dealing with death), but I will mention what helped me control dreams, at least to stop some recurring nightmares. So as a kid I often had recurring nightmares that would restart where the last dream left of - sometimes several times in the same night and sometimes during night after night.

I'm not advocating going hog wild on this research, but as a teen, I looked at lucid dreaming articles only for one component: How do you recognize its a dream, followed by how to get some control over it?

For me, I learned to recognize what made it a dream (you probably have commonalities with your dreams that do not occur in your waking life) - you could probably add the presence of your father, too, as one of those things. Remind yourself a few times - if you see these things it is a dream.

So once you can recognize it a dream (inside the dream), there are things you can try to stop it or change it:

-Tell yourself to wake up (didn't work for me that started another cascade of nightmares for me, hello sleep paralysis, YMMV, but you can try)

-Or are things that you can do in your dream world that you don't do in normal life? I don't know what that might be for you - flight? make things move? yell? Whatever it is - think about ways to use it to get it to stop - so maybe its fly away or put something over his mouth or make some of those papers you found reappear, whatever ...

Good luck.

One more small thing - I would definitely write down the dream but I probably wouldn't revisit it or try to interpret it for a while mainly because ... you'd be forming new memories with it and then at night, reconsolidate those memories, etc. But that's me. YMMV.
posted by Wolfster at 11:32 AM on May 12, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone! I've marked my most favorite answers as "Best", but really all of the replies were right on target.

To summarize, what I've taken away from everyone's comments is: I need to allow myself to feel what I'm feeling and it's okay not to be grieving in the traditional, western way; I need to allow some time to allow my brain to work all of this out; I can try some visualization exercises before bed to preempt or prepare for the dream if it recurs; and, if things don't get better soon, or even if they do, speaking with a therapist or a grief support group could do wonders.

Thank you again for your words of comfort and encouragement. They have truly helped me.
posted by jspierre at 11:47 AM on May 12, 2020 [13 favorites]

This is normal and that doesn't mean it feels good. i am sorry.My father died a while ago (he sounds not unlike your dad, a drinker, not abusive exactly but neglectful and left some cleaning-up to do after he died) and I would have what I would call my Zombie Dad dreams where he was there and kind of alive but not alive and I was having to manage some of the parts of dealing with him that I had HATED dealing with when he was alive. They do fade. It's been years and while I still sometimes see my dad in my dreams, it's more likely to be some sort of historical dad, not end-of-life especially awful dad.

Also worth knowing that usually people like this don't exist in a vacuum, there are a lot of people in their orbit who may also be problematic to you. My father in particular had a whole posse of enablers who would basically circle the wagons if he and I had issues. You supported him or you sucked, and this extended briefly until after his death with people insisting/demanding that we honor him the way they felt he should be honored. They're still alive and they feed this whole problem.

MeFites were helpful getting me to understand that this kind of grieving is a complicated grief and while, especially when you are under stress, and especially when you have had one more more shitty parents, you can worry you may be doing it wrong. Also helpful to me was having a sibling who knew my dad and what he was really like who I could commiserate in a way that wasn't appropriate to do publicly. That was good. And lastly what was helpful was listening to John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats who was talking to Mark Maron on the WTF podcast about his abusive stepfather (I think) who died.And he talked about how there is a very specific and kind of illicit feeling when your abuser dies, one that can be really hard to grapple with. Hearing that made me feel a little less alone trying to manage this weird Zombie Dad along with everything else turning my world topsy-turvy at the time.
posted by jessamyn at 11:59 AM on May 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

What is going on here?

Your sleeping brain is generating experiences that your waking brain partially remembers and finds disturbing.

I've never had a recurring dream every night like this?

Most people experience recurring dreams for at least some part of our lives, and it quite often happens in response to circumstances that are emotionally challenging and/or socially complex. Every one of us who has had this kind of experience must have had it for the first time at some point. Welcome to the club.

How can I get it to stop?

You can't, because the waking brain mode that wants it to stop is not in control of the sleeping-mode processes that make it happen. It will stop on its own when its work is finished. The most influential thing your waking brain can possibly do to shorten that work is to give your sleeping brain its acceptance and blessing to take care of it, rather than continue to joggle its elbow with persistent demands for project completion estimates, and attend instead to improving your overall health.

The fact that you can't exert much influence over this is probably going to be quite annoying until you internalize the idea that stuff you can't control is also stuff you needn't waste time and attention on trying to control. I got much happier much more often after working that one out in my thirties.

It is very disturbing

Yes, it is. It's also an opportunity to gain a better understanding of who and what you actually are and how that actually works.

I prefer not to remember him like this

Our sleeping brains pay very little attention to what our waking brains prefer. If you have a particular set of preferences for how you'd like to remember your father while awake then you can certainly put some attention and some hours into finding ways to think of him that way while awake; this will have some influence on what happens while you're asleep but it won't be a directly controlling influence because that degree of control is simply not available to a human being. We're just not organized that way.

As a general principle, if you can build your preferred collection of waking habits in ways that don't involve telling lies to yourself, that will simplify the work your sleeping brain has to deal with as well.

and move on with my life

Doing that is completely unavoidable; doing it with skill and contentment is largely a matter of learning what needs to be attended to and in what order.
posted by flabdablet at 12:45 PM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

My therapist gently introduced the phrase "complicated grief" after my stepdad died, and while at the time it made me want to laugh bitterly (YOU THINK??? it's complicated??) it helps to have a bag to put it all in, so to speak.

Be gentle with yourself; finding out all kinds of new and unpleasant information about your dad, who then died and left it all on your doorstep, is a lot to deal with. Best wishes as your poor brain and body sort through it.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:50 PM on May 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

The most recent episode of the podcast Every Little Thing features a lighthearted interview with a lucid dreaming expert that you might find interesting.
posted by doift at 1:20 PM on May 12, 2020

This is very common (I hear from people who had good & relatively uncomplicated relationships with the dead that their dream visitations are comforting -- I wouldn't know about that -- but the visitations happen even to those people). I am relatively uncommon in that I had a few of these horrible dreams before my mother died, like a week before, so I would wake up and have this rush of relief that [horrible thing] was only a dream, and then remember a bit later that she was still alive, so the really horrible part was all still to come.

(She wasn't like your dad and my death-dreams were all singular events-- I am not trying to horror-compete & if I were, I would lose. But I remember the couple of dreams I had even now, five years later.)

He actually said something to me to the effect of "I'll always know where you are, so don't think you'll ever be able to hide from me.

Well. no wonder, then. He's gone now -- he's nowhere--and there's not much difference between nowhere and everywhere, to the frightened imagination. it's very natural to feel, at undefended times like sleep, that he's coming for you or always watching, like santa claus or god.

One month after death might as well be one day. It just happened. this is terrible and normal doesn't make it less terrible. but I think it will become less frequent as time goes on. Therapy may help it go away faster but I don't even know if that's true, it might just help you tolerate it. But this stuff will fade even if it fades slowly.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:39 PM on May 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

I prefer not to remember him like this

and also--my memories of my dreams are still terrible, although they don't intrude, they don't come to me now unless I call them up. But they don't run on the same track as my real memories of my mother, which themselves overlap with my preferred and friendlier edited memories of my mother. separate train lines. You are not doomed to remember him like this just because you dream about him like this right now.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:42 PM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

First of all, I think this is very normal. My mother died 6 years ago, we had a very close but also complicated relationship, some parts similar to what you describe. I have had dreams, as recently as last week, about her - a lot of them involving her being sick, and angry at me, and it is always just awful.

None of your feelings are wrong, and are probably very natural given what you describe, but it's also important to feel them. A month isn't a very long time at all. Sometimes if you try to push those uncomfortable thoughts away they spring up in our subconscious. I think it's just our minds figuring things out, or just processing things. I mean...for me, six years later, I still dream about my mother. Sometimes good, unfortunately quite often bad and I feel guilty during the dream. But then I wake up and just have to tell myself that it's not my fault.

Sorry you're going through this, I know it's very upsetting but it does get easier with time. A month after is nothing...it's just such an upsetting time and it will take time. Hang in there.
posted by cornflakegirl at 5:05 PM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

When my father died I sang "ding dong the witch is dead" on the way home from the hospice. And he had his good points too! But I like to think I worked off most of the guilt years earlier, with professional help.

Is part of your mind punishing you for your very justified feelings? Give yourself permission to feel how you feel.

You deserve to feel safe. And now you are safe. Any mantras about all beings finding peace could help if you remember the beings include yourself.

A month is nothing.

Some sort of ritual or ceremony might help. You don't need to believe it- placebos are really great that way. A line of salt around the bed?
posted by Coaticass at 2:42 AM on May 13, 2020

My parents have been dead since 2005 and 2011. I get nightmares on and off, usually more when I'm stressed. I've gone a few years without the atrocious "lol jk they were alive all along" dreams but they came back last week. I'm so sorry you're experiencing these, OTC sleep aids might be your best bet since "reduce your stress level" is kind of impossible right now.

I've noticed these nightmares crop up more when I really wish they were around to give me some advice or for me to confront them about failed parenting. Perhaps an outlet for that would help?
posted by buteo at 7:40 AM on May 13, 2020

When this happened to me I figured there was stuff I had to work through, so instead of trying not to dream about my mother I would tell myself that when I dreamed about her I would dream effective dreams. I can direct my dreams a bit with just before sleep self-talk. Then when I woke up I would think, "Good, done and over. Today's bad memories and thoughts are done."

Over time the dreams got less and less distressing and other dreams began to occur. It felt to me like I needed to recalibrate my stress hormones and the transition, from it being essential to be vigilant to the threat she presented to being safely able to not think about her multiple times a day, required the dreams. The worse the dream the better I seemed to be a day or two later once the stress hormones of the nightmare were metabolized out, so I thought the bad dreams were helpful this way.

In my dreams I went from being helpless, to opposing her futilely, to opposing her with some success, to escaping from her; the nightmares took about four months to wind down, getting easier every week. I encouraged this by instructing myself what to do when I dreamed about her. I didn't always remember my dreams during this period, but those I did remember were always her doing her usual harmful things. A typical dream had her managing to force her way into the house and those transitioned to dreams where I was no longer in an enclosed space with her, which of course felt much safer.

Also, and trying to put it gently, I would say you DID have a terrible relationship with him. Sometimes having a relationship with both good and bad parts is far worse than one with nothing but bad parts, because the good parts justify you overlooking the bad. Thoughts like "my dad loves me really" or "but he did support me while I was a kid" or "I have nobody else I can ask" can be far more of a trap than being locked into the house with the person who is harming you. But overlooking the bad that people do to you is exceedingly harmful. It teaches you that you are not worth enough to be protected. That creates a scar that runs very deep.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:02 PM on May 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

QFT Jane the Brown above who is spot on as always: "trying to put it gently, I would say you DID have a terrible relationship with him"

I came here to say basically this - that you start off by saying your relationship wasn't terrible, but then reading your question in full I wanted to hug kid-you and tell them you deserved so much better, you deserved love and not fear.

It sounds like you're already planning to do some self-reflection and hopefully therapy (you deserve that, too), and I think one of the things you might focus on is allowing yourself to say out loud, this man was not a good father, he did not support me, I should have felt loved and not afraid, and I am disappointed - I deserve love and to feel loved and not afraid. Fear is not my normal. Fear should never have been my normal.
posted by greenish at 1:09 AM on May 14, 2020

I prefer not to remember him like this and move on with my life...

That’s the crux, that’s the very reason this stuff is coming up so powerfully via your subconscious – because you have been repressing it throughout your life, throughout the duration of your attachment bond to him.

Fwiw my father passed over 7 years ago. We had a very strained relationship; the early years were the best, however, in his last chapter of life he let himself go... When he passed, I was terrified I would have the very nightmares you are describing – that he would haunt me in my dreams and in the years to come, continue to never let me go.

In my father I can relate to many things you wrote here, however, unlike you, I was much more conscious of my father’s shadow side before going into his death. I already had an inkling... that in stark contrast to the saintly self-portrayal he required us family members as his hall of mirrors to continuously reflect back for him... I already knew many deeply disappointing things about him that I also knew he would never admit to me. I knew he had often cheated on my mom, that he had always been a heavy alcoholic, that he often said two-faced things about us siblings to each other, that he probably does have a child through another woman out there somewhere, etc. He also tempered his temper, somewhat, never being directly physically abusive to us, but... like boiling frogs in water, he raised the temperature in other ways. Yes, there were good and some very enriching times. Like yours, he was definitely unstable as far as his temper went.

I left home for university right after high school, but I didn’t really leave home until the age of 26 when I moved across the country. 6 months after attempting to secure my attachment-freedom, I had a vivid nightmare of him, furious that I had figured out how to escape him. The nightmare confirmed to me that I had been right to try and get away. Just before I left, he went through his first cancer. It was during that last chapter in between his first cancer and his last/second cancer that the darkness in his soul grew even darker. When he finally passed, I was relieved, but also dreadfully anticipating the cleanup.

Within a few days of his passing, I began to dream about him, but... because I had already started the conscious work of confronting his shadow life, I didn’t become hopelessly trapped in them. I was already reading up on Jungian theory about how to integrate the messages these vivid dreams were bringing me. I knew there was unfinished conscious work that had to be inherited and dealt with, and with nothing left to lose... (because I bore consciousness to my father’s ugly shadow side, I also bore the brunt of the fallout from all his unnamed messes)... I set myself to the task of dealing with these messes until they were all cleaned up, to the best of my ability and within reason.

For a few years since his death, my father haunted the dreams of my immediate family members, plainly trying to convince them that somehow he is actually still alive, or that he’s really just sleeping. But he hasn’t haunted mine, not like that. His zombie-form appeared during the year immediately after his death, during which I undertook the most arduous work when it came to cleaning up his unresolved past. But since then, not so much.

Somewhere I read that our personalities depend on the neural circuits that simply endure in our brains. My father survived so much early life trauma that he truly didn’t know himself or who he was without seeing his reflection in his children’s eyes. That was his way of trying to survive his inner emptiness, from where the darkness eventually took him. He knew his light was fading inside, that’s why he had to cling to ours so tightly. Like you, I left because I could feel his smothering extinguishing my own life-flame. Using Carl Jung theory, I took a different approach in order to weaken his own memory of himself within me. Using his own truth I reflect to him how I am no longer going to be his prisoner, or prisoner to the transgenerational forces that warped him this way. I have since used his passing to undertake a much deeper spiritual journey than I was living in my life before. In fact I now believe it's because we take the blessing of our lives for granted, and don't do this deeper healing work, that the world is doing what it is doing today (i.e. covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and capitalist-caste system-related fallout = uncertain future for our species).

How can I get it to stop?

I don’t know what your father’s full baggage is, but I strongly recommend you continue the more difficult road of confronting the darkness in his shadow life. Read up on archetypes, dream theory and attachment theory. You don’t have to inherit the full load of his shit, but you can shine enough light on the truth such that his residual essence doesn’t cling to you for life anymore. These are the stories of your father’s attachment-wounds, and if you expect release from this bondage to them, well... IME you’re just going to have to have the courage to undertake the transgenerational work. It sounds like you have good relationships with your siblings, which is more than what I had post-death... see if you can work together on this, during this fresh time when your father’s ghost is so active. Do journal on these dreams, as others have suggested above. Good luck!

P.S. Thanks for asking this.
posted by human ecologist at 8:46 AM on May 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

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