Dear Claire,

I have been having a lot of fighting dreams. Usually, I am throwing punches hard and wild in these dreams. But it is at someone I can’t even see, and I just keep going and keep punching until I wake up exhausted. Other times, I am fighting with like a shadow or ghost. I will be throwing these punches that go right through them. Or I will be striking out and feel nothing, and then I look up to see that I am fighting nothing, Or, sometimes, I go to fight the shadow, and it moves. I just keep punching all over the place, but my punches land nowhere. A lot of times, I wake up from these dreams sweating and with my heart racing. These dreams wear me out, and I would like to stop having them.

Confrontations, arguments, and fistfights in a dream are extremely common and are usually reflective of conflict, anger, or hardship being experienced in the waking world. This can be active conflict, anger, or hardship—occurring in the present but not being expressed or acted upon–or it can be lingering or residual feelings from past conflict, anger, and/or hardship which either continues to be unresolved or has never been expressed in the waking world. In either event, this dream-world conflict, which is mirroring experiences in the dreamer’s waking life and psyche, is often suppressed and “long-stored”—and can often be conflict which the dreamer refuses to address or even acknowledge in his conscious state. Because “stuffing” one’s feelings can be mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy, the subconscious mind will often direct these “stuffed” and suppressed emotions to the dream state—and this psychological “spill over” can then surface in bellicose scenarios which are created by the dreaming mind in an attempt to vent unhealthy angst. Meaning, if the dreamer cannot act on, express, or release the angst resulting from the conflict, anger, and/or struggles in his waking world, his subconscious mind will utilize his dreaming world in order to act out and express this present or unresolved angst (as a dreamer once commented, he was continually “releasing the Kraken” in his dreams).

In addition to being an extremely therapeutic and non-confrontational method of working through and then releasing strong feelings of anger, conflict, and frustration, these dreams can also serve as a subconscious tool for forcing the dreamer to acknowledge any ignored and/or repressed emotions regarding past abuses suffered—and work through the accompanying emotions and psychological effects of this abuse in the dream state. Being forced to first confront and work through issues in the subconscious world can empower the dreamer in his waking, conscious world—and this can facilitate working towards a remedy or resolution. For example, after venting personal angst in dreams, a dreamer may be able to gain valuable insight into his inner turmoil—as well as gain the emotional strength or impetus needed to openly discuss suppressed issues and feelings, seek counseling, or remove himself from the afflicting situations and/or individuals.


As to striking out at a “shadow” or “ghost” in a dream, this could be symbolic of a conflict or struggle with an individual who is either no longer present in the dreamer’s waking life—or who was rarely present or totally absent (for example, an absentee parent—or a deceased parent. In this case, the “shadow” and “ghost” imagery would perfectly symbolize their lack of substantial presence).


In addition, the “ghosts” and “shadows” could also signify that the conflict has no actual face—and could symbolize humanity in general, or all of the struggles and opposition which the dreamer is experiencing at this time in his waking life. Meaning, who or what the dreamer is struggling with is not a specific individual or entity, but is, instead, the dreamer’s collective conflict—past and/or present.

Along similar lines, the “shadows” and “ghosts” in the dream fights could also be representing some group of individuals or some institution which has created conflict, anger, and/or hardship in the dreamer’s waking life (for example, a group of co-workers at the dreamer’s place of employment or an institution such as the IRS). In the end, however, dream individuals appearing in “shadow” or “ghost” form most typically represent individuals who, for some reason or other, are no longer present in the dreamer’s life or every day existence—or who, whether due to death or purposeful absence, were rarely or never present.


In reference to the “wild fist-fighting” with the “shadow” or “ghost”, this is most likely reflective of highly negative emotions or anger which the dreamer feels towards certain individuals due to their lack of presence—whether the absence was intentional or not (it is not uncommon to be angry at a loved one who has passed away—the resulting feelings of abandonment and anger, while seemingly irrational, are very real for some people). In addition, this dream world “fist-fighting with shadows and ghosts” could also be the result of negative emotions and lingering anger towards “ghosts from the past”—for example, an abusive and/or neglectful individual or family member from the dreamer’s past, or a past friend or acquaintance with whom problematic or hurtful issues were never resolved or expressed (thus, the “fighting ghosts from the past” theme and imagery in the dreams). Lastly, the dream motifs of “fighting nothing” and being unable to “land punches”—in addition to “feeling nothing” when the punches do land—would most likely be a reflection of the frustration the dreamer has at his inability to resolve the conflict he feels, as well as a reflection of his feelings of powerlessness, weakness, and impotency at being unable to confront the individual and address the conflict. This “wild shadow fighting”, in addition to the ghost-like quality of this dreamer’s adversary, could definitely be a symbolic expression of internal conflict and anger at the dream adversary’s lack of substantial presence.
In the final analysis, in order to unlock the full and accurate meaning of these “shadow fighting” dreams, the most significant question to ask the dreamer would be, “Who or what does he think is the source of the conflict and/or anger in his waking world?”—what are these sources of conflict in the present as well as in the past. The dreamer needs to truly meditate on, and then firmly identify, all present and past sources of conflict, anger, and/or hardship in his life—and then he needs to ascertain whether he has fears regarding any consequences which might come from addressing the identified source(s) of conflict. While the continual dream fighting could end up being merely the result of watching too many “John Wick” movies back to back—by focusing on and identifying the origins of the conflict, and identifying any fears associated with these sources, the resulting emotions and issues can then be openly and consciously addressed and, hopefully, worked through. Unresolved or suppressed issues will, invariably, work their way into the dreaming world—because that is the subconscious mind’s strategy for forcing the dreamer to confront any issues which may be preventing him from progressing and thriving in his waking life. As the old saying goes, “You can run—but you can’t hide”. That adage is especially true in the dreaming world—your dreaming mind will eventually catch up to you (just like “John Wick”).
*End note: Definitely consider using forgiveness as a tool when dealing with angry and bellicose dreams of this nature. However, first, try voicing the troublesome issues, verbally or in writing—and voice these issues down to their very last details, expressing every angry thought and emotion. Then make the conscious choice to forgive and move on—because for many, practicing forgiveness was definitely the key to finally putting an end to disturbing and exhausting dreams such as these.

**Please submit your dreams for analysis to: dreams@thevailvoice.com . All shared information will stay anonymous.

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