What Does It Mean to Be Chased in Your Dreams?
5 min read
Last Modified 20 December 2022 First Added 5 October 2021
The path you travel is dark as you walk alone, grateful for the short-lived luminescence of each streetlight. But in the darkness between you feel the hairs raise on the nape of your neck.
You can feel someone or something watching.
You stop, listening carefully but it takes a moment to differentiate the soft footsteps from the thunderous beating of your heart.
Your breath catches in your throat as the steps grow louder. You turn and you run, furiously pumping your arms and legs.
It’s getting closer. Somehow you know, without turning, that it’s gaining on you.
You know that in a matter of moments it will be upon you.
Still, it’s only a dream – right?
The elements of chase dreams tend to be symbolic rather than representative – or, as Carl Jung stated in Man and His Symbols:
[These] are motifs that must be considered in the context of the dream itself, not as self-explanatory ciphers.
More than that, even, interpretation of dreams will often rely upon which branch of psychology or philosophy you use as a frame of reference for the analysis. While dreams are still several steps from being understood by science, humanity has begun to understand some of the functions of dreaming for the mind – whether that’s in the organisation of information or in conducting a strange kind of threat analysis through invention.
As such, it’s not too big a leap to suggest that dreams – especially the vivid kind that tends to stay with us in wakefulness – might have some special relevance that needs investigating. In the case of chase dreams, there is a relatively broad consensus (as you would expect) that chase dreams are related to heightened anxiety in waking life and that the overall scenario suggests that the dreamer is avoiding acknowledging the cause of that anxiety.
In typically mysterious language, Jung puts it this way:
A persecutory dream always means: this wants to come to me. When you dream of a savage bull, or a lion, or a wolf pursuing you, this means: it wants to come to you.
You would like it to split off, you experience it as something alien – but it just becomes all the more dangerous. The urge of what had been split off to unite with you becomes all the stronger.
Though Jung often requires as much deciphering as the dreams he discusses, this is a relatively standard interpretation of the dream even with modern psychologists – a recurring dream that sees the dreamer fleeing suggests a person, event or situation that the dreamer is avoiding.
Whether you’re being chased by a stranger, a friend, a loved one or an animal, each dream may have different meanings. Here, we explore each type in more detail:
The general action you should take, when faced with a dream causing you to worry, is to meditate on its meaning and reflect on how the dream might relate to your waking life. What are you avoiding? What could you do to face that fear and overcome it? To complete the Jung quote used above, when offering advice to those facing chase dreams, Jung states:
The best stance would be: “Please, come and devour me!”
Working with such a dream in analysis means to familiarize people with the thought that they should by no means resist when this element faces them.
The Other within us becomes a bear, a lion, because we made it into that. Once we accept this, it becomes something else. That’s why Faust says: “So this, then, was the kernel of the brute!”
As with many of the most common dreams, the dream becomes the work of art rather than featuring in it – and films about an unknown, sinister peril pursuing a protagonist make up a large segment of genre films, but it has been present in creative works for hundreds of years. For example, in his poem, The Hounds of Heaven, deeply Catholic poet Francis Thompson uses the dream as a conceit to deconstruct the urge to sin:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.