Fire Breathing Monster?

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At 3:00 AM in the morning tiny arms grip me tightly, legs get sprawled around me, her tiny body shaking uncontrollably. I ask what’s wrong and she says, “Please can we sleep with the lights on, please?”

She has usually dreamt up a gigantic spider, a tentacular being of some sort or other creepy-crawlies magnified several times, ready to take over her little world. Nothing I say or do helps. “Mommy is right next to you, honey. The spiders won’t get you. Come to me.”

She shrieks, “No, they will, they’re coming after me Mommy, please, please turn the lights on!”

I have no choice but to sleep with the lights on for the rest of the night. Night terrors, monsters under the bed, in the closet, clinging to the ceiling, invisible ones inhabiting empty chairs in the living room, I am familiar with them too. I could feel their clammy fingers reach out for me till well into my late teens. They are persistent, these monsters.

But never once do I recall imagining myself as a helpless little monster. This one surprised me. She woke up crying inconsolably. Nothing I said or did help, even switching on the glaring lights didn’t. She didn’t tell me what her dream was until the next day. I am still reeling from what she then said. She said she had turned into a fire-breathing monster and every time she breathed, fire came out and people ran away form her. No one wanted to play with her. She kept walking up to people and they kept running away. She told me that all she wanted to ask was if they had seen her Mommy but they kept screaming and running. No one wanted to tell her where Mommy was, she thought Mommy wouldn’t run from her even if she was breathing fire but no one wanted to help. So she sat in a corner and sobbed.

I don’t know what to make of this one. Why would a four year old have such a dream? Could it be something as mundane as her streptococcal infection and the related fever? I am told she woke up shrieking from her afternoon nap at the daycare, she could have been looking for Mommy then. Or was it something else? What knots does a four year old brain tie itself into? And what can poor Mommy do?


  1. Pragya,it seems that from a Jungian perspective, this dream could perhaps be viewed in a somewhat positive light — though all these monster dreams (dreaming of them as external to the self, or now as the self) are of course horribly inconvenient and disconcerting for the girl. But the insight that the monster is oneself, rather than an extrinsic threat, seems a fascinating development in wake of the earlier dreams you mention; — reminiscent of the lyrics you place as tagline for your blog: that both Jesus and the Lepers are included within oneself.It's one thing to ponder such ideas hypothetically; it's another to deal with a 4-year-old troubled by nightmares.Here's a story that came to mind when reading your post. It speaks more to dreams of monsters than dreams-of-being-a-monster; but it's all I have to offer at the moment! This is from Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart:"When I was about ten, my best friend started having nightmares: she'd be running through a huge dark building, pursued by hideous monsters. She'd get to a door, struggle to open it, and no sooner had she closed it behind her than she'd hear it opened by the rapidly approaching monsters. Finally she'd wake up screaming and crying for help."One day we were sitting in her kitchen talking about her nightmares. When I asked her what the demons looked like, she said she didn't know because she was always running away. After I asked her that question, she began to wonder about the monsters. She wondered if any of them looked like witches and if any of them had knives. So on the next occurrence of the nightmare, just as the demons began to pursue her, she stopped running and turned around. It took tremendous courage, and her heart was pounding, but she put her back up against the wall and looked at them. They all stopped right in front of her and began jumping up and down, but none of them came closer. There were five in all, each looked something like an animal. One of them was a gray bear, but instead of claws, it had long red fingernails. One had four eyes, another had a wound on its cheek. Once she looked closely, they appeared less like monsters and more like two-dimensional drawings in comic books. Then slowly they began to fade. After that she woke up, and that was the end of her nightmares." [pp. 28-29]———-The story seems to have something in it that might be applicable even for the more complicated case of dreaming-oneself-as-a-monster. Even though this seems a radically different situation, in another way it's like the same dream, simply viewed from another angle; like a photographic negative of the monster dreams. At any rate, I won't presume to have answers or to perform remote dream analysis. But it's an interesting, and perhaps natural sort of growing pain . . .Best wishes to the monster-girl ;-)and thanks also Pragya for the blog-link (reciprocated).cheers,d.i.

  2. Interpreting dreams can be tricky; you have to be ready to hear both good and bad meanings. In this dream (without being a professional dream interpreter) one can say that the little girl is having a hard time understanding what is going on inside her. She feels pain and sometimes even burning pain. The only person that cares enough to sit and explain to her what is going on inside her is her mother. She needed to be isolated from her peers at one point because of this pain, which she views as fire. Without knowing the exact reason or cause of it her interpretation is that of a monster (a monstrous pain.) This monster lives inside her and makes her breathe fire causing her little friends to run away from her. She wasn’t scared of her-monster self or wanting to inflict pain on others all she wanted was her mommy. Unable to talk to anyone she felt alone and scared.This wasn’t so terrible of a dream; it does show a misunderstanding of self, which at 4 is very easy to have.

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