Nightmares and “Virtual” Fear

In nightmares, we dreamers are afraid, truly afraid. Our hearts race, sometimes our limbs thrash and we wake disturbed as if presented with the same terrifying situations in waking life.

But sometimes the fear we experience is unique to a dream state.

For instance, I have had a recurrent dream image for years, probably decades where I suffer from claustrophobia. Sometimes I’ll be forced to go into a small space or travel through a narrow corridor and I will be struck with panic. What is particularly interesting about these dreams is that in waking life, I don’t noticeably suffer from claustrophobia. Elevators, even tiny elevators pose no particular terror in everyday life but in the context of these dreams, I would be beside myself.

My initial interpretation is that claustrophobia must itself be a dream figure. For some reason, my dreaming self wants to make believe that it is afraid of small confined spaces. To use a computer metaphor, my brain is running another kind of brain in “emulation mode,” the fear that it is exhibiting is truly fearful but it also is “virtual.”

I am still processing what this kind of layered dream life might mean. Ideas?

For that matter, does anyone else experience a similar kind of “make believe” terror either occasionally or recurrently in their dreams?

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