The Power of Nightmares

We spend a lot of time thinking about our hopes and dreams for the future. It’s natural, we want to be positive and it is fun to daydream about where we want to be.

It is easy for my mind to drift over to what I want to happen. I want to be a successful writer and blogger, success being defined by myself as widely read and the writing having an impact of some kind on the reader (scaring them with my horror stories for example). In my day dreams, I can see myself reaching the upper echelons of the banking world and being well respected in the field. I want my upcoming marriage to be long and happy, full of romantic times and fun.

Dreams are useful, they give us comfort.

Nightmares are important as well though, just as important as dreams. It doesn’t seem that way, whenever we dwell on nightmares, we are often told to bury it or be more positive. I don’t think that is the best way to look at our darker thoughts.

What we are afraid of and what makes us feel uncomfortable defines us as much as what we want. It can drive us to action, help us discover more about ourselves and face some of our problems.

I want to give some examples of how my nightmares and fears have driven me to positive actions.

Example 1 The Scottish Referendum

I didn’t want the Scottish Referendum to happen and was filled with dread when it was officially announced by the First Minister at the time. As it went into full swing, this feeling only grew.

My nightmare was in a mindless nationalist fervour, we would break away from the UK, not considering the consequences. Working in banking, I knew how fragile our economy was, I could see it totally collapsing like a house of cards. We would go from the strongman of Europe to another Greece, an economic basket case people would avoid like the plague. Our extensive public services would fail, from free universities to the national health service which were barely balancing even before the referendum. A besieged political leadership, the ones who promised utopia, would blame some group or another for the failures. Given the toxic debate, friendly relations with England would be difficult. Spain had vowed not to allow an independent Scotland into the EU and seemed hell bent on making things as hard as possible for us (in order to stifle Catalan and Basque separatists in their own country).

The country I love and live in would be destroyed. Would I be part of a doomed generation trying to cobble it together so maybe the next generation could have an easier time? Would I leave for Canada or the US to try my luck there?

I decided that, driven by this nightmare vision of the future, I was going to get stuck into the political debate. I went door knocking and delivered leaflets for Better Together, the Unionists’ body in Scotland. I signed up to various newsletters to ensure I was fully aware of how the referendum was progressing. On the night of the election, my fiancée and I stayed up all night as each result was coming in.

When victory was announced, we majority of Scots breathed a sigh of relief. I went to the nearby supermarket and bought a big magnum bottle of prosecco, my fiancée and I had a toast to the United Kingdom surviving.

I wouldn’t have joined the fight if I didn’t want to address some of the darker, worrying thoughts I had about the future of the country.

If the separatists at the time had tried to tackle the nightmares and worst thoughts of the voters, they could have won. If they acknowledged how difficult this was going to be, an uphill struggle, industries would be damaged or even destroyed. If they set out their plans to address this, tapped into the nightmares and tried to deal with it, they probably would have won. Instead they simply glossed over it. Separating from the UK would lead to a golden age, we would all be rich and happy, crime would end, there would be an economic boom and unemployment would end, Scotland would be invited to all the most important tables in world politics, rubbing shoulders with the US, China, Russia.

If you didn’t buy into it, if you were worried or concerned about any of these assertations or wanted proof, you were a fearmonger, a traitor, not-Scottish.

The separatist SNP government tried to rely totally on dreams and not address the flip side- and lost, pretty badly. They then proceeded to lose a majority in the Scottish Parliament for the same reason. And then lost a bunch of MPs in the UK parliament again.

Whether you support them or not, you have to admit, not addressing concerns people had has backfired horribly on them.

Compare that with the recent Brexit vote. I thought whatever happened, the UK would survive and be okay. I wasn’t as interested or concerned, I was positive that no matter what happened, we would push through it and as such I took less action. If we stayed in the EU, I could see advantages to that. If we left, fair enough, I can see why. I was disengaged though.

Example 2 Body Horror

As you can tell from the fact I write hard core horror stories in my free time, I don’t scare easy. I can sit comfortably through horror films and read entire horror sagas, enjoy them but not really feel to creeped out or scares.

The Blob 1988, the remake.

That movie, freaks me out.

Now if I was all positive thoughts and great dreams, I would avoid it and movies like it, and never really grow. Instead I wanted to know why I was so freaked out by it. I realised that when the Blob eats people, it painfully dissolves them, mutating them and they feel every agonizing moment.

This led me to realise that the subgenre of body horror is what taps a nerve with me and watched similar films to it. The Thing, The Fly, The Stuff.

I realised that these films scared me in part because the idea of my own body failing was so frightening to me. My nightmare was my body could fail. I don’t have any physical disabilities and take it for granted how easy it is for me to do what I want. The idea of being unable to do what I want does scare me, and part of that is vanity, I wouldn’t like the idea of having to be dependent on someone else to help me if it was an extreme disability or the like.

I wouldn’t say I have conquered that fear but I understand it as part of my psychological make up.  If I had glossed over my nightmare, something that makes me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have realised this about myself.

Example 3 Relationships

I was recently at a steak restaurant in Edinburgh, Millar and Carter, with my fiancée. It is a great restaurant with amazing food. We were laughing, chatting, having a great time. We have been together six years but sitting down to a dinner together is still one of my favourite things to do. The waiting staff were friendly and very well informed, happy to give advice on steak/wine pairings.

Right next to us was an older couple who looked totally miserable. They ordered a steak, barking they wanted it well done despite the pleading waiter suggesting at most the steak should be medium. They picked the “house red” not caring what was in it, wanting a drink and nothing more. They barely said a word over the whole dinner. If you think it can be distracting having a noisy couple near you, try a totally silent one. It’s even worse.

My dream is to have a happy marriage, that is important to me. However my nightmare is ending up like one of those couples. Those negative thoughts drive positive actions. If we have a problem, we discuss it. I go out my way to make romantic gestures even after all these years and at the same time we can just laze around too.

If I was all positive, ignored all negative thoughts, I would dream of my happy marriage and expect everything to fall into place. The voice saying I shouldn’t take my partner for granted is born of nightmares but leads to positive actions. I embrace it rather than ignore it or refuse it even exists.


Stay focused on your dreams but don’t ignore your nightmares, they might be trying to drive some positive actions out of you.

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