Dreams about being chased have a significant meaning for our lives because whatever is chasing us, wants to come to us and wants to unite with us. Remember, dreams are symbolic, not literal. If you dream about a killer chasing you it’s not about your fear of death. Whether our dream about being chased is about people, animals, monsters, gods, or ghosts pursuing us, the pursuer comes from within ourselves.
Each one of those pursuers would mean something entirely different. For example, dreaming about wild animals chasing us might say something about running from our instinctual nature. Meanwhile, running from a person could say something about needing to integrate the shadow or some other aspect of yourself. Dreams about being chased by ghosts could mean that we are running from something in our past …
Is it a god or is it a part of ourselves that runs behind us; is there really a difference between the two? Anything we deny about ourselves has a godlike autonomy which demands our attention.
Whatever it is, the more we run from it, the stronger and more dangerous it becomes, as we read in the lines of a poem from Francis Thompson:
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 midst of tears,
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
The Hound of Heaven
C.G. Jung on Dreams About Being Chased
Carl Jung said the best way to handle dreams about being chased is to stop running and let whatever chases us come to us. We should turn around and face it without resistance. That means we must translate our dream into psychological language. From what are we running? Above all, we have to be specific. Sometimes we need to integrate something about ourselves of which we are unconscious; other times we might need to free ourselves from something that’s holding us back, as in the example below.
A woman who had battled night terrors and insomnia was ready – after 10 years – to stop taking her sleep medication and face the night. On her second night of no-meds/little sleep, she had a dream about being chased. She was running down a dark road at night, heading home. A man ran fast behind her, threatening her life. She stopped and turned around, shouting at him, “You will do nothing to me without a fight,” and he disappeared!
In order to get to the meaning of the dream about being chased, we must work out what part of ourselves we are running from. That dream man was a personification of her nightly angst and fear; he was her inner demon. We create our inner demons through resistance, repression, and suppression. That dream let us know that her psyche was ready for this battle against her inner demons. Her first move in that fight is to stop buying into what he says to her in the form of fear and distorted thinking.
Here’s what C.G. Jung said about dreams about being chased
… 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 to split it off, you experience it as something alien -but it just becomes more dangerous. The urge of what had been split off to unite with you becomes all the stronger. 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. The best stance would be, please, come and devour me! Once we accept this it becomes something else.
Ovid tells us the story of the fleeing maiden, Daphne. Apollo chased her crying out, “I am not your enemy! Thou knowest not who thou fleest …” But still, Daphne resisted and finally called out to her father, the river god Peneus, “destroy my beauty,” and free me from this wretched chase. As soon as Daphne uttered her prayer, her father transformed her into a Laurel Tree.
Speaking archetypally, when Daphne ran from her suitor, who meant her no harm, and cried out for her Father, she regressed and retreated into the parental dynamic – a desperate infantile fixation which traps many people.
from Ovid’s text
a heavy numbness seizes her limbs,
her soft breasts girded by thin bark, her
hair grows into foliage, her arms into branches,
her foot, just now so swift, clings by sluggish roots,
We can see in the words of Ovid, an image of the psychological stagnation we experience in an infantile regression. Some people run from growing up through expectations that the world owes them something. Others run from obligation, commitment, and even love.
Running from or resisting anything in your life is an infantile attitude, an attitude which therefore provokes persecutory dreams. If you dismiss your adult responsibilities, symbolically you too will become like Daphne: stuck and unable to move forward in your life.
A Would-Be Killer Transforms
What does facing our resistance look like, and furthermore, what does the transformation of our resistance look like? First, we don’t always recognize resistance for what it is. For example, people often tell me their dreams about being chased by killers are about their fear of death, or fear of their parents’ or dogs’ deaths. That is just not it. Not at all. Second, whenever you have dreams about being chased, you should ask yourself some questions about your life, for example:
What am I resisting?
We resist all kinds of things: our feelings and emotions, our fears, and even our own desires! Whatever we deny, even if it’s with the best of intentions, will haunt us – chase us – and become more aggressive until we let that part ourselves live.
Is this a killing attitude that I should change?
As I said in the introduction to dream interpretation, many dreams aim to change or correct our attitude. Our attitude is a certain readiness to habitually react in a particular way.
For example, I know a man who responds to any new idea or challenge with, “yeah, but the problem is …” He is one of the most negative men I have ever met. New ideas or challenges scare him because he demands immediate perfection of himself. He dreamed often of drill sergeants and other authority figures chasing him, barking out their orders of perfection.
If I see a dream like that in a man, I can tell him, “See, it’s not you that demands perfection. It’s that drill sergeant.”
You can also have a too-good attitude! In that case, your dream about being chased by a dark figure could mean that you are in denial of your more shadowy, dark side. I have a friend who talks often of being a beacon of love and light, yet she has horrible dreams of being chased by dark women. I told her, “Stop being so perfectly loveable. Let your shadow have a life!”
Your answer to the above questions may not come so easily, and if those answers do come immediately, then perhaps you should question whether that answer is correct.
Dream: A Killer in the House
I’ve already shared an example of the kind of dream where a killer transforms. It was a dream where a would-be killer and two female companions entered a woman’s home. In this dream about being chased, she no longer running down a road or in a dark alley, as in her previous dreams of a similar man. Now the killer was in her home.
He chased her around the house, making threats about what he was going to do to her and how in the end he was going to kill her. Naturally, this man terrified her.
The women put a collar with two chains attached around her neck. The two women were bully types, typical mean girls who get a morbid thrill out of mocking other women. The women were jerking the dreamer’s neck chain as the guy laughed behind her, humiliating her in her own home.
Let’s take a pause here. In the post on dreams about houses, we talked about your home symbolizing your current psychic situation as a whole. When a dream figure enters your home, it crosses the threshold between conscious and unconscious. That is to say, now the dreamer could become conscious of what this killer means for her.
Dream Personifications and Meaning
I asked her where she felt that same kind of fear in her life. Her answer was: most of the time. The dream scene imaged a generalized fear that the woman had about life itself. A clinical psychologist had labeled her with a generalized anxiety disorder and to some degree that was true. This woman was living in existential fear and it was hell for her. The problem was that she couldn’t really put a finger on what she was afraid of. She was suffering from a tremendous amount of pressure, the kind of existential pressure that would wake her up in the middle of the night, just like a death threat.
Jung always spoke about our dreams as images of unconscious processes. The people in our dreams are personifications of unconscious processes. Take that large killer above as an example. Having a guy like that following her around in her own home, telling her all the terrible things he was going to do to her was exactly how she felt when she woke up in the middle of the night feeling threatened.
Realizing what we are running from is of the essence if we want to get to the meaning of a dream about being chased.
Suddenly she remembered in the dream that she knew Kung Fu (which she did know in reality). She could fight back, but it would have to be a fight to the death.
So, she pulled an amazing maneuver and with both arms flung each chain forward and around the necks of those two women. “I squeezed so tight that their necks snapped, and as they fell to the ground dead, the collar on my neck snapped as well, also falling to the ground. Then I turned to face that horrible man, whose countenance had changed entirely. He said to me, ‘Tell me about your writing and your art. What are you working on right now?'”
This woman had a creative potential that she had ignored, thinking it was of no value. She was wrong. You see, that’s what Jung meant by the transformation of persecutory images. She had to kill those shadow figures (the ones who mocked her own talent) in order to make contact with the inner masculine. In other words, that killer was an image for her own creative impulse.
Facing the Shadow in Our Chase Dreams
The killer in her dream about being chased transformed because she had killed those two harassing women and turned to face him. The two women were the Mean Girls who had lived inside her head for as long as she could remember. They were also a personification of the many mean women that she had encountered since birth.
You see these kind of Mean Girls in Cinderella fairy tales. They almost always come with a negative mother complex. When a woman has that kind of feminine dynamic imprinted in her psyche, she draws those bitches into her life, again and again, until she first breaks that dynamic in her inner world.
That’s the meaning of her breaking the necks of those two women. In our case, to break the neck would symbolically mean to break a dysfunctional thought process. It sounds brutal but it was a brutal complex operating in her psyche. That mockery and haranguing, just like you’ve seen in the outer world, went on in her head. This kind of thing goes on in the heads of lots of women. You have to kill these women from the inside first. Then the outer world will reorganize itself around your inner work. You will either not draw that type of woman into your life anymore or you will see her coming and steer clear.
Another woman dreamed of a mother-daughter serial killer team chasing her down and shooting at her. Again, she had a similar kind of negative feminine complex, constellated in her childhood, by a bad family dynamic. It’s the same kind of killing feminine energy that we see above.
Dreams About Being Chased by Serial Killers: Dream of a Woman With a Killer Negative Animus
Let’s take a look now at the animus in a woman. Before I say anything, I want to draw your attention to one of the best books on the topic: The Animus: The Spirit of Truth in Women, Volume 1 and 2. It’s by a woman named Barbara Hannah. These are a collection of her essays and lectures on the animus.
The dream below is the last dream of a series of dreams about being chased by serial killers. Finally, they catch the dreamer:
Traveling with two serial killers. I find one of them attractive. His name is Wayne Gacey (not the actual Gacey). The fact that they have allowed me into their private journey across the country both intrigues and captivates me . They are not actively hunting during my stay with them, but I seem to know something of their nature. That makes me feel special. At some point, I become afraid of them and feel the need to leave their party.
I am suddenly in the apartment of one of them. Apparently, I have been staying there. Now, I am in a panic gathering my things and putting them into a box. A woman is there at a front desk-like place. She pretends to help me, but instead calls killers to tell them I am leaving.
I know that this his woman does not know what she is involving herself in. I see that she wants to impress these dangerous men. She puts me on the phone with them and I ask her, “Do you know who these men are?” A woman on the other end of the phone screams out in terror. I hand the phone to the front desk woman and tell her to listen. She becomes frightened and visibly regrets her decision. As I gather the last of my things in the box, the handsome one is there in a truck. He smiles wickedly, as though he could have me/kill me if wanted and says, “Don’t worry, we are going to let you go.” I knew he would not follow me.
Chased by Serial Killers and Murderers: Dream Meanings
Serial killers and murderers are common personifications in the dreams of women. Many times these dreams symbolize a creative problem. Creativity isn’t always about making art. It can also be an attitude toward your life. Jung called that way of living the Symbolic Life.
In the above dream, the woman is in the apartment of the serial killer, meaning that she is now in that psychic complex. If she looks at the dream with the right attitude, then she can have a look around, so to speak. Killers in dreams are the epitome of the killing aspect of a woman’s negative animus.
Also a strange paralysis of feeling together with a profound lack of self- confidence is frequently the effect on a woman’s own inner world of an unacknowledged animus judgment. In such situations, the animus whispers to the woman in the depths: “You’re a hopeless case; why try? It’s all to no avail anyhow. Your life cannot, and never will, be any different.”
Marie Louise von Franz, Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche
Most women recognize this inner dialogue, right? Many women have these killer dreams. It is fundamental to your psychic health that you understand them psychologically. In the first place, such a dream tells you where those negative thoughts come from. It is not you, it him. That gives you something to push against, in other words, do not buy into your negativity!
The killing figure in dream may want to get your attention, as in the dream above. For example, if you are avoiding or unaware of your creative impulse, then it will become aggressive. Consequently, you might have a dream of someone chasing you with a knife because he – your creative impulse – wants to penetrate your awareness. You have to do something about it!
Killer Dreams in Men
On the other hand, if a man dreams of a murderous man chasing him, then we are likely dealing with his shadow. For example, we see dreams like this in men who are too passive. Sometimes the dreamer runs for his life, while other times, he must fight for his life. In these cases, their healthy aggression is in their shadow, that is, in the killer dream-man.
When a killer shows up in a too-passive, fearful man, it’s often a case that the killer is compensatory. Remember, compensation dreams balance a too-one-sided attitude. A man must fight in order to wrestle that energy from his shadow and into his conscious life. Obviously, not so the man can be aggressive, but so he can live more courageously.
Dreams of Being Chased by Killer Women
Both men and women have these dreams of killer women. A male client of mine had several dreams of being chased by killer women. Typically, they are aligned with an aggressive shadow. In my client, first he takes down the shadow in a fight. Finally, he fights the deadly woman in hand to hand combat.
In men, the killer woman is often an anima figure. What the anima represents in a man are the feminine components of his personality. At the same time, she also represents the image he has of feminine nature in general. Many times the anima problem in a man is about a lack of authentic human relatedness. In these cases, men have no access to real emotion or feeling.
The anima is not a figment of a man’s imagination, nor is she a thought construct. She is a self-existing, psychological reality in the psyche of a man and, she affects his personality in very recognizable ways, especially when a man is unconscious of her reality. Touchiness, brooding, hyper-sentimentality, and unproductive longing are typical examples of unconscious anima moods.
I have seen grown men acting as squeamishly as little girls, throwing the temper tantrums of a tyrannical child, screeching like an old woman chasing children out of her yard, and gossiping as viciously as a gaggle of Southern church ladies. All of these are undeveloped anima behaviors – and while some of these may be the more humorous of examples, the problem can become more serious, as Jung said, acting “like a paralyzing poison on a man’s energy and resourcefulness.”
Read more on the anima problem
The anima problem for men is about first establishing a conscious relationship with her as an inner figure. If you want to know how this looks, then you can read Jung’s Red Book, part of I of Psychology and Alchemy, or Dream Symbols of the Individuation Process: Notes of C. G. Jung’s Seminars on Wolfgang Pauli’s Dreams. If you don’t feel ready for Jung, then check out Robert Johnson’s book, He, which addresses men’s psychology in laymen’s terms.
Persecutory Dreams: Animals Chasing You
As we have already seen, people chasing you in dreams often speak of your unrecognized personality elements. On the other hand, animals chasing you in dreams typically say something about our instinctual nature.
You’ll often hear vacuous comments such as, “snake dreams are about guilt or treachery.” Those kinds of interpretations are total crap. They mean absolutely nothing for you or your conscious development.
For example, Jung told a story about a man who was in the midst of freeing himself from a terrible mother complex. After falling into a regression, he dreamed that a snake darted out of a cave and bit him in the genitals. The psychological translation of that dream is that his mother complex castrates him. See? Nothing whatsoever about treachery or guilt.
Animals in dreams are manifestations of unconscious libido, which for Jung was simply life force. This energy could be unconscious for many reasons, for example suppression or repression. Each animal represents a different aspect of instincts as a whole. To get the meaning of dreams about being chased by animals, we must study, amplify, and make associations to the animal in the dream. You can read my post about snakes and snakes in dreams to see how to do all of that. Furthermore, symbolic meaning will always depend on the context of your conscious situation.
Dream example from Jung
In the Seminar on Children’s Dreams, Jung analyzes a dream about a girl chased and then devoured by a lion. The lion represented her instinctual life – something which had overwhelmed her in the dream. Part of the lion’s nature is “to hunt, chase, and devour.”
Symbolically, the lion is also a fiery principle, the all-consuming heat of the sun, and desire. If you are a person who denies your desires out of a feigned sense of morality or something like that, then a lion chasing and devouring you in your dream might tell you that you should pay more attention to your desires.
To be consumed by an animal in your dream could mean that some mood, fear, or dark thought overpowers you. That’s what happens when you suppress desires. Something takes its place. It is a way for that something to claim its due energy.
So that’s about it. If you have read this far, then you should have a good idea of the meaning of dreams about being chased and how to work with them. Just remember, everything in the dream is about you and your current life situation.
Want to learn more about working with dreams or Jungian Psychology?
- Water in Dreams from a Jungian Perspective - October 9, 2021
- The symbolic meaning of seeing someone pregnant in a dream - March 20, 2021
- Dreams About Being Chased:Stop Running, Let It Come, and Be Transformed - March 7, 2021
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