What it means when you can’t scream in your dream

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It's one of the worst feelings when you're dreaming.

We have compiled dreams from our readers into categories of common dream themes, and dream analyst Jane Teresa Anderson has kindly provided possible interpretations of those dreams (within the limits of the information provided about the dream).

This time Jane Teresa explores one of the more terrifying and disconcerting dream themes that most of us have probably experienced at some point; being unable to scream or choking. There’s more to them than you think though. 

Dreaming about choking or being unable to scream

“I often dream I have a mouthful of paste type substance and I am spitting it out and gouging it out with my fingers and wake up feeling like I’m choking.”

Although dreams can reflect sensations around you while you sleep, the sensation of a dry mouth, for example, they’re usually symbolic of emotional issues and unconscious beliefs. When she has this dream, this dreamer may feel she’s choking back her words (since words come from the mouth), wanting to say something but holding back, trying to spit her words out, yet they won’t come.

What is the situation or feeling she can’t swallow yet can’t release herself from? When you can explore and interpret all the other details in a dream, you gain an accurate picture of the dreamer’s circumstance, and the unconscious beliefs that are keeping her stuck.

“I’ve had a dream where I’m being chased, and I’m trying so hard to scream but all that comes out is air.”

When we’re asleep and dreaming, our muscles are prevented from moving in the usual ways. This is ‘sleep paralysis’, nature’s way of protecting us from moving about, acting out our dreams, and risking physical injury.  If you begin to wake from a dream while your body is still in sleep paralysis, you may dream of being unable to move, unable to scream.

Since this dreamer was being chased, she may have been scared enough to try to wake, and experienced the inability to scream as part of her dream. But it’s more likely to be symbolic: she may feel that she’s trying to express her fears about something that she’s trying to escape, but, no matter how hard she tries, she can’t get the words out.

On a deeper level, this is a probably a deep internal scream – something she has tried to hold back is trying to be heard, as if there’s an internal conflict going on. It would be healing for her to explore what she doesn’t express, and why. Interpretation of the details of her dream would reveal the situation.

Jane Teresa says that a good place to start with these kinds of dreams is to explore what isn’t being said, what the dreamer is holding back, or unable to express, what is choking the dreamer at an emotional level. There may also be physical causes, as explained in both of the following dreams.

Have you had a dream where you’ve been choking or unable to scream?

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