Dream Buster: Understand Your Recurrent Dream Messages

As a dream expert, I am always happy to help someone in need of interpreting their dreams as a Dream Dear Abby. And as a columnist in a Positive Tribe Magazine, I  encourage readers to ask me anything.

“What does it mean if I keep having a frightening recurring dream? And, how do I make it stop?” Persistent pesky dreams that emerge from the darkness like ghosts in the night need a Ghost-Buster who can work in the dream world. “Who ya’ gonna call? Dream Buster!”

A dream that keeps playing in our dreaming mind also will not leave us alone. It lurks in the dark corners of our mind, waiting for the lights to be distinguished, and then it attacks, again and again.

This is the cry for help message that greeted me this morning in my emails. Someone needed help with a dream that would not leave them alone, much like a pesky ghost or a persistent mosquito that comes out in the night, hiding from the light by lurking in the dark shadows of life.  A dream that keeps playing in our dreaming mind also will not leave us alone. It lurks in the dark corners of our mind, waiting for the lights to be distinguished, and then it attacks, again and again. The pesky mesquite like dream awakens us with its persistence. It cannot be ignored and will not go away.

What is a dreamer to do to get a good night’s sleep?

A dream that you keep dreaming over and over is known as a Recurrent or Recurring Dream. According to Wikipedia the definition of a recurring dream is:

[ a dream which is experienced repeatedly over a long period. They can be pleasant or nightmarish and unique to the person and their experiences. ]

Recurring Dreams happen when you did not remember, or understand the dream message information the first time you dreamed it. This was seen in many of the multiple dreams of the dreamers in the book Dreams That Can Save Your Life: Early Warning Signs of Cancer and Other Diseases, based on the Diagnostic Dream Research Work of Duke University Radiologist Dr. Larry Burk. Your inner-guidance is using dreams to communicate something important, but you are not “getting it.”

Understanding a dream message is also known as solving the riddle of the dream.

The majority of recurrent dreams usually appear as a nightmare so you won’t dismiss the information in the message. According to Psychology Today, dream theorists generally agree that recurring dreams are connected to unresolved problems in the life of the dreamer.

It is easy to forget a nice dream but difficult to ignore a frightening nightmare.

Recurring dreams reflect the presence of an unresolved or persistent conflict in an individual’s life. Remember, dreams may speak to us with signs and symbols. If you keep missing the message, your dream environment may shift into a nightmare to get your attention.

People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can often suffer from recurring dreams.

These dreams are thought of as chronic nightmares that act as a symptom of PTSD. A study found that the degree of trauma had a positive relationship to distress related to dreams. Recurring dreams appear during tough or emotional times in our lives. Like nightmares, they are also often a call-to-action, which can be a good thing if it helps solve a challenge in our life.

So the next time you have a pesky recurrent dream/nightmare rather than trying to ignore, swat or kill it as if it were a bug, try embracing it as if it were a beautiful butterfly, the symbol of transformation and life, because your recurrent dream may be trying to transform your life.


Davis, J. L., Byrd, P., Rhudy, J. L., & Wright, D. C. (2007). Characteristics of chronic nightmares in a trauma-exposed treatment-seeking sample. Dreaming, 17(4), 187-198. doi:10.1037/1053-0797.17.4.187

Barret, D. (2001) Trauma and Dreams. Harvard University Press


Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kat O'Keefe-Kanavos
Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is the award-winning author of Surviving Cancerland, and co-author of Dreams That Can Save Your Life. She’s a three-time cancer survivor, and co-publisher/editor of WEBE Books Publishing. Her dreams diagnosed her illness as seen on Dr. Oz, Doctors, NBC News, American Express Open, in Newspapers and magazines. She’s a Contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, TV/Radio Host/Producer- Dreaming Healing on DV7Radio/TV Network, Wicked Housewives On Cape Cod™, Kat Kanavos Show, Internationally Syndicated Columnist in BIZCATALYST 360°, Dream Columnist in Positive Tribe Magazine, and Desert Health Magazine, Keynote Speaker, Performance Coach who taught Special Ed & Psychology @USF, and Lecturer who promotes patient advocacy and Spiritual guidance. She is co-author to the inspiring books; Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change and Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. Very good article, Kat! Often people wonder about reoccurring dreams. There is a different context in every dream. A “good” dream may raise points that call for a change, while a seemingly “bad” dream can actually be good, exactly as you said – e.g. occurring transformation or about something we didn’t need that has already passed on.

    One example is the female/male, yin-yang duality, where one attacks or demolishes the other. It might be simply a time in our life we need a softer or harder quality to the challenges we are facing. Dreams are never to be taken at face value, but considering the multitude of symbolism behind them.

    • Anita, just set your intention, keep a journal beside your bed and write ANYTHING you remember. Thanks so much for your comment.

  2. I love this and it is so spot on. For years after my Father passed I had strange and sad dreams about my Father. They stopped when I wrote the story The Quiet Man and now all my dreams about him are pleasant. Thank you for sharing this