Mack, John E.

Mack, John E.


John Mack (1929–2004), author of Nightmares and Human Conflict, studied the childlike characteristics of our reactions to threats in our nightmares. He recognized the fact that in nightmares we are often assaulted by powerful forces that we are unable to manage successfully. This corresponds to the emotions of helplessness and the lack of ability to affect the world around us that we experience particularly in childhood. The villains of our nightmares are less important than the feelings of terror and vulnerability they evoke:

Whether the dreamer is threatened by an ancient demon, a vampire, a lobster, a fairy story monster, a robot, or an atomic ray, his experience is, in each instance, like that of a helpless child confronted by powerful forces with which he is unable to deal with effectively.

When comparing the difference in the nature of children’s and adults’ nightmares, Mack observed:

Nightmares occur in response to the characteristic danger of situations that human beings confront in the fear of strangers and the dread of abandonment in infancy and the fear of bodily injury in early childhood, and ending with the fears of failure, death and loss of function in adulthood and old age…. Nightmares may become the prototypical expression of the activities that characterize each stage of development.

Adult nightmares are similar to children’s in that they engender a sense of vulnerability. The types and sources of anxieties may change, but feelings of helplessness and insecurity affect people of all ages.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.