- Kidnapping dreams can mean you feel stressed or trapped by a relationship or your responsibilities.
- These dreams may also happen as your brain works to process a frightening or traumatic experience.
- A dream journal, good sleep hygiene, and support from a therapist can help banish unwanted dreams.
Dreams about being kidnapped can feel vivid and terrifying, even if you don’t have many concerns about kidnapping in your waking hours.
These dreams often relate to everyday sources of stress, from a rift in your romantic relationship to concerns about everyday tasks piling up.
This theme may be especially common among people who feel anxious in their everyday lives, according to Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, a medical doctor and psychiatrist in private practice.
Below, you’ll find four possible interpretations of kidnapping dreams from mental health professionals, plus some tips for deciphering common dreams — and keeping them from messing with your rest.
1. Feeling controlled or trapped
If you’re having dreams about being kidnapped, it may mean you feel equally trapped in your waking hours.
“This dream may be telling you to free yourself from a toxic bond,” says Nancy Irwin, a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist in private practice. This bond could be a controlling or manipulative situation in your work, family, or romantic relationships.
Setting firmer boundaries in your personal and professional relationships can help you take back control in your waking hours.
For instance, you might try:
Regaining a sense of control may help prevent similar dreams in the future.
2. Fear of losing your child
Dreams about a child or other loved one being kidnapped could represent a fear of losing someone close to you.
It’s natural to want to protect your loved ones — especially vulnerable children.
Many theories around dreaming suggest dream content comes from the residue of your day, which may involve worries about your child’s safety.
So, making sure your child or teen knows how to handle interactions with strangers may help alleviate some of your fear.
You might, for instance, establish a code word only your family knows so your kids never get in the car with someone claiming to know you.
If this dream lingers even after you’ve had the stranger danger talk, a therapist can help you manage lingering anxiety symptoms.
3. A daunting to-do list
“Kidnapping dreams might mean you’re living like a hostage in waking hours,” Gonzalez-Berrios says.
This feeling could manifest from an unfinished task like the doctor’s appointment you keep meaning to schedule, or that dreaded conversation with your roommate about their months of past-due rent.
When that glaring item on your to-do list holds you hostage, so to speak, tackling it could promote a sense of self-satisfaction and achievement and help banish those kidnapping dreams.
Kidnapping dreams may relate to fears and memories your conscious mind has repressed, Gonzalez-Berrios says, so a dream about being kidnapped could suggest unprocessed trauma.
A kidnapping dream could also reflect your unconscious mind’s efforts to accept the traumatic event and grow from it, Irwin says.
Surviving a kidnapping or attempted kidnapping could lead to complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), which a therapist can help diagnose and treat. But the trauma you experienced doesn’t necessarily have to involve kidnapping — it could be any life-threatening or terrifying experience, such as a serious accident, medical emergency, or childhood abuse.
If you experience symptoms of PTSD, like flashbacks, avoidance, or negative feelings about what happened, a therapist can help you:
Getting professional support for PTSD symptoms could improve your dreams, not to mention the quality of your sleep.
How to decipher your dreams
Dreams don’t have one specific meaning. In fact, experts don’t fully understand why people dream in the first place.
Here are some common theories as to why you dream:
- Psychologist Sigmund Freud believed dreams relate to repressed and unconscious thoughts from childhood, including fears, wishes, and impulses that need addressing in waking hours. For instance, Freud might suggest your kidnapping dream stems from feeling repressed or emotionally “held hostage” by your parents during childhood.
- According to psychologist Clara Hill, dreams often reflect waking life. She suggested dream imagery has a unique meaning for each person and interpreting these images could provide useful insights. Based on Hill’s theory, a kidnapping dream might come from reading a news article on kidnapping, then worrying your child might be taken while you sleep.
- Psychologist Carl Jung suggested that dreaming helps you reflect on recent experiences or current problems and their potential solutions. Unlike Freud, Jung felt that dreams don’t distort or disguise meanings, so he might say your dream reflects a fear of being abducted and perhaps a desire to understand how you might free yourself in that situation.
- Neuroscience suggests dreaming helps you regulate and process memories and feelings. The REM sleep phase, when most of your dreams occur, is also when your brain consolidates emotional memories. According to this theory, you could dream about being kidnapped after a traumatic experience that needs to be reprocessed in your long-term memory. Reprocessing heals mental injuries from your trauma, reducing triggers so you don’t “relive” the experience through nightmares and flashbacks.
How to manage stress dreams
If disturbing dreams about kidnapping disrupt your sleep or get in the way of daily life, you might try:
- Keeping a dream journal: Writing down your dreams’ themes and possible triggers from your day can help you understand what’s causing them. For instance, one 2015 study found that 47% of participants had disturbing dreams after eating late at night. Though it might go without saying, watching a crime show or reading a thriller involving abduction just before bed could also play a part.
- Improving sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene may help relax you before bed for a deeper, more restful sleep. Waking up too early makes it more likely you’ll remember your dreams, so the quality of your sleep can make a difference.
- Talking to a therapist: A professional can help you address recurring nightmares, particularly those that relate to a traumatic incident, or make sense of troubling and confusing dreams.
Remember, too, that your mind is on your side, Irwin says. It’s not trying to scare you with frightening dreams. It’s trying to help you by offering points of reference to get your attention, Irwin says.
Simply thinking about the dream and possible explanations could help you come up with an explanation that makes sense to you.
Dreams aren’t literal, so a dream about being kidnapped may just mean you feel trapped in some aspect of your life – but it could also have no specific meaning at all.
Sometimes, dreams are just dreams, but ultimately, you get to decide what they mean.
“Don’t look to Dr. Google or a Big Book of Dream Symbols: look within yourself for the answers for what your dreams are attempting to communicate to you as a unique individual,” Irwin says.