Why Do I Keep Dreaming About Having Sex With My Father?

I’m an adult woman and over the past few months I’ve been having a recurring dream about having sex with my father. I’m married, my husband and I have a normal, healthy sex life, and in no way, shape or form do I find the idea of sleeping with my parent attractive. In fact the whole idea makes me sick, and the fact that this dream keeps returning is really freaking me out. I made the major mistake of mentioning it to my best friend, who immediately leaped to the conclusion that my father abused me as a child which he did not. My father was never inappropriate with me physically in any way. He’s a nice enough man, but what I’d call emotionally distant, and he’s never been one to communicate affection in physical ways, like through hugs or kisses. Sure, I’d like to be closer to him, especially now that I’m a parent myself. But I know that’s probably never going to happen. He lives some distance away and we’re polite to each other on the few occasions we talk, but I don’t see that ever changing. He’s a private, formal person and that’s just his way. But he’s always provided for the family and we all know he loves us even if he doesn’t say the words. The friend I mentioned was molested herself, which I think is tainting her judgment. But while I know she’s wrong, her theory has only made me more upset. Since you seem to know a lot about dreams and sexual weirdness, I’m really hoping you can come up with an explanation that will help me be less anxious about going to sleep.

I’m happy to help, and in your case, there is indeed a far better explanation which has nothing to do with you and your father being inappropriate with each other. You may have heard the popular theory (put out by the great Sigmund Freud, who I am personally not a fan of), that every child secretly wants to have sexual relations with their opposite sex parent. Well, that’s total rubbish, so you can confidently chuck the theory that simply being a daughter means that deep down inside you must harbor sexual feelings for your dad. As for your friend’s theory, yes her own experience would reasonably make her biased. Molestation is a shattering traumatic experience that greatly alters the way we view the world. So while your friend no doubt means well and is just leaping into the role of your protector, the details you’ve provided simply don’t line up with her diagnosis of you.

Now there are many variations on the “sex with a parent” dream, and they are far more common than you’d think among adults. Because they feel so alarming, people aren’t usually brave enough to ask for help the way you have, and that results in a lot of people secretly wondering what’s wrong with them. And yet what most people don’t understand is how often sexual imagery in dreams represents something that has nothing to do with actually having sex.

It is your subconscious that invents your dreams, and your subconscious favors an abstract style of art in which imagery and actions are highly symbolic. It is your subconscious’ great love of symbolism that causes your dreams to seem like a series of bizarre movie scenes that have been pieced together in a nonsensical way. Yet while many think that dreams are trying to be secretive, they really aren’t. To your subconscious, the meaning of its films are extremely obvious, and its choice of symbolism is sheer genius. In other words, your subconscious highly approves of its own artistic creations. But to your soul and conscious, the subconscious’ artistic style is not obvious at all, and it is typically your soul that you experience reacting negatively to your dreams.

Your soul is the part of you that cares about morality, and since it’s clearly perverse for you and dad to have sexual relations, your soul is feeling very upset and threatened by this idea. Yet notice how your subconscious keeps replaying this dream despite your soul’s strong protests. Recurring dreams indicate that the subconscious is feeling distressed by whatever it’s talking about in the dream–so much so that it keeps reviewing that subject at night.

Your dreams are essentially your subconscious talking to itself. Your subconscious is extremely protective over you, which is why its musings tend to be focused on potential threats to your well-being. Typically each night your subconscious will use dreams to review the experiences you collected while you were awake and ponder any pending problems. The most pressing problems get the most attention in dreams, and this is where you’ll start to notice similar themes and characters popping up in a variety of different dream stories. Often the people who cause you the most stress in real life will be assigned the most acting roles in your dream stories, although the characters they play can vary greatly.

Now while the subconscious approves of all of its works, sometimes it feels it really comes up with a masterpiece: the perfect creative imagery to describe what it’s feeling about some important issue. Here is where we cometo recurring dreams. The same dream keeps recurring over and over because 1) the subconscious feels it just can’t top itself with the stellar imagery, and 2) whatever issue being discussed in the dream feels very important to your subconscious at the time.

How frequently recurring dreams replay differs greatly from person to person. Some have the same dream every night, while others experience weeks, months, or even years passing between episodes. Because they are focused on what the mind considers to be a very stressful and unresolved issue, they are often more memorable than other dreams, which is why you notice when they keep repeating.

Now while your father certainly sounds like he has a lot of positive qualities, he also sounds uncomfortable with communicating his affection for his kids either verbally or physically. This is a very common problem among adults, and one that indicates that they are carrying around a lot of unresolved stress of their own. Since all children have a core need for their parents to communicate affection to them in physical, non-sexual ways (such as hugs, arms around the shoulders, etc.) it is very stressful to the mind when such affection is withheld for any reason. How minds react to feeling touch deprived varies widely. Happily, it sounds like your mind has been able to manage this loss without pitching you into abusive situations. It’s quite common for women in your position to seek out dysfunctional male partners and/or develop an obsession with sex, which is seen as a way of trying to compensate for a backlog of absent male touch. It’s great that you’re able to feel comfortable with healthy sex (which means there is mutual respect for each others bodies and no one is feeling coerced). It’s also great that you’re able to function in a marriage, as a physically distant father causes some women to feel unable to settle down and commit to a single sexual partner. And yet we still have this recurring dream, which indicates that your relationship with your father is bothering you more than you want to admit.

Becoming parents ourselves has a way of triggering any unresolved issues we have with our own parents. As you start giving serious thought as to how you want your child to view you, and what kind of parent you want to be, you’ll naturally use your own experience of being parented as a reference point. Also, the immense burden of responsibility that a child brings into your life naturally causes you to long for support from people who have already been down this road before you. With your own life entering this new season, your mind will naturally be thinking a lot more about your history with your own father, and how you want that relationship to unfold from here. In your case, thinking about dad is going to bring up a lot of painful stuff about him not being as physically affectionate or emotionally engaging as you needed him to be when you were a kid. Add to that the fact that he’ll probably remain aloof from now on and suddenly we’ve got a lot of pain surfacing, all of which is centered on the theme of wishing dad and you could be emotionally closer.

Now once the sex drive gets fully activated during puberty, the subconscious discovers it has a new, powerful, and very versatile symbol added to its artistic palette. Because the actual experience of having physical sex is strongly linked to so many psychological needs and desires, inserting sexual behaviors into dreams becomes a great way to talk about those same subjects. In your case, I’d suggest that the act of you and dad having sex in a dream is simply meant to symbolize you and dad having a closer emotional relationship. You should not be assuming your mind is suggesting it actually wants you and dad to have sex, because it likely finds that idea horrifying. But your mind does have a core need for positive, non-sexual parental affection from dad which was left unfilled. When core needs go unmet, it always feels upsetting to us to some degree, just as you’d always find it sad if you had a brother who died when he was young. Every life has its share of sorrows and missed opportunities which can’t be fixed. But just because we can’t turn back history for a do over doesn’t mean we have to stay miserable. Losses and griefs can be processed in a healthy way, and doing so reduces the stress our minds feel.

From a mental health standpoint, recurring dreams indicate unresolved stress. There are two steps to responding to them positively. The first step is to decode the dream symbolism and figure out what specific stress your mind is talking about. In your case, I’d say it was frustration with the emotional distance between you and your father, and a longing to fix that problem. The second step is a bit trickier. Once you understand what the problem is, you need to find a positive way of trying to help your mind reduce its stress. Some problems have a straightforward solution, but the kind of problem you’re dealing with does not. Relationships require cooperation on both sides, and your father simply might not have the internal resources he needs to attempt a closer relationship with you. From your side, you could encourage him in that direction by perhaps calling or emailing him more frequently, and keeping him up to date with news of his grandchild. Some adults who are emotionally locked up find it much easier to bond with their grandchildren than they do their own children, so sometimes behaviors shift dramatically once a new generation is introduced. You could also invite your father to come visit if that seems like a doable option. But I wouldn’t press him too hard. Shifts like this often need to happen gently if they’re going to happen at all. If you get no positive signals from your father, or if he starts discouraging your efforts to talk more often, I’d recommend backing off a bit. Still keep him in the loop with some pictures and basic news of his grandchild, but don’t try to pressure him to be physically present for big events like holidays and birthdays. Relationships worth having must be entered into voluntarily by both parties. Using guilt to prod someone into faking more interest than they have only leads to hostility.

While you’re gently signalling your father that you’d like to have a closer bond with him, you need to work on processing your own grief for the fatherly affection you missed out on as a girl. We don’t get to control what our core needs are, and too often we try to pretend they don’t exist. You’re not insulting your father to admit to yourself that he let you down in some major ways. This kind of self-validation is an important step in healing. The key is to keep this kind of processing in the proper arena–which means acknowledging your feelings to yourself and perhaps discussing them with your husband (who should be your safe person). At this point, it will probably only do damage to tell your father how much you missed him being affectionate with you in the past. Humans quickly feel despaired and angered when they are accused of making mistakes that they have no hope of fixing. And besides, the goal here is to reduce your own mental stress, not get your father to feel bad.

A very therapeutic exercise in this kind of situation can be to sit down and either verbally describe or write out a list of the ways you felt let down by your father. It is very healing to acknowledge these things out loud, because they exist regardless of whether you want them to or not, and ignoring them just makes them grow more intense. Once you have your list, look it over and think about how realistic it is that your father could change in the areas you wish he would. Adjusting our expectations to be in better alignment with reality is another important step in healing. For example, the widow who tells herself that her husband will someday rise up from the dead is refusing to set realistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations only keep us stalled in misery.

Without asking for your permission, your mind formed its own idea of what the ideal father-daughter relationship would be like. That goal was never reached, and lately your mind has become extra stressed by that loss, likely due to the fact that you’ve become a parent yourself. To feel calmer, your mind needs three things: to have its ideal hopes acknowledged and validated, to have its expectations for the future adjusted to be more realistic, and to have its sorrow be treated as reasonable and okay to express.

When your mind replays its recurring dream of you and dad, it’s essentially saying, “I really wish that relationship was so much more than it is.” Your current reaction to your mind expressing this feeling is a bunch of horror and scolding. That reaction needs to change. Now that your soul understands your mind is not suggesting that you pursue your father as a sexual partner, your soul can stand down from its moral “red alert.” Your mind needs empathy, not scolding. Your mind is not wrong to say that your relationship with your father has been a bitter disappointment in some ways, because that is the truth. But your soul likely has some moral qualms about disrespecting your parent by saying anything bad about him. Remember, the healing process comes from you validating yourself. Dad shouldn’t even be involved in this process, so he isn’t going to be negatively affected by you validating your own needs. But if you don’t put effort into grieving the loss of that ideal father, then your mind and soul will likely keep fighting over this issue, and that’s just going to lead to more stress than you need.

The next time you have one of these dreams, when you wake up and remember it, try saying to yourself, “This is just my mind expressing how much it misses having a closer father-daughter bond. That’s a totally reasonable desire. Every daughter wishes she could have a close relationship with her father. Maybe I’ll have one some day, or maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll be alright because my father doesn’t define who I am. Regardless of what he did or didn’t do for me in the past, I can choose to respond to my life experiences in ways that will benefit me today.”

Then have a sit down with your girlfriend, thank her for caring so much about you, and explain to her that sexual imagery in dreams often has nothing to do with sex.

This post was written in response to Blue Flower.

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