Dreams of being chased or pursued: what do they mean?

Dreams of being chased or pursued: what are they really about?

Dreams of being chased or pursued can include a known enemy or may simply represent a sense of being chased, with the chaser never being seen or known.

A very common theme, such dreams usually have a sense of urgency, even panic about them and can veer from being simply unpleasant or unsettling into a very bad dream or nightmare. It is not unusual for chase dreams to feel quite long and involve multiple scenarios or landscapes that must be traversed. These dreams may even recur over several nights, and you could even wake from a chase dream feeling exhausted, as if you really have been running all night.

What are chase dreams really all about? We can understand many dreams at a very basic level through the emotions that they elicit. A chase dream will often create a sense of dread, anxiety, panic, frustration or fear. The first step is to consider in what areas of your life you may be experiencing these feelings. Do you feel anxious about a looming deadline? Do you feel uncomfortable about someone showing a more than friendly interest in you? Are you stressed by bills coming due that you don’t know how you will pay?

If dream interpretation were as simple as that, there would be no need for me to write about dreams like this! Unfortunately, it can be difficult to understand what our dreams are trying to tell us because they are addressing feelings that arise from our subconscious and often relate specifically to events or emotions in our lives we are actively trying to avoid. Dreams may relate to feelings or ideas that you have repressed so well that you have completely convinced your conscious mind that there is nothing going on at all, certainly nothing to worry about. However, your subconscious dreaming mind knows better and wants to remind you, so you can deal with the issue and heal, grow or move forward.

This can be especially true for dreams of being chased. Often the unknown thing in dreams you are trying to run away from is the truth that is trying to catch up with you — and you know eventually will, sooner or later. You can run and hide but you can’t escape your own mind forever. Chase dreams often arise from feelings of fear, inadequacy, guilt or shame. “Impostor syndrome” is a common feeling for many people, women in particular, who feel they are undeserving of the role they hold at work, the awards they have been achieved or the success they enjoy. If you feel like you don’t really belong where you are, and fear that sooner or later someone is going to find out that you are just faking it, you may dream of being chased. In this sense, the dream is playing out your fears that sooner or later you will be “caught out”.

The gift of a chase dream is to recognise you are indeed worthy of your success. It takes courage to accept that you can be an amazing and capable human being, deserving of a rich and rewarding life. To step into the light is to accept the responsibilities and the challenges that arise with being seen. Ironically, it can feel safer to wait on the sidelines, never risking failure, but also never achieving great success. Chase dreams can challenge us to stop running from our fears and to face the world on our own terms.

Dreams of being chased can also arise from deep feelings of guilt and shame. If you have done something, or failed to do something, in your past that you now regret, you may have chase dreams. Often, when having a chase dream, it may be that a memory feels too painful to revisit and you may wish to pretend the event didn’t happen at all. This is a form of denial. One of the essential roles of the dreaming mind is to integrate all realities and lived experiences into a truthful whole. As long as we deny a truth, our dreams will try to reconcile your inner feelings (of guilt, for example) with the contrasting conscious behaviour (that everything is fine.)

With time, courage, patience and kindness, you can work through many of these issues by yourself, but you may find it easier to work with the support of a trusted loved one or friend to talk it over with. These conversations are simpler if you can identify the feelings or events you have been repressing, if you know what it is you are in denial about. Perhaps it is a habit you wish to break, the end of a relationship you have not come to terms with, the loss of a job or important role that has unsettled your sense of identity, fear of commitment or debts you have accrued. If you can identify what you feel you are “running from” in life, you can take the first steps to face it. Chase dreams often encourage us to stop running and take charge of the situation.

Dreams of being chased can arise from an even greater sense of insecurity. They may relate to childhood experiences or other events that happened beyond your control. If you have ever felt really unsafe or threatened, or have suffered neglect, abuse, poverty or extreme situations such as war or natural disasters, chase dreams may arise as a trauma or PTSD response. Terrifying situations can trigger a flight, flight or freeze response. If facing the assailant is not possible, the next best option may be to flee. This is a perfectly valid response in the face of danger, however, once the crisis has past, if you are still having chase dreams, this may be a sign your subconscious mind either is still processing the feelings and experiences or, worryingly, that you have become stuck and unable to move past your trauma. Past experiences of pain and trauma can be difficult to resolve on your own. If your chase dream is profoundly upsetting to you, it may be a good idea to seek professional guidance to help you process this experience and to heal.

If the above scenarios do not seem to apply to your circumstances, it may be worth considering the role of the chase dream as a warning. It may be that you are entering a fresh situation such as a new job or relationship and while everything may seem fine, even better than fine, amazing, in fact, almost too good to be true, you may be sensing deep down that perhaps everything is not as rosy as it seems. A different kind of denial can arise when you really want to believe that something is great but your intuition is sending warning signals. In these kinds of situations, chase dreams can be like a message from your subconscious telling you to run, get out of there! If something doesn’t feel right to you, trust your intuition. It is much easier, and far less painful, to escape a potentially exploitative or dangerous situation early on than it is once harm has been inflicted. And, as always, if you feel afraid or unsafe, seek help.

Dreams of being chased can have a more positive aspect, too. You may actually enjoy being chased on some level, as this implies an inherent value that you are worthy of being pursued. Most would recognise this in the context of romantic relationships, where the “thrill of the chase” can be part of the excitement of courtship. Similarly, if you have been headhunted for a job or are negotiating for a pay rise, better working conditions, or things of this nature, you may dream of being chased or chasing. Dreams of being chased can also arise in creative projects, social groups and so on. These can be symbolic of a sense that you hold something valuable that is not worth giving up easily. On an internal level, positive chase dreams can reflect a new personal lesson that was not easily won, feeling all the more special because effort was required to capture it. Solving complex situations or reconciling disparate parts of your own psyche can be reflected in dreams where you need to “chase down an idea”. It could even be that in your dream, the solution you seek is chasing you. Remembering that within our dreams it is possible for all the different characters and even objects and landscapes to symbolise aspects of who we are, it possible for both the pursuer and the pursued to represent different parts of yourself.

Because dreams usually work on multiple levels simultaneously, you may find your dream of being chased relates to memories of the past, as well as to a more recent experience. Dreams are masters at revealing patterns. By showing relationships between multiple ideas, symbols and experiences, they can show us a deeper meaning than the individual elements on their own. Unravelling these various threads can be very complicated! It can help to look at different elements of the dream and to work on one life event at a time. Recurring symbols and feelings may help you see where one event in your life has parallels with another.

You can gain helpful insight into the messages of chase dreams by considering the landscape you are fleeing through. Running through a desert can indicate a sense of isolation, bereft of emotional support, or symbolise disengagement from your own emotions. Trying to run in mud and being unable to move is a particularly common dream experience. This can relate to a sense of helplessness in a waking life situation or feeling frustrated by external events and unable to “move forward” in the way that you would like. The water element of mud (reflecting emotions) combined with the earth element (reflecting grounding) can mean that there are other people around you with an emotional investment are hindering your progress, or your own inability to rise above your fears and doubts is slowing you down. Running through tunnels can relate to specific goals you have made that may be limiting your choices and keeping you on a fixed path that is no longer serving you as well as you initially thought it would. Tunnels can also relate to our deeperself. There may be some latent desires or old patterns from youth that need to be recognised and let go of.

Running down roads can symbolise your personal goals in life and your ability to get where you want to go (see also Driving a car in dreams). If you are being chased down a dead-end road, this may symbolise the choices you are making, or the people influencing you, will result in a lack of choice “down the road”, indicating your current life direction may leave you feeling like you are “going nowhere”. Being chased through a maze can mean that you are confused in waking life as to the choices you should make, that you don’t have a clear sense of direction and may be feeling lost in life. Being chased in the dark can be another symbol for being lost or confused, or relate to feelings of abandonment or grief. You may dream of being chased through the dark after the death of a loved one or some other profound loss that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and unable to think much at all. This is a time for grieving and healing. Do not rush to reassemble your life, it is time to pause and stop running for a while.

On the other hand, if you are running through a forest or jungle you may be feeling overwhelmed by choices. There may be too many options for you, making it difficult to know which to consider. Forests and jungles are also natural places and can symbolise our own inner wild nature. Dreams of being chased through wild places may relate to your need to explore how your basic, free nature reconciles with a modern domestic or working existence. You may be considering ideas of compromise, how much passion you allow, how much risk taking is acceptable and so forth.

Dreams of being chased often include clues to help solve the themes the dream is exploring. It may include figures or objects that are also helpful. You could dream of a guide showing you the way, of a sign pointing you in a direction or being shown a map when you feel lost. This can be a symbol that you have the resources, in life or within yourself, to address the issues the chase dream is bringing up. Sometimes a helpful object will be something that enables you to overcome an obstacle, like a boat to sail down a river, a ladder to climb over a wall or even a key to unlock a door to escape. These are all powerful symbols that remind you that you possess the fortitude and wisdom to face and overcome the shadowy pursuer. If you are able to stop running and face your fear, you possess the power to make it cease its relentless following of you and it may simply vanish into thin air. Other times, you just need to reach a certain destination in your dream for resolution. This is usually symbolic of the internal change that needs to occur to bring you peace. You may wish to consider ideas around acceptance, forgiveness and release.

Bear in mind, I do not believe it is always necessary to immediately identify the thing that you are running from. Sometimes, chasing dreams relate to an experience that is quite traumatic, and to force yourself to confront the exact source of your pain can be counter-productive if it leads to further fear, a sense of entrapment and futility, or even greater denial. Sometimes it is enough to simply start with acknowledging the fact that you are not at peace internally, that all is not as well as it might be and steps will need to be taken, in time, to address this disquiet. You can honour the message of the dream by consciously admitting to yourself that you had a chase dream, there are issues that need to be faced, and to respectfully allow yourself to do so when you are strong and ready enough. It is the continued denial that anything is wrong at all that is the deepest cause of discontent in this situation.

Ultimately chase dreams explore the fundamentals of what it means to be controlled or free, to consciously integrate that which is challenging, and to ensure that the parts of us we most treasure are valued by others, but most importantly by ourselves.

Want to learn more about what your dreams mean? Visit our Dreams archive page.

Ella Palfreyman

Ella Palfreyman

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