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April 29, 2011
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Betsy Brantner Smith Survival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

What do our 'cop dreams' tell us?

From syrup bullets to empty holsters, police officers have some pretty interesting recurring dreams — what are yours?

One of the best things about being a cop is that we all share some of the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and one of the most common is the phenomenon of “cop dreams.”

I was still in high school and working evenings as a police dispatcher when I had my first dream about work. It was so vivid! A deputy was yelling for backup — something that had never even happened to me while I was on duty — and no matter how many times I pushed the “transmit” button, I couldn’t call for another unit. I was unable to speak. The phones didn’t work. I was completely helpless and ineffective. I woke up sweating and terrified.

I wasn’t even a cop yet, and I’d just had my first “cop dream.”

Five Types of Dreams
The study of dreams is not an exact science, but it’s generally accepted that most people dream between 90 and 120 minutes per night, depending on how long you sleep. People tend to only remember the last dream they had, unless you have reoccurring dreams, which I’ll get to in a minute. Many psychologists agree that regardless of meaning, there are five basic types of dreams.

Most dreams are categorized as “ordinary dreams.” These usually stem from things that have happened or could have happened in your world while you were awake. Dreaming is how your subconscious interprets your thoughts and experiences. Some people claim to experience “premonitory dreams,” which are possible revelations about the future, although most psychologists will tell you that dreams are not good predictors of the future. “Lucid dreams” are somewhat unique in that you become aware that you are dreaming at some point and are able to manipulate the dream, at least for a short time. Some people swear by “telepathic dreams,” in which they communicate with the dead via dreams. I’m pretty skeptical about that, but I do know that it’s fairly common to dream about people in your life who have passed, which is often the way our subconscious helps us to resolve issues. “Nightmares” are also quite common and some say they are the result of suppressed fears or the mind’s way of working through old, unresolved problems that are just too scary to think about when we’re awake.

Some medical authorities believe that dreaming is actually good for you. In several sleep studies, doctors have stopped dreams by stopping the REM stage of sleep and found that their patients woke up more anxious or aggressive. This leads some to believe that by dreaming, our subconscious mind is trying to exercise itself.

“Reoccurring dreams” are also very common, in both humans and in animals. As I write this, I’m watching my old greyhound twitch, pant, and grunt in his sleep. He’s running yet another race, a frequent activity he engaged in for nearly four years while he was awake, and something he’s done in his doggie dreams ever since. The top five most common dreams for humans are:

• I’m Being Chased
• I’m Falling
• I’m Lost or Unprepared
• I’m Naked in Public
• My Teeth Are Falling Out (I’ve never really understood this one)

Cop Dreams
Police personnel also tend to have common, reoccurring dreams. In a recent unscientific and unofficial poll on the “JD Buck Savage” Facebook Fan Page, we found that the top five “cop dreams” are some variation of:

• No Matter How Hard I Try, I Can’t Pull the Trigger
• I Fire My Gun, and the Round “Dribbles” Out of the Barrel
• I Need to Run Somewhere but I Can’t Move
• I Can’t Get to My Gun, My Ammo, or My Holster is Empty
• I Fire and Fire and Fire and the Rounds do Nothing

Any of that sound familiar? I’ve experienced them all — some more than others — during different times in my career. I’ve spent countless hours discussing dreams with my fellow cops and trainers all over the world. Some believe that cops who have dreams of “helplessness” are ill-prepared for the job. In fact, I’ve had fellow police trainers tell me that they’ve never had the typical cop dreams because they are so incredibly prepared.

To that I say “hooey!” Everyone experiences occasional feelings of doubt or inadequacy, and if you don’t, you might want to engage in a little self-reflection. Overconfidence is a great way to get yourself — or someone else— hurt or killed.

Dream meanings are extremely speculative, and they are very different from one source of meaning to the next. The bottom line is this: dreams are a part of everyday life. They don’t predict the future, they shouldn’t be used to judge someone’s capabilities, or determine one’s psychological issues or needs.

We have ambient anxiety about things we can’t control no matter how hard we train or prepare. Perhaps in our “cop dreams” this is being resolved or expressed. From my personal experience, I had my most vivid cop dreams during my tenure in narcotics and right after I was promoted to sergeant — two times in my career where I felt things were the most unpredictable and where I felt most responsible for the safety of others.

After you read this, think about your own dreams and then ask around the station. See who has “cop dreams” and what they dream about. We can’t wait to hear about them!


About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter





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