Disturbing dreams aren't quite nightmares. They may cause you to wonder what exactly your sub-conscious is trying to tell you.

First, the dreams could be unconscious advice. Maybe in some way you are betraying yourself, forgetting something, or not fulfilling a potential. For example, persons on the edge of a midlife career change may have dreams about being in school and searching for a missing classroom, or they may find themselves in a class about to take a final exam while realizing that they completely forgot to attend the class all year. Thus the feeling of panic in the dream points to the real feeling of panic in their current life about the failure of their present career.

Second, the dreams could be an admonition, based in guilt. Imagine, for example, that you are embezzling the bank for which you work. Then you start having dreams about burglars breaking into your home.

Well, the dreams are simply a depiction of something happening to you that is similar to the hurt or moral injury you are inflicting on someone else. This same dynamic often occurs in children's nightmares: in waking life, children often experience angry feelings toward their parents and yet lack the cognitive capacity to express these feelings openly; so, in unconscious guilt, the anger becomes turned against themselves as threatening nightmare images.

Third, the dreams could be hints of a repressed trauma. As I say above, nightmares often accompany the emotional pain of a traumatic event experienced in adulthood. But if a trauma in childhood is repressed, dreams reflecting the emotional intensity of the trauma can persist throughout life—as a repetition compulsion—until the trauma is eventually brought to conscious awareness and healed.

Finally, the dreams could be psychic premonitions. This is a rare phenomenon, but it does happen to some persons.

The best advice we've found about disturbing dreams is to just ignore them. You can try to analyze the images you find, but that is most likely not going to give you the answers you need.