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In the Dreaming Stage of Grief

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"Huh? What? What's all this business about a son? I don't have a son! But now that you mention it, I once had a terrible dream... A dream in which some kind of demon child was born."
Gau's Father, Final Fantasy VI

Something horrible has happened to Alice. So horrible that she concludes it's just a bad dream. Not because it's too weird or too improbable — it has to be a dream so that she needn't face it once she wakes up in the comfortable and perfectly normal reality.

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This is when the Stock Phrase "I'm just dreaming" or its variant means more than "too bad to be true". The character focuses on how every nightmare has its end and hopes that it would go away at any moment and/or that they would wake up safe and sound. If something traumatic happened to a loved one, they may go on to expect that loved one to be around to tell their horrible nightmare to. Either way, the only thing they're "waking up" to is the realization that it actually happened, and nothing can change it.

They may literally look away from reality with an "I Can't Look!" Gesture or in a Troubled Fetal Position. They may even resort to Self-Harm, believing that it's the Dream Emergency Exit or become Laughing Mad. Most likely the first symptom of Heroic BSoD/Villainous Breakdown, except when they have a Freak Out and spend the rest of their life with the "I Reject Your Reality" attitude.

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Subtrope of Cope by Pretending. The trope name comes from Five Stages of Grief, in which model this slots into the Denial stage. For when an event is mistaken for a dream because of other reasons, see Weirdness Censor (the event is too strange) and That Was Not a Dream (they slept after it). If someone pretends that someone else is dreaming, see Dream Deception.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • Boruto: Ryuki seemingly kills Mirai and completes the ritual for immortality, but everything fades as an uninjured Mirai reveals her illusion jutsu. With his plan foiled, Ryuki nervously convinces himself what he sees now is an illusion, and charges at her to prove his "immortality". He has lost touch with reality by the time of his arrest.
  • ID: Invaded: After spending two years diving into Kiki's dreams within her Mental World, Narihisago begins to lose his grip on reality and believes the death of his wife and daughter was just another Dream Within a Dream.
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  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: After being forced to go on a hit-and-run spree with his limousine, Senator Phillips begs DIO to let him stop and spare him. When DIO tells him he intends on neither, Phillips completely snaps and starts to think it's all a terrible nightmare he's having.
  • One Piece: After a rampage trying to shake off flashbacks of Ace's death, Luffy finally comes to accept the fact, saying if it were a dream, he would've already woken up.
  • Sailor Moon: In the first season finale, Usagi is sitting alone in the snow after all four of the other Inner Senshi die one by one, each sacrificing themselves for her. She tells herself that she is only dreaming, and when she wakes up everyone will be there and tell her good morning.
  • Spirited Away: When Chihiro realizes she is stuck in the spirit realm where humans turn into pigs, she ends up in a Troubled Fetal Position on the stairs, while saying "It's just a dream. Go away, go away... Disappear..." She almost disappears.
  • Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches: Yamazaki nonchalantly asks Yamada to punch him when he has been rejected by his love interest, thinking it's a terrible nightmare that he needs to wake from. When Yamada refuses, he just gets frustrated, thinking that Yamada opposes him even in his dreams.

Fan Works

  • Karma in Retrograde: Dabi gets reverted to his teenage self with none of his memories as a villain. After learning what he becomes, he collapses into a crouch against the wall and tries to repeatedly deny it as a nightmare he's going to wake up from.
  • Midnight Savior: Kim was captured by the Lorwardians, to be beheaded for her "crimes" against the Empire. As she's being dragged to the gallows, Kim keeps telling herself over and over that the horror she's experiencing is all one elaborate nightmare that she'll wake up from at any moment. Only to realize it's really happening, to her great despair. Though she turns out to be right, but was so convincingly real.
  • Pound and Pumpkin Cake's Adventures (and Misadventures) in Potty Training: In "Panicking Pumpkin", Pumpkin wishes that accidentally hurting Pound's eye while play fighting was all a horrible dream that she'd wake up from at any moment.
  • Subsumption: Upon realizing that Ashtaroth has eaten her soul and can now take control of her body at discretion forever, Sayaka cackles that it's all just one big nightmare and attempts to stab herself with her own sword to wake herself up. Ashtaroth barely manages to stop in time by grabbing back control.
  • Wolf in the Streets, Sardine in the Sheets: A tragic accident at Genjuro's lab killed his wife and one of his daughters, with the other two (Fuka and Desco) barely surviving. The girls end up at Valvatorez's rehabilitation home after their father is arrested for the incident; however, Fuka refuses to acknowledge this as anything other than a temporary measure, dismissing the incident at the lab as "a bad dream" and insisting that their father is just busy at work.

Film — Animated

  • Leroy & Stitch: After the experiments (and Mertle) have all been rounded up to be eliminated by Hämsterviel, Mertle says that this must be a nightmare. She still looks away and repeats "not happening" even when Hämsterviel's spacecraft starts pointing the cannon at them.

Literature

  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: After most of her Quidditch team ended up banned for life by Umbridge, Angelina Johnson goes to bed in hopes of waking up to find it was all a bad dream she had before the game.
  • Pet Sematary: After his son Gage is killed in the road, Louis Creed briefly deludes himself into thinking his death was just a worst-case scenario he dreamed up, and vividly imagines Gage growing up and becoming an Olympic athlete before harshly snapping back to reality ("His cap was full of blood").

Live-Action TV

  • Awake: Britten begins switching between two universes every time he falls asleep after a car crash kills his wife in one universe and his son in the other. One of the "realities" seemingly reveals itself to be a dream in the finale, but the Word Of God hints that it could be just him unable to accept its Downer Ending or that, even worse, he could have decided to imagine a world where both realities are dreams.
  • Cheers:
    • After Sam is rejected by an attractive woman who'd rather go out with short, bald, chubby Paul, Sam comes to the decision he must actually be dreaming, and closes his eyes in the hopes he'll wake up in bed any moment now. Any moment now.
    Sam: (as nothing happens) Boy, this is a long one.
    • In the finale, Carla's fear and hatred of Diane has become so extreme she decides rather than seeing Diane on TV, she's actually in hospital, in a coma after having been hit by a car.
  • Farscape: When he awakens in Crichton's body in "Out of Their Minds", Rygel tries to convince himself he's insane — no, wait, dreaming. Yes. That's better. Dreaming. "I'll wake up in my royal bed chamber surrounded by my concubines and everything will be fine!"
  • This was a popular trope on The Golden Girls, and showed up in a few episodes:
    • In "The Accurate Conception," Blanche's daughter Rebecca wants to be artificially inseminated. Blanche is upset: "I feel like I'm in the middle of some awful dream, yet I know it can't be a dream because there are no boy dancers."
    • In "Mrs. George Devereaux," Blanche's husband George comes back into her life, having staged his death after his unscrupulous business partner framed him for embezzlement. While Blanche debates what to do, she remarks that, after George died, she used to have dreams where he came back, only to wake up before she got to embrace him again. At the end of the episode, she finally accepts the good news, throws her arms around George...and wakes up alone in her bed. It turns out that remembering the dream has now become part of the dream itself.
    • A variation occurs in "In a Bed of Rose's." Rose finds out that her latest beau—who died while sleeping with her—was actually married. She goes to tell his wife, and her reaction screams this trope: "I'm talking, so it isn't true, you know what I mean? If I keep talking...it isn't true. All I have to do is talk forever..."
  • Kids Incorporated: When Stacy hears the news of the P*lace's demolition in "The Historical P*lace", she hopes it's all just a bad dream and tries to wake up.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "Where Is Everybody?", a man with no memory of who he is finds himself in a strange empty town. Unable to find any signs of life, the man believes he must be dreaming and tells himself to wake up. When it fails, he desperately asks the "nightmare" to at least give him somebody to talk to.
    • "The Hunt". After Hyder Simpson dies, his ghost goes back to his cabin and finds his wife mourning his death. He tries to tell her that it's just a dream to comfort her and himself, but she can't hear him.
      Hyder Simpson: Don't take on, old woman. It's just a dream. We'll wake up in a little and everything'll be like it ought to be.
  • In WandaVision, we get a flashback to the night Wanda and Pietro's parents were killed in a bombing. The family was watching an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show that had an All Just a Dream ending at the time, leading the young Wanda to hope that her current situation would end just like the episode did.

Video Games

  • Final Fantasy VI: After Gau's mother died giving birth to him, his father was driven to insanity and threw him out into the wild. When the party presents Gau to him late in game, the crazed old man denies having a son and relates the story of his dream in which a "demon child" was born.
  • Skies of Arcadia: Every time Admiral De Loco is defeated in a ship-to-ship combat, he throws a tantrum in the wheelhouse and attempts to convince himself that he's dreaming, before passing out. He eventually defies this in his last appearance, which ironically allows him to function long enough to push his ship beyond its limit. He dies in the explosion screaming for someone to tell him it's just a bad dream.
  • The Stanley Parable: Discussed in the Insane ending. Stanley wonders if he's dreaming up the whole story, or if it's just him trying to deceive himself into believing he doesn't have to take responsibility for himself.
  • Stardew Valley: When you first manage to gain the trust of Leo, a kid who was shipwrecked on a desert island and Raised By Animals, you can ask him how he ended up there. He starts to tell you how one of his earliest memories is of his parents drowning in a big storm, and him washing up on the shore... then dismisses that as a bad dream he had and decides he must have been born on the island.

Web Original

  • Brig Scarlet Flamingo, after accidentally killing his lover Veronique, Anthony tells himself over and over again that it must be a nightmare, for several hours. Even in the months that follow, he still sometimes thinks he is just dreaming.
  • Conversed in the It's My Life (PBS) article on grief, which says that if you're mourning a dead person, you might start to think that the person is not really dead, either because they're on a secret mission or you're dreaming.
  • Kermode Uncut: Film critic Mark Kermode takes a look at Movie 43 on his blog, and attempts to describe just how unfathomably bad it is.
    "I'm not making this up. At least, I keep trying to convince myself that it was all a bad dream, but I've now read other reviews, and they saw the same film as me."
  • The Order of the Stick: In Strip #182, Elan's response to a black dragon pinning him to the ground with his claws and breathing a cone of acid at the rest of the party is to mumble to himself "Gonna wake up any second now."
  • Parodied in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series after Joey's infamous dog suit nightmare:
    Joey: Man, what a nightmare. That was almost as bad as that dream I had where Kaiba beat me in a card game.
    Yugi: Actually, Joey, I think that really happened.
    Joey: It was a dream!

Western Animation

  • Played for Laughs in a tragic way during Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation!. After all of Danville is placed on the naughty list thanks to Doofenshmirtz and Candace leads him to believe that it's his fault, Phineas repeatedly falls asleep and wakes up in hopes of everything turning out to be All Just a Dream. Isabella calls him out of on it.

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