Hi Kelly -
Believe it or not, your dream is actually very common. I bet most readers have had similar dreams - where we try to run but our legs feel like they are stuck in quicksand - we try to throw a punch but our arms feel like we are underwater - or we try to shout but we find we can not breathe a word.
There are two theories regarding these types of dreams - both of which deserve your consideration. The first is a physiological or biological interpretation of your dream. When we are asleep and dreaming, our bodies actually do become paralyzed - so that we are unable to physically act out our dreams. When we dream, as you know, we believe our dreams to be real, and our brain actually does send commands to our bodies to move in accordance with our perceived needs. For example, if we dream that we are running, experiments have shown that we actually do send commands to our legs to start running. But the signals for movement are intercepted at the top of the brain stem - they are not passed on to the legs - and so accordingly we lay still in bed. In your case - your arms can not land a punch. A biologist would remind you that during dreams your arms actually are paralyzed and can not move. According to this perspective, your dream is merely reflecting back to you the actual state of your body. You are trying to move - but the truth is - you really can’t.
A psychological interpretation of your dream is going to ask you who this man is. In the deam he has a face and you feel like you know him, but when you wake up his face vanishes from memory. You clearly are angry at him - and even intimidated and frightened - especially at the end of the dream - when it becomes apparent to you that you are powerless to hurt or strike out against him.
In this scenario, your inability to recall his face sounds like a classic case of repression. In the dream you know who this opponent or nemesis represents - but then as soon as you wake up and your conscious mind takes over once again - you suddenly “forget” who he is. This is an easy way to allow yourself to avoid recognizing and/or dealing with your feelings toward this person.
Which interpretation is correct? I side with the psychological interpretation - for one reason primarily. I think if you examine your dreams you are going to find that in the overwhelming majority of them you are able to walk, run, dance, talk, sing, shout - even float over fences - just fine. Accordingly, I am suspicious of “sudden”attacks of sleep paralysis. And in your case - your paralysis strikes when you are actively confronting a person whom you are angry at. I think you are frustrated in your relationship with whomever this man represents - I think he definitely is male and not female in real life - and I think you know him very well. Likely targets are fathers, boyfriends and bosses - or perhaps men in relationships more generally. If you find this interpretation rings a bell, I suggest you reconsider your involvement with whomever the dream concerns. Your dream suggests that you need a new angle of attack - and that you will not defeat this person with muscle - but with brains. Best wishes!