Nightmares exert control if you left them speak from the shadows. By opening them to the light of day, they point the road to the future.
Your mind delivers the nightmare not to scare you, but to get your attention to work on the problem.
Nightmares often leave a person feeling vulnerable, with the heart racing, and the body ready for flight. If you experience these feelings too, that’s all right.
Welcome to being human. Your body responds to the image or memory as if you were reliving the actual event. But the dream allows you an aspect of control that you don’t have in real life.
You can merge your ideal future with the scary images and create a new memory that’s peaceful. Herein lies your power to change.
Take your last nightmare, or any nightmare that still evokes that emotional response in you. Step back into the scene.
WHAT ARE YOU FEELING?
See if you can hold onto the image and the bodily feeling together for a moment.
Relax with a comfortable slow breath.
In the relaxed state, call to mind the ideal future for yourself.
- WHERE WOULD YOU BE LIVING?
- WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
- WHO WOULD BE THERE WITH YOU?
- Now drift back to the dream image. Call up that feeling.
- HOW HAS IT CHANGED?
Let me show you how this worked for my client who was a store clerk during an armed robbery. She relived the scene almost every night, and woke up trembling.
Debbie had been assigned solo to the graveyard shift at the gas-and-snack shop. Two masked men forced her to the utility area and restrained her. A customer freed her an hour later. When the police arrived, they were only interested in taking her statement. She only wanted to go home.
Her nightmare consisted of being in a dark closet, afraid to come out. The sound of sirens wailed louder as help approached. Then the door would spring open, and a ski masked stranger faced her.
She feared falling asleep. She became exhausted due to sleepless nights. When she’d drop off to sleep, she’d bolt up after an hour with the repeated scene dancing in her head.
She protested when I asked her to write out the dream. We discussed her reluctance, and she was able to bring the nightmare record to our next session.
Reading through the text let her step back from the event and recall parts of the trauma that she was neglecting. Seeing the big picture allowed her to tolerate the feeling in the moment. She described the process like this.
“Being terrified in session was the weirdest thing. I was frightened and yet knew I was safe. When I pictured my ideal future of a home on the coast, my fear from the dream image melted away.”
You can use this technique on your own. The directions stem from a natural healing process that is already active in your unconscious.
WRITE OUT THE NIGHTMARE.
Don’t skip this first step. (My client wanted to).
Avoiding the memory and the terrible feelings only keep them cemented in your mind, ready to spring from their hiding place the next night.
Read it to yourself and hold in your heart the scary feelings that go along with it.
- TAKE A SLOW, EASY BREATH.
- CALL TO MIND YOUR IDEAL FUTURE.
- THEN MERGE THE DREAM IMAGE WITH THE PICTURE OF YOUR IDEAL FUTURE.
- BE AWARE, HOW ARE YOU FEELING NOW?
My approach is typified by a quote from Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). “Having a feeling, even a bad feeling, is the route to change.”
I do a lot of work around nightmares and dreams. This was particularly useful with the veteran clients I’ve worked with. Research suggests that 75% of the veterans who complete treatment for PTSD still have persistent nightmares.