Face your fears: Listen to your nightmares

July 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Self-Help Tools 

Your unconscious is not stupid. Those nightmares that shake you from your sleep and disrupt the next day are actually a healing force that you might not otherwise encounter. When you are immersed in your fear, you may believe that the nightmare is the problem. No, it’s the solution.

Your unconscious possesses a wisdom connected to the depth of your being. While you’re strolling through life with countless worries hovering along with you, your mind, operating in the background, takes in everything. It doesn’t miss a beat. That’s why the conscious part has to listen.

The communication occurs within both dreams and nightmares. The scary stuff appears either in response to events in your life, or as an urgent call to pay attention.

You go on high alert
After suffering a trauma, almost everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, physical agitation, and fear. The amygdala, the alarm button inside your brain, fires at a moment’s notice. Adrenaline pours into the system. The emergency response team jumps into action. You are ready for fight or flight.
When the threat resides only in your memory, your nightmare provides a means to de-escalate the fight. In fact the nightmare is exactly the right tool.

The trauma gets replayed
Sometimes the dream becomes a slide show of select events scaring you again and again. You can’t ignore the nagging.

Symbolism in the dream can carry an emotional jolt. For instance, walking among the pyramids could mean you feel like a slave or a pharaoh.  Confucius didn’t coin the term a picture is worth a thousand words. The unconscious did.

When the dream scares you in the middle of the night
Instead of dismissing the dream, pull it close. Befriend your dream. Accept the images, the action, and the feelings as a part of you. Write it down. Sketch out the scenes if you can. Then relax and go back to sleep.
The next morning, look back on your dream journal. A nightmare can be interpreted at multiple levels. Your unconscious would have to be stupid if the meaning in the dream could be reduced to a simplistic reference to a concrete event. For example, one author said that if you’d suffered a trauma, and you have an earthquake or explosion in your nightmare, you’re on the verge of great change. Bullshit. Such a superficial interpretation neglects content, action, archetype, symbolism, and your own personal history. Your unconscious is much more complex than that. You have to decode the message, and you have all the tools you need right in front of you.

The steps to decode regular dreams are also used for nightmares
• Write it out.
• List the first thought that came to you as you looked at the dream.
• Write down the feeling you’ve experienced in the dream. This step will transport you back into the dream in the same way as Harry Potter fell into Tom Riddle’s diary. You are sucked into the imagery combined with the feeling.
• Only then can you ask yourself, “What is left unfinished at the end of the dream?”

You can go further with a nightmare
Click on the video to hear a short explanation of re-scripting.
You add a new ending to the dream. Do not change the story. That would do violence to your own creation, and possibly only because it scared the living daylights out of you. One client, intent on riding himself of the bad scene, sanitized the script and excluded a part. He acted as if his conscious mind could control the forces from the unconscious.
You can’t merely edit the dream content. You must add an ending that resolves the dilemma. The rescripting follows the nightmare just as a cork would if it were floating in a strong current. Avoid violent endings where you inflict righteous indignation or justice on some culprit in the dream. Again your unconscious is too smart to accept that type of simple solution.

You end up befriending the nightmare
Listen to the message sent from your unconscious to help you resolve the initial trauma. Look for the symbolism within the dream and the connections to your own history. You will uncover your own personal meaning and find a way free of the trauma.