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Author Topic: What can I do if I keep having nightmares?  (Read 5596 times)

Tony Crisp

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What can I do if I keep having nightmares?
« on: March 16, 2019, 10:09:16 AM »
Nightmares are often expressions of fears we have not faced or have not admitted to while awake. The dream will usually give a clue to what causes the fear. If the dream includes a child, for instance, then it may be a fear or trauma you developed in your childhood. If the dream includes an animal it may be related to your powerful urges such as sex or anger. If it shows darkness, then the fear might be about what is unknown or imagined. Look at the nightmare in this way to start with, to define, if only vaguely, what the fear might connect with. Then imagine yourself in the action of the dream and slowly meet, or move toward, whatever or wherever the fear emanates from. Use the techniques described in the sections in Techniques for Exploring your Dreams and the section above dealing with recurring dreams. See https://dreamhawk.com/dream-dictionary/masters-of-nightmares/

Remember that whenever we dream its images are not like real life, because a dream is nothing like outer life where things could hurt you, but is an image like on a cinema screen, so that even if a gun is pointed at you and fired it can do no damage – except if you run in fear; so, all the things that scare you are simply your own fears projected onto the screen of your sleeping mind. In the early days of moving pictures, a film was shown of a train coming fast toward them; the viewers all fled in terror, fearing the train would crush them. That is exactly the same response if you are terrified of any thing you dream of.

Many dreams lead us to feel an intensity of emotion we may seldom if ever feel in waking life. If the emotions felt are frightening or disgusting we call the dream a nightmare. Scientists find this definition too vague and so use two categories to define different types of anxiety dream. The first definition is ‘REM anxiety dreams’, and the second is ‘night terrors’. The REM anxiety dream is one that occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) activity, in other words during a normal dreaming period. These are reported to occur most frequently during the last part of the sleep cycle – that is, just prior to waking. One usually remembers the imagery and feelings of these dreams clearly. Night terrors occur during the first two hours of sleep, mostly in stage four sleep – See: science sleep and dreams – and the dreamer has either no recall of imagery at all, or it is a single impression such as a physical sensation of heaviness or difficulty in breathing. After waking from such a dream experience, the person feels disoriented for some time afterwards. See: night terrors; the first example in abreaction is an example of a night terror.

One of the common features of a nightmare is that we are desperately trying to get away from a situation; feel stuck in a terrible condition; or meet fear or disgust in almost overwhelming degree, so that on waking we feel enormous relief it was just a dream. Because of the intensity of a nightmare we will remember it long after other dreams; remember even if we seldom ever recall other dreams. We may even worry about what it means for a long period of time, perhaps even years. Many people, on waking find the feelings, or sometimes even the imagery, continuing for some time. So for instance they may feel so much fear they have to switch all the lights on in the house.

A little Kuwaiti boy survived the Iraqi invasion of his country and was living without his father, a prisoner of war. But a recurring nightmare, of Saddam Hussein stabbing his brother to death, was prolonging the trauma.

One night he had a different dream: This time he carried the knife, becoming a hero who kills his nemesis. The emotional weight he carried disappeared. Altering recurring nightmares may hold a key to recovery for many victims of trauma, says Dr. Deidre Barrett, a professor of behavioral medicine and hypnotherapy at Harvard Medical School. Barrett spent a month in Kuwait City after the Gulf War training other therapists to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.  She says, “Just changing something in the dream gives people such a sense of mastery in controlling things.”

“Just that sort of dramatic sense of confidence he had in a dream carried over into his waking life.” See https://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/secrets-power-dreaming/

More than one in 20 adults in the United States say they have disturbing dreams, and more than twice as many children have nightmares. Trauma victims, whether students who witnessed the Columbine High School massacre, ethnic Albanian refugees or people who have been raped or attacked , often immediately have nightmares that recall their experience.

As so many dreams have been investigated in depth – using such varied approaches as hypnosis, exploration of associations and emotional content, and LSD psychotherapy, in which the person can explore usually unconscious memories, imagery and feelings – we can be certain we know what nightmares are. They arise from many causes.

Unconscious memories of intense emotions – such as those arising in a child being left in a hospital without its mother. Many people who have been trapped in an awful situation, whether that is a dreadful marriage, a political or war prisoner, or a life situation one yearned to get out of, frequently dream they are back in the situation unable to get out.

Intense anxiety produced – but not fully released at the time – by external situations such as involvement in war scenes; sexual assault – this applies to males as well as females, as males are frequently assaulted; being attacked and ones life threatened; involvement in a natural disaster such as flood or fire; car accident, etc. The nightmares of Vietnam veterans has been extensively studied for instance. Their nightmares closely parallel their actual combat experiences.

Robert Van de Castle reports a slightly different source of nightmares. This has to do with guilt or future threat. He gives the example of Czech refugees who escaped to Switzerland during the Cold War. They managed this by saying they were taking a holiday, that was allowed, but not returning. The penalty for non-return was several years imprisonment. When one hundred of these refugees were interviewed, fifty six percent said they dreamed about being back in what was then their Soviet dominated homeland and unable to escape. Apart from the possibility of guilt, this is the same as 1. Sometimes this form of nightmare shows itself as a terror of being discovered as the perpetrator of some awful crime such as a murder.

Childhood fears and trauma such as loss of parent; being lost or abandoned; fear of attack by stranger or parent; anxiety about own internal drives. These fears or trauma may arise from having experienced a difficult birth – See: the account of his nightmare given by Leon under active imagination; being put into hospital or some other form of separation from ones mother; or living continuously in an unloved condition.
Many nightmares in adults also have a similar source as those listed in number 4, namely fear connected with internal drives such as aggression, sexuality and the process of growth and change – such as a youth meeting the changes of adolescence, loss of sexual characteristics, old age and death. So this is fear of the future and imagined events.

Serious illness shown in the dream symbols and Precognition of fateful events.

Possibly genetic influence in formation of character. Research has shown there is evidence that ones basic disposition is genetically determined. In a small percentage of people this means they are born with an anxious, shy characters that in our society often leads to depression. Other research, by Ernest Hartmann, determined that a small percentage of people had what Hartmann called ‘thin boundaries’. These people have a life long disposition towards frequent nightmares. It seems likely that the two pieces of research overlap. Perhaps Hartmann was not aware of the genetic research, though he does say there is perhaps a genetic basis for the tendency. See: https://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/night-terrors/ .

Threats to self esteem. We may either be faced by, or fear, the loss of something important to us, such as the failure of our relationship, loss of a child, being seen as stupid at work, or not coping with life in a way others approve of. Many professional people I have spoken to report dreams in which they experience themselves involved in some sort of critical situation at work. For instance a regular radio presenters nightmare is they dream the equipment fails, the CD player refuses to work, or they miss their prompt. Sometimes a deep sense of inadequacy haunts a person. This may be in terms of their sexual performance, their physical attractiveness, but may not be based on such obvious factors. In some cases it is rooted in their general but unconscious assessment of themselves measured against others. This may arise out of a family attitude of inferiority, or something like premature birth, where the baby/child feels some steps behind others, or is led to feel so by an anxious parent.

Recurring nightmares – that is, those that happen again and again, weekly or even more frequently, and have the same basic plot. These are of course the same as ordinary nightmares. Their recurrence however is something to consider. See https://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/recurring-dreams/ .

Example of 1: I am a detective following clues regarding some sort of crime. They lead me in a large cellar, and within the cellar I come across the entrances of two tunnels. These are nearly the size of underground train tunnels, and are side by side leading away into pitch blackness. I decide to explore the tunnels and start to walk into one. I was overwhelmed by terror, as if the very darkness of the tunnel was a living force of fear that entered and consumed me. I screamed and screamed, writhing in uncontrollable fit like contractions. Nevertheless a part of me was observing what was happening and was amazed, realising I had found something of great importance. Andrew P.

Because Andrew explored this dream with me, I know the darkness was depicting fear he experienced while a 9 year old in hospital. He was given a rectal anaesthetic because he was about to have a nose operation. He fought and begged for the nurses to stop, but to no avail. This led to a very real feeling that humans were terrifyingly dangerous animals who would not respond even if you were on your knees begging. So trauma was the fear in the darkness.

Example for 2: ‘A THING is marauding around the rather bleak, dark house I am in with a small boy. To avoid it I lock myself in a room with the boy. The THING finds the room and tries to break the door down. I frantically try to hold it closed with my hands and one foot pressed against it, my back against a wall for leverage. It was a terrible struggle and I woke myself by screaming.’ Terry F.

When Terry allowed the sense of fear to arise in him while awake, he felt as he did when a child – the boy in the dream – during the bombing of the second world war. His sense of insecurity dating from that time had emerged when he left a secure job, and had arisen in the images of the nightmare. Understanding his fears he was able to avoid their usual paralysing influence

Example: I was alone in a house and asleep in bed. Something materialised or landed on the foot of the bed. It woke me a little and I felt afraid. I had the feeling it was some sort of entity materialising and coming for me in some way. It moved up the bed a little. I felt paralysed, partly by fear but also as if the ‘thing’ was influencing me. This made me more afraid of it. Then it moved up higher, not on my body but on the bed. I was very afraid and struggling against the paralysing influence. I managed to shout at it – I will destroy you. I will destroy you. As I shouted I pushed at it with my hand. This felt to me as if I were going to will its destruction and use my hand to smash it. I still felt a little uncertain of the outcome but I was very determined to fight it. At this point I woke up or was awakened by my wife. She asked me what I had been dreaming. Apparently I had been pushing her and shouting that I would destroy her. David

David explored his dream in depth and describes his insights as follows –

I started by considering the recent nightmare of the ‘thing’ at the foot of my bed. Gradually I began to feel tense throughout my body, with difficulty in breathing. The ‘thing’ seemed at first to be a woman’s vagina. There was a little feeling in this but not much. Then it slowly grew in intensity and I realised the ‘thing’ was death. Recently it is obvious from the mirror that my body is going through another period of rapid ageing. The dream was a dramatic representation of my feelings about this. Death was gradually creeping up on me, gradually overwhelming me and I was fighting it. As the session deepened I saw that in my feelings I felt that death had put its finger on me.

The touch of death was like a disease though. Once touched the disease was incurable and gradually took over one’s body. I could hardly breathe as I experienced this, and I understood the sort of emotions that might lie beneath asthma attacks. This struggle with death went on for some time. It was not terrible but was felt strongly. I also recognised that my wife Deb, has similar feelings about her ageing, and is communicating to me that her body is dying and unclean, especially her genitals, and this is off-putting. I see that when I shout I ‘I will destroy you!’ in a way it is my fear of being destroyed that is behind the emotion.

I began to wonder what to do about the situation. The feeling was that death was claiming me. So I wanted to face the truth about death, whatever it was. I wanted to walk right up to it and look it in the face and know whether death meant a final end. If it did I would rather know. As I approached death like this by imaging walking toward the THING, my feelings went through an amazing transformation. All the tension left me. I felt good, positive and with a sense of hope about life and death. This was so surprising and sudden I wondered what had produced it. I needed to be aware of how this change had occurred. So I retraced my steps to look at death and try to understand why it had lost its power of fear.

At first I saw that my tension and sense of death being or giving a disease was due to a view I had of it. When we look at the world only through our senses, death is obviously a terminal sickness that claims everyone. Someone said on TV the other day – Life is a sexually transmitted disease that produces a 100% mortality. Seen in this way death is the rotting corpse, the skeleton. The path to it is disease or breakdown. But in looking it in the face I saw another view of it. I saw the dead body, the corpse, the skeleton, as a form left behind by the process of life. When I looked at myself to see what ‘David’ is – I cannot separate myself from the process of life. That process leaves behind shells, bodies, tree trunks, but it goes on creating other forms, and I was one of them. See – https://dreamhawk.com/dream-encyclopedia/secrets-power-dreaming/ 

« Last Edit: March 16, 2019, 10:25:54 AM by Tony Crisp »