Being chased relentlessly, falling into a
bottomless abyss, seeing something rather monstrous in a mirror,
witnessing someone we love die or disappear, are a few examples. There
are as many different variations on the nightmare as there are people
but our reaction to them is the same. We awaken sweating, sometimes
screaming out loud, heart beating fast and feeling so enormously
relieved to realize it was a nightmare!
Why Have Nightmares?
There are several universal reasons for nightmares. One is trauma. We
may not be allowing ourselves to ponder traumatic experiences enough
because the effects are still raw and potentially debilitating. Our
psyche, however must integrate and file these experiences into our
mental makeup. We must give them context to hopefully reach a place of
peace and acceptance.
Fear of failure, poor health, or victimization are also nightmare
triggers. Being bullied generates more than its share of nightmares in a
victim of any age. Faced with a difficult choice, behaving in a manner
unfamiliar to our self-concept, abandonment, loneliness, lack of safety
can also be grist for the nightmare mill.
They do mean that we need to pay closer attention to something happening
in our everyday lives. We are either guilty of ignoring the threat
entirely or minimizing its impact. During WWI for example, military
psychiatrists noticed that when men on the front lines began dreaming of
the horrors of war they needed to be removed from the battle. Somehow
the horror had breached a psychic barrier which often presaged the
onslaught of a crippling mental illness. So nightmares let us know that
a fear of something has breached our normal defences and we ignore its
message at our peril.
Consider nightmares to be rather like a psychic scream. Our spirit has
been murmuring warnings to us that we’ve failed to give credence, giving
our psyches no other option but to amplify the volume. We’re just in
need of a good loud alarm to snap us to attention!
Nightmares May Signal Encroaching Mental Illness
Keeping in mind however, that dreams amplify our waking life experiences
tenfold, a nightmare may be highlighting a growing neurosis – fear of
something not founded in reality but rather a phobia or unfounded
worry. People who describe themselves as worry warts
tend be plagued more frequently with nightmares. Regardless, a
nightmare in this case still needs attention. A growing phobia may be
blocking us from living an abundant and healthy life. If a nightmare is
alerting us to a creeping neurosis, we certainly want to get on that as
soon as possible!
As children we’re plagued by nightmares often. Children experience fear
daily yet must prevail in the face of it. The world they find
themselves inhabiting is vast and those around them so much larger and
stronger. Loving adults can help in offering moments of safety and
respite but there are by necessity times when they cannot offer the
assurance of safety so craved. Encouraging children to talk through
their nightmares and offering them suggestions about how to
imaginatively deal with the monsters can help a child to feel empowered
and less threatened in their waking lives.
Nightmares as Creative Inspiration
Ignoring or discounting nightmares as only dreams
won't help in dealing with them for like most forgotten dreams, they
will simply return and in many cases even worse than before. The best
way to deal with nightmares is to consider them. Do what you can to
interpret the meaning of the symbols, characters, feeling and action.
Imagine what the nightmare is asking of you. You might consider a
couple of different endings to the dream. Often a nightmare is
interrupted by our increased heart rate and breath. Use your imagination
envision what the ending might have been and a more desirable one as
Use the nightmare as a source of creative inspiration. Draw, paint or
collage the images. Title your nightmare. The stories of Jekyl and Hyde,
Frankenstein, and Dracula were all inspired by nightmares. When you
describe a nightmare to someone, it is likely they will immediately
identify and empathize with your experience. There is nothing quite
like a sharing a nightmare to bring an uncommon level of intimacy into
your social intercourse.
Don’t shy away from your nightmares. They are important messages from
your unconscious mind. If you don’t wish them to revisit (and they
will!), then give them creative expression. Write a story, paint a
picture of the images. Ponder their messages and see what you might
learn about how to remedy a troubling waking situation. At the very
least you will find yourself awed at the majesty, grace and the
condensed form it has presented of a waking life situation that really
does need more attending to than you have been previously granting it.
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