Everyone has had a nightmare at least once in their life. An bad dream from which you suddenly wake up. Your heart is beating fast, your sweating and you feel anxious. Sometimes it takes a while before you realise where you are and that the dream wasn’t reality. But what do you do when the same dream keeps on occurring? In this article I’ll explain a certain technique that can help you release yourself from the nightmare. This technique is frequently used with people that deal with a posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but is also very effective with recurring nightmares.
What does your nightmare mean?
Scientists, philosophers and psychologists have been examining dreams for centuries. We now believe that during your sleep, you process the things that happened during the day. When you are triggered during the day on past negative events, or when you experience uncomfortable things during the day, you might get a bad dream during your sleep. But because the dreams feel so lifelike, they ignite a lot of fear and stop you from processing. On the contrary, your fears can increase and you can end up in a vicious circle with many sleepless and restless night as a result. Reason enough to try and get rid of your nightmares!
Write down your nightmares
The technique I’d like to discuss is called Nightmare Rescripting, or rewriting your nightmare. It works like this:
Step 1: a good start is half the battle
Pick out a quiet moment, take something to write on or open a document on your laptop or pc. Think about how your nightmare usually begins. Write down this first part, but stop writing when it becomes uncomfortable. So, only write down the first part of your nightmare. For example: “I am entering my living room, it is dark and cold. When I walk towards the lamp I feel a cold breath in my neck.”
The first part is now noted, good job! This was the most difficult part of the exercise.
Step 2: you are the director
Now imagine you are the director of your own movie and that you can totally rewrite the old and scary script to something completely different. A story in which you remain unharmed, in which help is on its way, in which you can fly away or in which you can shrink or freeze your attacker. In short, a story in which you survive. A story in which you are no longer the victim but the survivor, a hero or heroine. Use your imagination, you can even use violence. And if it scares you to be on your own, ask for help from others.
Think about your continuation. Look for something that suits you, something you can imagine.
Some people find it hard and indicate that it doesn’t seem to be right, that it was entirely different and that it’s too far from reality. Try to calm yourself, nightmares aren’t reality either. They are reflections of emotions or thoughts that can’t go anywhere, but you are free to rewrite your nightmare into something else. This time you are in control!
Step 3: read your own story
Reread your story after you finish it. Insure yourself that this feels right. That you feel powerful and safe when you image being in this story.
Each night, try to read the story a few hours before you go to bed and put a print of the story on your bedside table. People who have tried this method state that it seems like the brain recognises the beginning of a nightmare, and connects it to the new story.
No succes yet? Try to adjust the story a little bit and see whether you can read it right before bedtime.
Did you still have a nightmare? When you’re capable, try to read the new story again. People who try this notice that they can fall back to sleep a little faster.
Were the tips mentioned above unsuccesful? Discuss this with your practitioner. He or she may be able to further support the treatment, or medication can be considered.