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Nightmares

February 17, 2010 on 6:39 pm | In Dream Research, Nightmares | No Comments
The Nightmare

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Children are especially likely to have nightmares. In fact, nightmares are common in children. Nightmares typically start at around age 3 years old and continue till about age 7 or 8.

People with anxiety disorder might also experience what experts call night terrors. These are actually panic attacks that occur in sleep. It is especially difficult to remember these types of dreams since they conjure up terrifying images that we would just as soon forget.

In poetic myth, the Night Mare is a “small nettlesome mare, not more than thirteen hands high, of the breed familiar with the Elgin marbles: cream-colored, clean-limbed, with a long head, bluish eye, flowing mane and tail.”

Mares’ nests, “when one comes across them in dreams, lodged in rock-clefts or the branches of enormous hollow yews, are built of carefully chosen twigs lined with white horse-hair and the plumage of prophetic birds and littered with the jaw-bones and entrails of poets.” Thus, in a pagan world of myth and blood sacrifice, the Nightmare was a cruel, fearful creature.

Our modern word nightmare derives from the Middle English nihtmare (from niht, night, and mare, demon), an evil spirit believed to haunt and suffocate sleeping people. And so, in today’s world, when we speak of a nightmare we mean a frightening dream accompanied by a sensation of oppression and helplessness.

The blood-thirsty aspect of the mythic Nightmare, provides a clue about nightmares in general. In psychodynamic terms nightmares are graphic portrayals of raw, primitive emotions such as aggression and rage that have not been incorporated into the conscious psyche. Thus we tend to encounter these “ugly” aspects of our unconscious lives as terrifying dream images in whose presence we feel completely helpless.

Nightmares are quite common in childhood because this is a time of our emotional development when we all have to come to terms with, well, raw, primitive emotions such as aggression and rage. Traumatic nightmares can also occur as one of the many symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Repetitive, intrusive nightmares following a trauma often contain symbolic themes that mirror the original trauma and relate to threat to life, threat of abandonment or death, or loss of identity. Therefore, traumatic nightmares need to be treated differently than other dreams.

It is not enough to know intellectually the psychological reasons why you have these nightmares. An event is traumatic because it disrupts your previously secure—and illusory—sense of “self.” And so, to heal from a trauma, you must take the initiative to make conscious changes in your life to accommodate the traumatic shattering of your illusions about life and identity.

Some believe that nightmares have a physiological aspect. Edgar Cayce believed that Nightmares, which bring with them an inability to move or cry out, usually indicate the wrong diet. To end the nightmarish dreams, he advised that you change your diet.

We found a technique on line that can help people who suffer from recurrent nightmares. It is not meant to be a cure-all. It is just a suggested treatment to deal with frightening nightmares. The idea is to use this therapy every night until the nightmare has been resolved. It is called Imagery Rehearsal Therapy.

Here are the steps of Imagery Rehearsal Therapy:

1. Write out the text of the nightmare. Tell the story, no matter how frightening, in as much detail as you can remember.

2. Create a new ending for the nightmare and write it down. Be careful, though, to make the new ending peaceful. Remember that the nightmare is grounded in emotions such as raw anger that have been provoked by a trauma. The point of a new ending is to “tame” the emotions, not merely vent them in violence and revenge.

3. Rehearse the new version of the story in your imagination each night just before going to sleep. Do that as close as possible to falling asleep without any other activity between the rehearsal and sleep.

4. Do a relaxation exercise. Do this immediately after the rehearsal, as a way to fall asleep peacefully. You may use any technique with which you are familiar. This could be meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises. The “cousin” of nightmares is disturbing dreams with unpleasant images.

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