NIGHTMARE REMEDIES: RESCRIPTING BAD DREAMS Alan Siegel, Ph.D. Copyrighted Excerpt from Dream Wisdom: Uncovering Life’s Answers in your Dreams by Alan Siegel, Ph.D. (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2003)During a crisis or after a traumatic event, it is important to know nightmares are morecommon and upsetting. We experience each nightmare as a traumatic event and for thosewho have experienced violence, a natural disaster, accident or other trauma, posttraumaticnightmares rub salt on our emotional wounds. Keep in mind that moderately upsettingnightmares may actually be a positive sign of normal coping but very graphic nightmares thatare repetitive and unchanging may signal an emotional impasse.
• Nightmare remedies are self-help techniques that can help adults and children break the spell of their bad dreams and use them for personal growth and creative inspiration. A simple method for transforming nightmares is to use the 4 R’s of nightmare relief. Reassurance, Rescripting, Rehearsal, and Resolution. Reassurance is the first and most important step. This breaks the spell of the nightmare by giving emotional reassurance and for family members or children, physical comforting may help as well. Once you feel reassured and the nightmare’s reign of terror has been overthrown, you can relax, become curious about the nightmares meaning and message and begin to approach the dream in a more playful manner. Knowing that occasional nightmares are normal and their frequency and intensity may increase during crises may also be reassuring. A key factor, especially for children, is not to dismiss or ignore the nightmare with a message that “it’s just a dream” or you should just ignore it. Nightmares, especially during a life crisis are very hard to ignore. Reassurance paves the way for Rescripting the dream. Rescripting uses discussion, fantasy, writing, art, or drama to re-experience and revise different parts of the dream narrative with the goal of opening up new endings and directions. You can use techniques from the Experiential Dream Menu in Chapter 11 of Dream Wisdom, to transform and tame the most threatening interactions and moments in the nightmare. This can be as simple as experimenting with rewriting one or more new endings for the dream or may involve more elaborate free associations to link the conflicts in the nightmare to unresolved life issues.
The third R needed to implement a nightmare remedy is Rehearsal. This involves multipleforays and trials of rewriting and re-enacting the dream. If you are having nightmares aboutan auto accident or serious physical injury, imagining one new ending may only be thebeginning. Depending on your creative inclinations, you may need to write out one or morenew endings, sketch or paint the threatening elements in the dream or role play with a friendor with a psychotherapist or dream group. Creating new endings does not have to involvekilling your dream adversary. The terrorist or robber or wild animal can be frozen or shackled.Walls, cages, force fields, or even magic wands can be made available as you rehearse dreamsolutions. Adults may need to loosen up their imagination but children take to this easilyespecially with adult guidance. And for children, non-violent strategies for subduing dreamvillains can model creative problem-solving strategies that do not necessarily emphasizeviolence.Rehearsal is somewhat parallel to the phase of psychotherapy, called “working-through”which involves taking breakthrough insights and testing them out in a variety of ways withpeople and situations.
• When nightmares are extremely painful or repetitive or related to a profound trauma, rescripting and rehearsing dream solutions may need to be repeated before the nightmares subside. It is important to keep in mind that conjuring up one new fantasy ending for a dream is not going to solve a deep problem that may be causing the nightmares. However, even if dream rehearsals must be repeated for people who are suffering more severe trauma, even initial efforts at rescripting may in some cases, dramatically reduce the incidence of posttraumatic nightmares. The final Nightmare Remedy “R” is Resolution. Discussion and various trials of rescripting and rehearsing solutions usually trigger insights about what life issues are causing the nightmares. At this point, the dreamer on her own or with the help of a friend or psychotherapist is ready to resolve the nightmare. Resolution occurs when the dreamer brainstorms and identifies behaviors they can further examine or try to change. Examples of resolution would be Lisa’s work-related nightmares series in Chapter 6, of Dream Wisdom, which included the dream, ‘Too Many Chefs Spoil the Stew”. After rescripting the dream, she realized, she had denied her assertive side and was being taken advantage of by the employees in her restaurant. After rehearsing various dream assertiveness strategies for rescripting the attacks of her wayward employees, she made a series of changes that led to exerting more clear authority at work and being more aware of her tendency to deny her assertive side. We do not have to suffer nightmares in silence. Using the menu of techniques in this section and chapter 11 of Dream Wisdom, you can detoxify your nightmares, and use them as a source of insight and personal growth. In more acute situations, resolving nightmares can create breakthrough in dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic situation.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP FOR CHILDREN’S NIGHTMARESWhereas moderate nightmare activity may be a potentially healthy sign that the unconsciousmind is actively coping with stress and change, frequent nightmares indicate unresolvedconflicts that are overwhelming your child. When children’s nightmares persist, when theircontent is consistently violent or disturbing, and when the upsetting conflicts in the dreamsnever seem to change or even achieve partial resolution, it may be time to seek further helpfrom a mental health specialist or pediatrician. Especially if there is no obvious stress in yourchild’s life, repetitive nightmares could also be caused by a reaction to drugs or a physicalcondition, so it is advisable to consult a physician to rule out medical causes whennightmares do not appear to have a psychological origin.A further issue to consider is whether your child may be suffering from a sleep disorder.Many parents may confuse sleep disorders like sleepwalking and talking with nightmareswhich are more psychological in origin. Sleep disorders may or may not be accompanied bynightmares and are generally organic in origin. They are surprisingly common affecting over15% of the United States population with 95% of all cases going undiagnosed. TheInternational Classification of Sleep Disorders published in 199010, lists 84 conditions thatinterfere with sleep including Primary Snoring, Jet Lag, Restless Leg Syndrome, Narcolepsyand Sleep Apnea. Many sleep disorders such as Jet Lag will go away on their own. Otherssuch as various forms of insomnia may reduce children’s ability to learn, lower theirresistance to disease, and increase accident-proneness.
Some sleep disorders may even be life-threatening such as sleep apnea. If you suspect thatyour child is having a sleep disorder11, speak to your pediatrician to determine if he or sheneeds to consult a board certified sleep specialist or to be evaluated in a sleep center12 13.The current diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) includesNightmare Disorder as an officially recognized affliction of both children and adults. Thosewho suffer from this disorder have “extremely frightening dreams, usually involving threatsto survival, security, or self-esteem” that “generally occur during the second half of the sleepperiod,” and may cause “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or otherimportant areas of functioning.”Repetitive nightmares are often accompanied by other symptoms especially fears of going tosleep, anxieties or phobias. Increased nightmares can usually be linked to a recognizablestress in the child’s life such as absence or loss of a parent, suffering abuse or violence,marital or custody disputes in the family, social or academic difficulties at school, such asbeing teased or having an undiagnosed learning or attention problem.Nightmares are more often like a vaccine than a poison. A vaccination infects us with aminute dose of a disease that mobilizes our antibodies and makes us more resistant to thevirulence of smallpox or polio. As distressing as nightmares can be, they offer powerfulinformation about issues that are distressing your child. When children share theirnightmares and receive reassurance from their parents, they feel the emotional sting of thedream, but also begin the process of strengthening their psychological defenses and facingtheir fears with more resilience.
Gradually, a parent’s empathic response to their child’s nightmares can break the cycle of baddreams and transform intensely negative experiences into triumphs of assertiveness andcollaborative family problem-solving.POSTED BY ATTORNEY RENE G. GARCIA:For more information:- Some of our clients have suffered this kind of injuries due to aserious accident. The Garcia Law Firm, P.C. was able to successfully handle these types ofcases. For a free consultation please call us at 1-866- SCAFFOLD or 212-725-1313. http://dreamwisdom.info/library/nightmare_remedies_dw.htm