Lucid Dreaming – Step 3, Dealing with nightmares

This series of posts originally started with a question from a friend about dealing with nightmares. While there are many other things you can do once you start having lucid dreams, I’ll deal with this next, since it was what originally started me down the path of lucid dreaming as a child.

OK, let’s say you can remember your dreams, you know your particular nightmare inside and out, and you’ve succeeding in finding a way to realize that you’re in it when you’re in it (or maybe you could already do that with this particular dream). Now what? In my case, it was a while before I figured out what to do. At first, I ineffectually tried to keep the spiders from descending by thinking them away, but that never worked.

Eventually, I hit on the idea of waking myself up. It turns out that this is one of the easier things to do when in a nightmare (actually changing its course is much harder). Though it doesn’t let you change your dream, it does give you a certain power over it by being able to make it stop when you choose to. This seems to short-circuit it and eventually you may have the dream less often.

At this point, let’s make a short digression into nightmares, and the reasons (or lack thereof) for their existence. A nightmare may somehow represent a major issue you have to deal with, in which case, waking yourself up from it may not be as effective as working through the issue with a counselor, friend, or other resource.

Some nightmares, however, just seem to represent archetypal scariness, like my childhood dreams about spiders. Others may be caused by post-traumatic stress or anxieties over events long past, which serve no purpose in the present day and probably occur because these events have burned memories into our brains. Both of these kinds of nightmares have no particular benefit and you might as well banish them if you can.

Alright, here we are and the spiders are descending. How to wake up? At first, I just yelled at myself to wake up! wake up! This didn’t usually work. As far as my brain was concerned, I was already awake (in the dream). What eventually worked for me, with quite a bit of practice, was more of a visualization exercise.

I would visualize myself, lying asleep on my bed, dreaming this dream. Then I would think of myself opening my eyes – I would focus on just that one thing, willing my eyes to open. This caused all sorts of interesting results. Sometimes my physical eyes would open, but it would still take a while to actually wake up – sunlight or some kind of light in the room helps with this, as that tends to trigger a waking reflex anyway.

Sometimes I would come to consciousness or half-consciousness with my eyes still closed, like an inner set of eyes had opened but not the outer ones. Fair warning – there is a state of semi-consciousness where the mind is aware but the body cannot yet move. That can be frightening in and of itself, as there is also a tendency to hear strange noises in this state, but be unable to do anything about it.

Just know that all of these intermediate states improve with practice -and are almost always better than being in the nightmare. Eventually it is possible to snap awake at will, and it becomes more of a reflex than anything, as soon as you realize you’re in a nightmare. When you get to that point, it is worth the trip, because then you have real control over what you choose to experience or not.

The other night I even had a dream sequence that was just plain annoying. The plot was useless, it wasn’t related to anything real, and it was actually just boring. Partway through the dream, I remember thinking, this is pointless, and woke up. Told myself I would dream about something else when I went back to sleep, and I did :)

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3 thoughts on “Lucid Dreaming – Step 3, Dealing with nightmares

  1. judithornot says:

    These are great, Teresa, and will come in VERY handy! Thank you!

  2. Paul Seidel says:

    This rings very true to me. My adopted son has regular, almost nightly nightmares that stem from his post-traumatic stress proble,, which orginated from abuse abuse from former parents. My daughter went through a similar period of nightmares, but worked it out with our psychologist and they eventually came to an end. Good advice.

  3. Ryan says:

    Thanks for this! I agree that learning how to wake up is an important first step in regaining that essential power. I too started out this way with lucid nightmares. If the indiviudal can get some external support (therapy, spiritual counseling, a good life coach, etc) there is next an opportunity to use that awareness to face the nightmares. not to control them, but to learn from them, meet them halfway. PTSD may be treatable with this kind of approach, but there’s still a lot more to test in the dream research community.

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