There are a wide range of events during sleep and wake that are often referred to as “nightmares” and it is wise to learn to distinguish between them. Most of what we call nightmares are simply extreme reactions and fear that accompany uncomfortable dreams that occur from time to time in most everyone, usually towards the end of the sleep cycle. Often we are awakened by a nightmare and there can be strong feelings of sadness, anger or guilt, but usually fear and anxiety. Often we are being chased, and its not unlikely for children to be chased by animals and fantasy figures, while adults are often chased by male adults.
Night terrors usually occur during the first hour or two of sleep. Screaming and thrashing about are common. Tthe sleeper is hard to awaken and usually remembers no more than an overwhelming feeling or a single scene, if anything. Children who have night terrors also may have a tendency to sleepwalk and/or urinate in bed. The causes of night terrors are not well understood, though it appears that night terrors are from a distinctly different stage of sleep. Children usually stop having them by puberty. They may be associated with stress in adults. A consultation with a physician may be useful if the night terrors are frequent or especially disturbing.
Why do we have nightmares?
Nightmares may have several causes, including drugs, medication, illness, trauma or they may have no related cause and be spontaneous. Often they occur when there is stress in one’s waking life, and when major life changes are occuring.
What can be done about nightmares?
The Association for the Study of Dreams notes that “It really depends on the source of the nightmare. To rule out drugs, medications or illness as a cause, discussion with a physician is recommended. It is useful to encourage young children to discuss their nightmares with their parents or other adults, but they generally do not need treatment. If a child is suffering from recurrent or very disturbing nightmares, the aid of a therapist may be required. The therapist may have the child draw the nightmare, talk with the frightening characters, or fantasize changes in the nightmare, in order help the child feel safer and less frightened .”
Nightmares can cause terror in children and adults. In some cases the same scene occurs over and over never giving the dreamer any relief or a chance to rest.
Many children go through times in their development when nightmares can become a real problem. Sometimes, even for adults, nightmares become so intense they believe they are interacting with evil from outside themselves.
The most important thing is to never discount anyone’s experiences with nightmares because there is so much about the universe that cannot be explained.
Edgar Cayce believed that evil thoughts are actually material things manifested by us. In other words by believing in raw evil you can actually create it.
The best advice to give someone struggling with nightmares is to tell them to get a hold of their thoughts! Fear and panic are the worst enemies in dealing with nightmares.
The more an individual panics, the bigger the evil will become. When it gets out of control, it doesn’t matter whether or not the evil originated within someone’s own thoughts. The problem is that it now has a life of it’s own and will destroy the individual if they let it.
There are different ways of dealing with nightmares when they are occurring. It is important for the individual to become conscious of the fact that they are dreaming. If the person can calm themselves down enough, they can become conscious of the fact that they are dreaming. At this point if they are religious they can pray to God for guidance. If not they can think of pleasant peaceful thoughts.
It is often easier for individuals who meditate or pray on a regular basis because a peaceful connection can be made quickly in their dreams.
If you are religious develop a prayer that really helps you get connected to God in your heart. Develop that feeling of being connected so that all you have to do is say the prayer and that feeling of pure love, peace and safety will wash over you instantly. It takes practice but it is possible.
If you aren’t religious, try meditating using a relaxation tape that helps you create a peaceful feeling. Once you have that feeling instilled in your subconscious you can reach out to it when you need it.
Nightmares can also signify deeply rooted psychological problems. Individuals who have been abused as children will suppress memories at the time of the abuse only to dream of them years later.
When individuals begin dreaming of the trauma of the past, it is usually an indicator that there conscious mind is getting ready to remember it.
In cases like these individuals should try to seek counselling to help them get through the trauma. If this isn’t possible, they should try reading books on child abuse to give them an insight into their situation.
This is also indicative of individuals suffering from other forms of post traumatic stress disorder. It is common for them to be haunted by nightmares as they relive the traumatic event.
It is advisable for individuals suffering from these kinds of nightmares to get counselling to help them work through the trauma.
Children have a difficult time with nightmares because they have trouble differentiating between dreams and reality. With children it is necessary to sometimes be creative in helping them to deal with their nightmares.
The “dream catcher” is an excellent concept that originated in North American Native culture. It is a circular structure made of flexible wood, leather, feathers and beads.
Children hang it in their windows at night and it catches all of their bad dreams before the bad dreams can get to them. If these types of distraction methods don’t work, one is forced to try to help the child deal with the dream itself.
A friend of mine taught his daughter to try not to wake up from her nightmare until she had started to fly. With this suggestion from her father, the young girl remembered the next time she was having her nightmare and she was able to stay in it until she had started to fly.
Once she began to fly she was able to destroy whatever had been bothering her in the dream and she was free to glide freely and happily. After that she was so excited she ran to wake up her father to tell him.
Children have been taught to try to control nightmares in other ways. In another instance a child was told to try to turn and face the monster and tell it to go away.
Helping a child deal with a nightmare is difficult and it needs consistent support from the child’s parents. If a child is fortunate enough to have parents who will take the time to help them work it out, they are half way there and will eventually find a way to slay their dragon.
For some children the root of the nightmare could be caused by a tragedy occurring in their real lives. This could be as a result of abuse or neglect. If parents cannot find a way to help their child, professional help should be sought.
Nightmares also offer the same opportunity that other dreams do, to investigate the symbols and imagery for life enhancement. The challenge in the last few decades for the dreamwork movement has been to teach a variety of methods that replace the old phase “It was just a dream.” In American schools, people like Jill Gregory and Ann Wiseman teach children coping mechanisms that allow the child to come into relationship with the dream monsters and fears in a novel and related manner. Ernest Hartmann and other researchers are finding that those who have “thin” personalities, or sensitive, receptive individuals, are more likely to have nightmares than “thick” personalities. Pioneers like Linda Magallon, Stephen Laberge and Jayne Gackenbach are teaching people to take control of their dreams and have the outcomes they wish rather than becoming the dream’s victim.