Last night, I was awakened by a nightmare.
But instead of waking up in a sweat and fearing closing my eyes and going back to sleep, I did what I feel that nightmares want me to do: I explore them.
I won’t go into the details of it because the exact details of what happened aren’t important. What’s important is why things happened the way they did; what was it that my subconscious wanted me to feel?
I’ve been interested in dreams and dream interpretation for almost a decade and back when I was taking psychology, I studied nightmares. By the way, this just happened to be when the Nightmare On Elm Street remake was coming out in theaters, so it was perfect timing for the final assignment of putting together a power point on any section of psychology that I wanted to cover.
Anyway, I learned that nightmares are a way for the subconscious to get the attention of our conscious minds. You know, like when you’re trying to get someone’s attention. First, you say their name. They don’t respond. You say their name again. They don’t respond. You yell their name. They don’t respond. You walk up close and yell their name. They don’t respond. Finally, you smack them on the shoulder, saying, “Hey!”
That’s pretty much all a nightmare is. You’re feeling something that your conscious mind doesn’t want to acknowledge and so your subconscious mind hits you over the head with it so you’ll get around to the expression of that feeling. And that feeling may be coming from some place in your life to which you’re not paying much attention.
So when I woke up from my nightmare, the first thing I did was close my eyes and start from the end of it. What happened? What did I feel? Why did I feel it? Is there something going on in my life right now that makes me feel the same way or in a similar way?
Then I go backward through the nightmare. What came before? What did I feel then? How do these feelings relate to what I’m feeling in my life right now?
And on and on until I’ve either spent a good amount of time exploring my nightmare, my feelings, and things going on in my life or until I’ve bored myself to sleep.
Either way, the effect of the nightmare is less of scaring me to death and more of helping me to acknowledge and express feelings that want my conscious mind to notice them. Once those feelings are out, I tend to feel relieved, relaxed. I guess that’s why nightmares don’t scare me anymore. I take the fear and turn it into a tool for helping me to feel better.