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Escaping From Nightmares
with Lucid Dreaming
Becoming lucidly aware while dreaming is probably the most effective way of escaping from nightmares. In fact, many of my early lucid dreams arose from moments of sheer terror in a nightmare, which triggered my conscious brain to think: hang on, what on Earth is going on here? I must be dreaming!
Knowing that I now had control of the dream, I then had two options. I could either take the short cut and shout "WAKE UP!" - or I could confront the source of my fear and figure out the meaning of the nightmare in real time. At first I took the short cut but as I built more confidence I began to question my nightmare figures and learn some really insightful things about my subconscious.
In this article I'll explain the best way for beginners (including children) to become lucid in their nightmares and take control of that evil bogeyman. You'll soon learn that nightmares are actually a very handy backdoor to lucid dreaming, and that the nightmares figures themselves provide an excellent opportunity for some self-psychotherapy, in order to heal real life fears and anxieties.
The Meaning of Nightmares
In the West, the meaning of nightmares is to reveal our darkest inner fears in literal and symbolic forms. We all deal with them at some time in our lives, but few people consider lucid dreaming to escape from nightmares.
The most common nightmare is the classic fear of being chased - either by a monster, witch, demon, vampire, madman or other fearful entity. According to dream analysis this reveals our evolutionary fear of being hunted by the wild predators from our ancient past.
Other nightmare themes include the death of loved ones, falling, being physically injured, creepy crawlies, and being trapped. Some people experience recurring nightmares which signifies an ongoing psychological issue. Fortunately, lucid dreaming offers the perfect platform for dealing with recurring nightmares.
You are more likely to suffer from nightmares when you are:
- Sick (especially fever)
- Stressed or anxious
- Having relationship problems
- Traumatized by violence
- Taking drugs or alcohol
Drinking alcohol takes its toll by suppressing all REM sleep for the first few hours of the night. By the time the alcohol wears off, you begin your REM-rebound, with vivid dreams that are more emotionally intense than usual. This can lead to nightmares if you have any particular issues making you feel anxious.
Certain medications can also increase nightmares, such as L-dopa for Parkinson's Disease, and beta blockers for heart conditions. However they may also raise dream intensity, which causes greater self-awareness and lucid dreams.
Lucid Dreams To Stop Nightmares
Since I began lucid dreaming, I've learned some good ways to deal with nightmares. The first step means becoming lucid - so that you can think clearly in the dream and apply some conscious logic. For adults and children alike, the best way to do this is ask yourself if you are dreaming during the waking day. This is called a reality check. In particular, check your reality when unexpected things happen or when you feel particularly emotionally charged or fearful.
Another way to increase your self-awareness in dreams is to become highly self-aware during the day. Look at your hands right now. Examine the skin in detail, see all the tiny little hairs and indentations. Rub your fingers together and pay attention to the sensation it creates. You have now intensified your awareness of your hands. Do this with other things; appreciating the space around you and in particular how you interact with it. You will be able to perform this same task when lucid in a dream, and the richness of the dream reality may be shocking.
Next time you are experiencing a nightmare, you are much more likely to have a sudden jolt of self-awareness. You'll question the reality of the dream and with that comes instant lucidity. Your senses will become supercharged and the dreamworld will intensify and become much more lifelike. (If you only become semi-lucid, try these techniques to increase your lucidity.)
Now you have two options to escape from your nightmare:
- Wake Yourself Up - This is the knee-jerk response I always used to do. In that moment of lucidity I shouted "WAKE UP!" and blinked hard in the dream. I would immediately wake up in bed.
- Face Your Fears - Later, I came to realize that the source of my fear was just another part of my own psyche. It gave me the courage to talk to the nightmare monster and ask what it wanted. With my therapy complete, I then flew away and explored my lucid dream world how I wanted.
Note that confronting a nightmare figure doesn't stop you from having nightmares ever again - but it does last to rest the issue at hand.
A Personal Case Study
In facing my fears, each nightmare-turned-lucid-dream became a personal triumph and nurtured a healthy mentality of dealing with anxiety. To show you the outcome of such events, here are two real life examples of lucidly escaping from nightmares.
Escaping from nightmares is actually how a lot of children and teenagers begin lucid dreaming naturally. It is the emotional intensity of the dream that can trigger lucidity, and from there the lucid dream world is your oyster...
So keep practicing reality checks and raising your self-awareness. Next time you have a nightmare it could yield a very pleasant surprise. And if you can, have the courage to confront your nightmare figure - it is a wasted opportunity not to!