First-Aid for Nightmares

First-Aid for Nightmares

1. Imagine that you can view your nightmare like a movie, separate from you, on a TV screen. See it in black and white with the sound turned down. Use the remote control to “freeze” the action.  

2. See and feel yourself in the most peaceful, safe, quiet place you can imagine. Experience the comfort of this place with all of your senses. Breathe in the freshness of the air. Notice how the ground feels under your feet. Look around and notice details of this comfortable place.

3. In this safe place, make a drawing of the nightmare “movie” or imagine it on a TV screen again. You see it over there, separate from you. See or sense it in black and white, with no sound. You don’t have to feel it again.

4. Write a short description of the “story” that was told on the TV screen and in your nightmare. Instead of writing from your own point of view, write it as if you are just one of the characters in the story. Use your own name, rather than “I.” For example: “Sally” (the dreamer) is …”

5. Optional: If you are ready to try, imagine that you can re-do your nightmare. Exert your own power to fight off dream adversaries, speak out your truth, or invite in helpers and allies who can help you defend yourself. Imagine yourself victorious at the end of the dream.

Be a gentle witness to your dream story or movie. Consider that this story may offer some kind of hidden value or message. Regard the emotions you and the other dream characters experience as important clues. Later, when you do Inner Dialogue to explore the symbols in your dream, these clues will help you. They will show you the emotions and issues that you need to bring into balance.

Translating a Nightmare

Dreams are vital to our wellbeing – and our sanity – because they help us to learn and evolve. Every night, we can “dream our way forward,” using the deeper part of our intelligence that isn’t available to our conscious mind. Our dream mind puts together creative and brilliant stories every night, to help us discover valuable parts of ourselves. Our deeper wisdom wants us to turn toward parts of us that maybe we’ve forgotten or ignored.

Disturbing dreams and symbols are also valuable parts of our energy – but they’ve been shut away for too long and their energy has become dark and polarized. When we peel away the symbol’s scary wrapping with dreamwork, underneath it is only energy – our energy – which we can claim and use to bring more balance and awareness into our lives.

Dreamwork helps you to translate the metaphor or symbolism of these nightmare themes. Symbol books only give you general interpretations, missing the rich and creative associations and choices present in your unique dreams. Your dream’s message has many layers and is very personalized, drawing from the emotions, responses and varying details of your symbols and dreams.

By the way, dream symbols are not the same as dream themes. Themes are larger patterns, like a basic plot without the personalized details. Sometimes dream themes are archetypal stories about birth, death, discovery, and the ‘hero’s journey.’ Themes give us the outlines of the story, but all the details and symbols are uniquely ours. The story is ours.

On my website,, there is an extensive example of translating a dream metaphor that is excerpted from my book, Embracing Your Subconscious. The section is named, “Enjoy the Ride.” 

I’d like to give you a general idea of how the subconscious uses its own language and logic to communicate the needs it perceives, needs you may not be conscious of. I will begin with a common nightmare theme:

You are running away from a scary attacker.  

    Translation: There is something unknown, unpredictable, maybe a little scary that is giving you worry, distress, and maybe fear.

Dreams sometimes exaggerate the fearful feeling into an ‘attack.’ These dreams suggest that you’ve tended to ignore, avoid, or run away from a fearful situation or feeling, but it really needs to be faced and understood.

The energy of the ‘attacker’ is really your energy. Not all of you, but an energy in you. It is not ‘bad’ energy, just misdirected or ignored energy. Through dreamwork you can learn how to recognize and use the energy of any symbol for your own benefit.

Inner Dialogue shows you how to consciously acknowledge the energy and point of view of a symbol; then you can create a more cooperative relationship with it — and bring that new awareness into your waking life, so you will benefit from its energy.

In individual sessions and workshops, I usually frame the metaphor as a question to the dreamer:   

“Are you experiencing something unknown, unpredictable, and maybe a little scary right now in your life? Is it giving you worry, distress, and maybe fear?

Or, is there something you feel worried or scared about, but have been avoiding or running away from?”

Usually, the dreamer’s eyes widen with recognition right away, when they associate to these questions. They may answer, “Oh, yeah! I’ve been sensing that maybe my boyfriend is losing interest in me. I’ve been feeling anxious and angry about how he’s been treating me.”

The meaning of the dream often comes as many right answers, not just as one right answer.

The subconscious and dream mind go beyond the literal, one-answer framework of the logical mind. Inner Dialogue will help the dreamer sort out the conflicting emotions and multiple levels of meaning.

For example, the scary attacker might symbolize a part of the dreamer that has been pushed out of conscious awareness, maybe a part that rejects or fears anger. And it may connect to a memory. And it may also connect to the dreamer’s real-life anger with her boyfriend.

Having this dream over and over would indicate that the issue has been ignored for a long time. Yet, when you recognize and connect the nightmare symbols to an issue or inner conflict in you, you have already taken an important step toward changing your dream.

Some common nightmare themes are:

  • you are running from a scary attacker
  • a tidal wave is coming toward you
  • you discover you have an illness or disease
  • your teeth are falling out
  • you have to take a test for which you aren’t prepared
  • your body is paralyzed
  • you are late to an important event
  • someone close to you dies or disappears
  • a volcano near you is erupting
  • a bomb is going off
  • you are being pulled into a whirlpool
  • you are falling
  • the car you are driving breaks down or goes out of control
  • you are lost
  • you find yourself in public, naked

Copyright 2011 by Jenny Davidow.
Reprint only with live link back to

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