Why bother rewriting nightmares?
Nightmares can leave us shaken and freaked out all day, or longer. In my experience, rewriting the end of a nightmare can conquer and destroy its power. Instead of remembering pain and weakness, we remember victory. It’s a great way to remind ourselves that we have power over our own brains, and if we can’t control others we can still control ourselves. If the nightmares are happening because of things we’re scared of in real life, rewriting them can remind us that we’re strong and have many resources at our disposal. What’s more, if we rewrite them enough, we can start changing the dreams while we’re having them, and prevent them from becoming nightmares entirely. See: “How can I stop having nightmares?”
How can I stop having nightmares?
I can only tell you what I do, but it works very well for me and I hope you’ll try it. I used to have nightmares all the time, until I started this technique. First, I thought about my beliefs about nightmares—basically, that they’re not magic and they’re not being sent to me from outside my head, but just stories my own brain is telling. And, since I am the only person who gets to say what’s going on in my brain, that means I have control over my nightmares. Then I did the following:
- Every night before falling asleep, I mentally recite: ‘I own my brain. Only I get to say what happens in my brain. My dreams happen inside my brain, so I get to say what happens in my dreams. If something happens in a dream that I don’t like, I will realize I’m dreaming, and change the dream.’ (I try to do this every night. Sometimes, after it’s been working a while, I forget and then eventually I have a nightmare and start again.)
- I imagine myself doing just that: I imagine a dream in which I’m frantically searching for something. I imagine myself stopping and saying, “oh! I’m dreaming!” and then I imagine myself using my new magic powers (we all have magic powers in our dreams) to make the object I was looking for appear. (Or I imagine a similar example, maybe in a dream I had recently)
- In the morning, if I did have a nightmare anyway (this happened a lot when I started, and still happens occasionally, especially if I get complacent and forget to recite for a while) I rewrite the nightmare—just like I do here—so that I win. I imagine it as vividly as possible, but with a different outcome. Or, if I woke up and missed the ending, I imagine an ending I like.
It doesn’t work right away. I had to do it for at least couple weeks, probably, before it slowly started to work. But then it did, and now it almost always does.
What are nightmares anyway? Are they my own brain messing with me, or are they special messages sent from somewhere outside my head?
Lots of different theories on this, of course, but I believe they are stories our own brains tell us, and that nightmares are usually our brain chewing on something, trying to resolve it. Either something we’re afraid of, or something that disturbed us that we can’t forget. Rewriting the nightmares help our brains deal with the problem. A big part of overcoming nightmares is realizing that they come from within, and therefore we have total power over them.
What do my dreams mean?
Lots of theories on this too, of course. There are books laid out in dictionary style where you can look up: “Horses” and find out that horses in dreams represent ego, or whatever. This always seemed silly to me; I grew up riding horses, so why would a dream about horses mean the same thing to me as to Alice, who only met a horse once and it bit her, or to Harold, who has never seen a horse in real life? I think the meanings are very personal to us. Often they’ll seem to have nothing to do with what’s actually happening in our lives or what we’re really worried about, because our brain will try out the same feelings and worries in other scenarios. And sometimes they’re probably just random, cause we saw a scary movie the other night and something that happened in an innocent dream reminded our brain of it, and it veered in that direction. We can often look at dreams and discover that something upset us more than we’d realized, or that we have anxiety we weren’t aware of, but it’s always going to be very personal.
Will you definitely absolutely rewrite my nightmare if I submit it?
Nah. There are going to be some I don’t do. Sexy nightmares, for instance, will probably often get a pass. But I’ll try to do what I can.
I have trouble remembering my nightmares, just know they were bad. What can I do?
Here’s what worked for me: I started writing my dreams down as soon as I woke up. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense; how can one write down their dreams if they can’t remember them? But what I found (and other people have told me they’ve had the same experience) is that as soon as I started writing the tiny bit I could remember, the rest would come to me. I’d write “there was a wall,” and be ready to stop cause that’s all I had, and then I would remember a spider on the wall, and I’d write that down, and then I’d realize the spider had the face of Ronald Reagan. Or whatever.
If you choose to do the exercise I mention under “How can I stop having nightmares?,” you might add to the end of the recitation, “When I wake up, I will remember my dreams. I get to decide what I remember. I will remember my dreams.” Again, it might not work right away, but it should eventually.
Can I give you my email address, and have you send me a private rewrite and post it on the blog?
I’m probably not going to be up for this often, but occasionally, in extreme situations, with a really good explanation of why it’s necessary, I might.
Are you an expert on dreams?
Nope. I’m a writer who used to have nightmares almost every night, and now I don’t, and rewriting helped me, and then I did it for friends too and it helped them, so I decided to do it for anyone.
Are you going to edit what I send you?
Probably not, but maybe. For length, or clarity, or spelling, or other reasons. I don’t imagine I’ll make any big changes, as that would defeat the purpose.