Monthly Archives: October 2012

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nightmares: a cure?

Post traumatic stress disorder PTSD nightmares

Are dreams always symbolic? What about recurring nightmares in which the dreamer relives an actual traumatic experience, over and over again, sometimes several times a week, often for decades? This can be the case for people with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, a type of anxiety disorder following a traumatic experience). How can these replay nightmares be stopped? Can dream alchemy be applied to transform these kinds of nightmares and their underlying issues?

Nightmares following traumas are generally symbolic, seemingly unconnected to the actual event, but exact replays are more common for people with PTSD.

Nightmares following traumas are generally symbolic, seemingly unconnected to the actual event, but exact replays are more common for people with PTSD.

Nightmares disrupt sleep, leaving you tired the next day, as well as stressed about the scary nightmare and what it might mean about you and your life. Magnify that to exhaustion when you have the nightmares several times a week, compounded with daily anxiety about going to sleep and facing yet another replay of the long-ago trauma, and a sense of hopelessness about not being able to stop the nightmares: that’s what many people with PTSD suffer year after year.

On top of that, many suffering these types of nightmares can punch, kick, and hit their bed partners, adding to bedtime anxiety. When dreams occur in the REM stage of sleep, ‘sleep paralysis’ stops our muscles from acting out our dreams, but the kinds of nightmares associated with PTSD sometimes occur in other stages of the sleep cycle when legs and arms are free to move.

Nightmares following traumas are generally symbolic, seemingly unconnected to the actual event, but exact replays are more common for people with PTSD. So what is PTSD?

Diagnosis of PTSD references three main symptoms enduring more than 30 days after the event: reliving a traumatic event in a way that disturbs your daily life; feeling emotionally numb or detached from the trauma; and increased arousal in everyday situations.

Reliving may mean having flashbacks where the trauma seems to be happening again, recurring nightmares about the event, repeating memories, and strong reactions to things that remind you of the experience.

Feeling emotionally numb or detached from the trauma can manifest as not caring about anything, a lack of interest in everyday life, and avoiding anything connected with the event, as well as not being able to remember key details of the trauma.

Increased arousal due to PTSD can include being startled easily and having exaggerated responses, being hypervigilant, having difficulty concentrating, outbursts of anger or irritability, and difficulties sleeping.

Each sensory reliving embeds the trauma.

Each sensory reliving embeds the trauma.

The danger of experiencing replays of the trauma, whether by nightmares, flashbacks, or repeating memories, is that these tend to be overwhelmingly sensory in nature, as if they are happening in the present tense. They are not so much thoughts about the event, or feelings that can be eased by considering context. Each sensory reliving embeds the trauma.

The standard treatment for PTSD usually involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps the sufferer to identify thoughts stemming from the trauma and replace them with less upsetting thoughts. CBT retrains the conscious brain to change perspective and response to situations that would otherwise trigger negative reactions. When CBT is effective with PTSD sufferers, nightmares featuring actual replay tend to stop, soften, or recur less often.

So CBT works with the conscious mind to reframe thoughts about the event.

The unconscious mind may persist with unconscious beliefs, feelings, and responses associated with the traumatic event.

The unconscious mind may persist with unconscious beliefs, feelings, and responses associated with the traumatic event.

The unconscious mind may persist with unconscious beliefs, feelings, and responses associated with the traumatic event. In this case, the nightmares – or other, more symbolic nightmares – will continue, and underlying issues stemming from the trauma may remain unresolved.

So can PTSD related nightmares be stopped when standard CBT fails to achieve this?

One treatment that is receiving a lot of attention at the moment is Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT). Now, if you’re acquainted with dream alchemy, IRT is going to look familiar to you.

IRT involves rewriting the trauma-replay dream to change the trauma story, and repeatedly visualising the new, positive version, while awake.

IRT involves rewriting the trauma-replay dream to change the trauma story, and repeatedly visualising the new, positive version, while awake.

In IRT, the sufferer thinks up ways to change the storyline of their nightmare so it’s no longer scary. With help from the therapist, they decide on the best rewrite of the dream and then replay the new version of the dream as a visualisation – while awake – a set number of times. This therapy stops the nightmare in many cases, or reduces how often it occurs.

What’s the difference between dream alchemy and IRT?

IRT involves rewriting the trauma-replay dream to change the trauma story, and repeatedly visualising the new, positive version, while awake.

Dream alchemy involves understanding the dream (interpreting it when it is symbolic), identifying the unconscious beliefs (sometimes based on traumatic experiences) that underlie the key issue, and rewriting either the whole dream or an aspect of it in a way that reprograms those unconscious beliefs into positive beliefs that automatically drive positive responses. The new version is repeatedly visualised*, while awake.

IRT reprograms the conscious mind and the dream storyline. The dreamer either dreams the new storyline or the replay dream stops. Deeper unconscious issues related to the trauma may be reflected in more symbolic ongoing nightmares and dreams, and remain unaddressed.

Dream alchemy addresses and resolves issues by transforming the underlying unconscious beliefs.

Dream alchemy addresses and resolves issues by transforming the underlying unconscious beliefs.

Dream alchemy reprograms both the conscious and unconscious mind and these changes are reflected in new, positive dreams. Dream alchemy addresses and resolves issues by transforming the underlying unconscious beliefs.

When therapies such as CBT or IRT assist sufferers to overcome PTSD and stop the trauma-replay nightmares, grief associated with the trauma may naturally resolve. When grief remains, or when unconscious beliefs related to the grief have taken hold (beliefs around perceived guilt, for example), these will be reflected in subsequent symbolic dreams. For those who remember their dreams, dream alchemy is a route to resolution and healing.

* Dream alchemy may be prescribed as a visualisation, affirmation, artwork, writing, bodywork, or other modality, depending on the dream and the dreamer.

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Stop Nightmares Now with Jane Teresa Anderson

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Episode 131 The Dream Show: Stray kittens

A virtual coffee

Stray kittens

Renee from Ohio is my guest with a dream about stray kittens and a cat litter box with packed-down, concrete-like layers of kitten poo and urine. In the dream she’s aggravated that it’s got to this point, and ready to clean up and choose one of the stray kittens.

Renee had gone to sleep the night before her dream with a question on her mind, something she hoped her dream would address. It did. We go in deep – very deep – and get to the bottom of the issue.

Conscious understanding is important – and this is what interpretation achieves -  but for long-lasting deep change, adjustments need to be made at the unconscious level, so we then apply dream alchemy to achieve this.

The Dream Show, a free monthly podcast with Jane Teresa AndersonYou’ll hear Renee relate the interpretation to what is happening in her life. When I was chatting with Renee after we had finished recording, she asked if she could share her website so you can visit. You’ll understand why when you listen to this episode. Here’s Renee’s website.

Listen.

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Rainbow shades of grey

Rainbow shades of grey

“Why do we dream in black and white?” It’s a question I’m often asked, and it always makes me smile. “We don’t,” I reply. “You don’t remember noticing colours in your dreams, so you assume you dream in black and white. And shades of grey. But now you know you can dream in colour, you will.”

Within days – or nights – such dreamers excitedly report colours. A flash of red, perhaps, or a golden sunset, then a sudden rush of colourful details until the dream is as colourful as waking life or perhaps even vibrantly supersaturated, super surreal.

Yet in another sense, we do tend to dream in black and white, the black and white of opposites. Risk and safety for example.

Yet in another sense, we do tend to dream in black and white, the black and white of opposites. Risk and safety for example.

Yet in another sense, we do tend to dream in black and white, the black and white of opposites.

Look closely at most dreams and you will see at least one pair of opposites. A dream might feature good and evil, risk and safety, crowded and alone, deep and shallow, new and old, faith and doubt, the black and white – the either or – of issues that conflict us.

Are you a black and white thinker? Do you see the world in black and white, right and wrong, good and evil? Do I hear a resounding ‘no’? But look deeper, and especially look at those pairs of opposites offered on a platter in your dreams. A dream theme peppered with risk and safety suggests you may – at least unconsciously – look at risk and safety as mutually exclusive alternatives, black and white, no shades of grey. Perhaps you see life as frighteningly risky so you run for certain safety, or you see life as suffocatingly safe so you choose the high adventure of risk. No shades of grey.

When you find your black and white blind spot, ask yourself who, in your early life, influenced your perspective. Continuing the example, you’ll probably find at least one parent or guardian valued risk to the exclusion of safety, or safety to the exclusion of risk, and you either followed suit and took on the same values, or you retaliated in fear to occupy the opposite position. Your current values reflect your beliefs – about risk and safety in this example – and those beliefs are often based on your emotional experiences.

When you are awake to your dreams, you can choose to begin the healing work of finding a balance point between opposites – the Tao, the ‘middle path’.

This deep work involves recognising your shadow (what you see as bad, the black to your white).

This deep work involves recognising your shadow (what you see as bad, the black to your white).

This deep work begins not with a decision to simply walk the middle path between black and white, but to explore and heal the origin of your beliefs and the emotions that cemented them in black and white. It involves recognising your shadow (what you see as bad, the black to your white), the shadowy urge to take risks which must be repressed in the name of supreme safety, or the shadowy urge to stay safe which must be repressed in the name of adventurous risk. It involves understanding and embracing your shadow, loving that part of yourself, integrating it into your being instead of banishing it from your kingdom, and when you do this, the black and white of your staunchly upheld perspective gives way to an infinity of possibilities etched in far more than fifty shades of grey. Or colour. Why live in grey when you can live in colour?

When you know that you can dream in colour, you do. When you know that you can live in colour, you do.

I prefer to take poetic licence and see a rainbow spectrum of brilliant colours between black and white.

I prefer to take poetic licence and see a rainbow spectrum of brilliant colours between black and white.

I’m not really one for shades of grey. I prefer to take poetic licence and see a rainbow spectrum of brilliant colours between black and white. It feels more intuitively correct.

Think of the font colour menu in Microsoft Word: black at the top left leading through a range of colours to white at the bottom right.

Scientifically speaking, white light contains all the rainbow colours mixed together (you only see the rainbow when you shine white light through a glass prism, or when sunlight gets refracted by raindrops), and black is the absence of all colour. But look again. Scientifically speaking, black pigment is made up from different coloured dyes, and white pigment is generally the absence of coloured pigment.

Step through and beyond the rainbow into a world rich in colour.

Step through and beyond the rainbow into a world rich in colour.

Let’s leave the physics and semantics of black and white, and, while we’re at it, the spelling of grey or gray, colour or color, licence or license, and delve into the poetic heart of the matter.

Let your dreams help you to drop your veils of black and white, and to step through and beyond the rainbow into a world rich in colour.

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