Nightmares plague your mind and ruin your sleep, but lucid dreaming can help — if you can be brave.
Fight Off Nightmares by Facing Them Head On
Non-lucid dreamers are like young children still afraid of the dark because they believe monsters and ghosts are real, says Stephen LaBerge, PhD. But having a lucid nightmare is more like being an older kid who is still afraid of the dark, but knows there are no monsters and ghosts.
The fear is real still, but you know that it's a silly fear — and one you can master. In fact, sometimes simply becoming lucid within a nightmare is enough to make it go away. You realise it's just a nightmare, that it can't really hurt you, and that you are actually safe in bed, so you don't need to escape it by awakening.
If becoming lucid isn't enough, you need to face the nightmare to stop it. Of course, it's not enough to just know that what you're afraid of isn't worthy of fear. People who are afraid of public speaking know on an intellectual level that no harm will become of them if they speak in front of an audience, yet the fear persists. It works the same way in your dreams. The only way to overcome that fear is to face it, showing yourself time and time again that it's not what it seems.
So, you must control your fear long enough to find a creative way to dissolve the illusion completely. Here's an example from one of my earliest lucid dream experiences (though I didn't know that's what it was at the time):
When I was about eight years old, I stayed up late one night and watched a Child's Play marathon — the horror movies with Chucky the doll. After that, I had recurring nightmares for weeks. However, one night I made a lucid decision to take control of the situation. It wasn't by manipulating the dream world, though, it was by reasoning with it (it being my own subconscious). I remembered that Child's Play was a work of fiction and only a movie designed to scare people.
So I looked at Chucky as he chased me with a knife and I asked "What was it like to be in a movie?" The horror stopped, and Chucky was suddenly showing me around the set explaining how they did all the "movie magic." After that, I never had a nightmare about Chucky again. Why? Because he wasn't a scary monster anymore, just an actor who had a job to do.
Controlling a lucid nightmare and simply manipulating it to be something different doesn't help you in the long run. It's the same as choosing to run away from something over and over. You'll be safe in the moment, but the fear will persist, and the nightmares will keep coming. You must accept it, confront it, and appeal to it.
Reasoning with my own sense of logic was the ticket for me, but it might be something different for you. Maybe you choose to give your monster a hug and say "I love you." Perhaps you befriend the demon determined to haunt you and ask if it can teach you how to scare people too.
Or maybe the next time you have a public speaking anxiety dream, you strip down naked and play a trumpet terribly to prove that nothing you do up there can actually harm you. Be brave, get creative, and change the rules of the game. Remember, it's your dream, not the monster's.
I don't mind bad dreams. When you wake up, the dream fades away. What utterly terrifies me, though, is when my brain wakes up but my body cannot move. That's sleep paralysis, and it affects anywhere between seven and 40 per cent of us.
Assignment: Share Your Lucid Dream Experiences
If you have any great lucid dream stories, we want to read them! Share them in the comments below.
For further reading, check out Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, by Stephen LaBerge, PhD and Howard Rheingold; Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self, by Robert Waggoner; and Lucid Dreaming, Plain and Simple: Tips and Techniques for Insight, Creativity, and Personal Growth, also by Robert Waggoner and Caroline McCready.