What is nightmare re-scripting?
Nightmare re-scripting is a technique that was developed by Dr Justin Havens (here is the YouTube video where he describes the method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lv38dzpcxfA) to help individuals who have experienced traumatic events. One of the most frequent consequences of trauma is nightmares, and it’s something I see in around 90% of my clients.
Nightmare re-scripting in a technique for working with traumatic or upsetting images. The nightmares my be memories from actual experiences that you’ve had or may be terrifying images which are not based in reality. This experiential technique works directly with the emotionally laden “hot” images to make them more manageable and less distressing. It is a technique that I have successfully used with all my clients, from veterans to individuals with extensive childhood traumas, to individuals with single incident traumas.
Why do we have nightmares?
Dreaming (and therefore nightmares) is something we all do every night, but we don’t always remember our dreams. It is how our brains process the events and experiences during the day and is vital to both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Our brains, whilst absolutely amazing bits of biology, are also lazy. They will start processing the things that we were last thinking about before we go to bed. For example, if you go to bed thinking about the argument you had with your boss, your brain is going to start by processing that. Likewise, if you go to bed thinking about all the “terrible” things that are going
to happen tomorrow, then your brain is going to focus on that. This is where we have power to influence our dreams. By actively creating a mental image which produces a strong emotional reaction, we can help our brain find a new ending to our nightmare, and consequently sleep through the night undisturbed.
What does nightmare re-scripting involve?
To aid with this explanation, I am going to use a made-up nightmare example: You are stood in an empty room when suddenly a 12ft tall spider comes hurtling towards you. It picks you up and starts to bring you towards its mouth. You wake up just before you are eye level with the giant spider.
We always work with the most recent nightmare. So, for some individuals this may mean that they are constantly having to update their rescripting, whereas for others they may only need to come up with one new ending. In this case, we’re going to work with the spider nightmare.
You work on the point that caused you to wake up i.e., when you are eye level with the spider. If we think of our brains as trying to “process” a memory/event/experience, the reason we wake up is because our brain cannot figure out how to get to the next part of the story. It is a bit like a broken record. It needs us to help it create what happens next which is less distressing than the ending it is currently creating (that I’m about to be eaten by the spider).
We now imagine a new ending. This ending can be anything that you like. It doesn’t need to be based in reality, it can be kind, funny, silly, even aggressive, but It must feel right on a gut level. This means there could be a whole variety of ending for this spider nightmare, from it lifting me up to eye level and me shooting it, to it actually lifting me over it’s head and placing me on its back so I can ride it, or even it placing a party hat on my head and handing me a piece of cake. It is whatever feels right to you on a gut level.
Once you have found your new ending, it is time to practise! I cannot emphases enough how important this is. YOU NEED TO PRACTISE. Close your eyes and run through the dream from the very beginning, describing out loud what you can see, hear, feel, and touch. The idea is to make image as vivid as possible, the more information we give our brain, the easier it will be for it to change the ending. E.g., I see the spider coming towards me, I can hear its feet hitting the floor. I can feel its legs holding around my waist as it lifts me up into the air. I can feel the weight of the party hat as it is placed on my head. I realise that the spider is smiling and it’s holding up a birthday cake in one of its hands.
As you are in bed, play over your new dream over and over in your mind before you go to sleep. If you still have the nightmare, then we need to make the ending bigger. Perhaps the spider is your friend in a spider outfit, or it is your pet spider and you’re playing fetch with it. A great example of this was when I worked with someone who brought his kids into his new ending. He found that the image of his kids alone was not enough to stop his nightmares, so he had himself and his wife dress up as Daddy and Mummy Pig from Peppa Pig, as he knew that this would make his children laugh. This “increased volume” meant that the following night he didn’t have a nightmare.
If you have a different nightmare, we start the process again (we always work with our most recent dream).
I hope that this information has been helpful to you. The key is to make sure that the new ending feels right at the gut level, to practise it several times during the day and before you go to bed, and if it doesn’t work, making the image bigger.
If you are struggling with nightmares, or other symptoms associated with trauma, and want to get some extra support, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org