A new shooter often found herself fighting off recurring nightmares and vivid dreams about guns and self-defense. Night after night, she battled shadowy bad guys, reaching for her gun only to find it missing. Or she drew the gun, and it would not fire no matter how hard she pulled the trigger. A masked intruder entered her dreams, and she stood frozen, unable to lift the gun to fire at him even as he reached for one of her children.
The dreams made her feel puzzled, powerless and angry. She was frustrated about her interrupted sleep, and worried that the dreams meant something was really wrong with her.
This isn’t an uncommon tale. A fairly high percentage of those who venture into the self-defense world as adults will experience some level of sleep disruption as the subconscious mind struggles to integrate new thought patterns and organize the new information. Our brains are wired to process new information all the time, not merely when we are awake. The more fundamental the new information, the more the brain struggles to integrate it with what is already there.
Learning to cope with these active dreams can be an ongoing challenge, but it is possible to tap into such dreams and make them work for you. Here’s how.
- Find a comfortable place. This can be your own bed, immediately after you awaken from the dream, or it can be an easy chair or a comfortable couch the next morning.
- Relax. Consciously slow your breathing as you deliberately let go of muscle tension.
- Visualize. Once you have relaxed, allow the dream to replay itself as a movie in your mind. Visualize each small detail, every bit of it, and don’t shy away from anything. Accept the dream and the fear contained within it.
- Take control. As your reverie reaches the climax of your dream, the part that woke you up, take control, changing key details. Rather than visualizing being frozen in fear, visualize yourself reacting with calm confidence. Picture yourself calmly reaching for your firearm and drawing it smoothly, doing what is necessary to stop the imminent attack. Consciously feel capable and strong; hear your steady voice command the attacker to stop. If necessary, visualize pulling the trigger smoothly with the front sight centered on the attacker’s chest, and visualize the gun responding as it should.
- Fix what you need to. As you allow the changed storyline to play out in your mind, you may discover that you do not know what to do in the event that an attacker does some specific thing (enters from the dining-room window, perhaps). This is your opportunity to spot holes in your defensive plans that your conscious mind may not yet be aware of. If necessary, figure out what you will do to patch these holes and then visualize yourself doing that thing.
Visualization really works both to erase the immediate sting of the nightmare, and to reprogram your mind to fight and win if you must. Together with sensible safety precautions to allay your conscious fears, careful visualization can help put your nightmares to sleep for good.