5 Themes in Trauma-Related Nightmares

Identifying themes in your recurring trauma-related nightmares is a key part of treatment and recovery.

Jan 16, 2022
5 Themes in Trauma-Related Nightmares

by Brian Curtis, Ph.D.

Changing nightmares into dreams.

It may sound strange to learn that you can treat your nightmares.

After all, you're unconscious when you dream. What are you supposed to do?

One key step in the treatment of ongoing nightmares that relate to prior traumatic experiences ("trauma-related nightmares") is identifying specific themes that tend to go along with trauma that may also be present in your recurring nightmares.

These 5 themes often highlight areas of the trauma and trauma-related nightmares that keep us "stuck" from working through and processing certain thoughts and emotions.

By identifying these themes in your nightmares, you can target these aspects to literally re-write and change your trauma-related nightmares into non-stressful dreams over time.

Below are the 5 themes. As you read them, think about whether they relate to specific aspects of your trauma-related nightmares:

1) Safety: Feeling unsafe, witnessing dangerous things happening around you, or being in danger yourself. 

2) Not being in control, feeling powerless: Not being able to control what is happening in your nightmare, feeling powerless to help yourself or others.

3) Intimacy: Feelings of being close to other people, or a lack of closeness to others or feeling isolated.

4) Trust: Not being able to count on others or not being able to count on yourself. 

5) Esteem: Not feeling good about yourself or not feeling good about others. This can include others or yourself acting in ways that are against your values and beliefs.

What did you notice? Are these themes present in your trauma-related nightmares? 

If so, the next step involves writing a new story for your nightmare using all of your senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch, thoughts, and emotions) using as many details as possible.

To learn more about the two main evidence-based treatments for trauma-related nightmares (IRT and ERRT), click here.

Here's to a 2022 without nightmares.

Changing nightmares into dreams.

- Brian

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