The Nightmare and the Narrative


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Abstract

This paper proposes that dreams can be analyzed from a narrative perspective and that this approach produces a new appreciation of dreams. When we ask the dreamer narrative-like questions such as “How would you change the story of the dream?” or “If they were making a movie of this dream, who would play you?” we take the dream work in a different direction than when we ask questions of the form “Does this dream remind you of something in your waking life?” Consideration of the formal narrative components of the dream report allows us to address issues and remedies that are not readily apparent in other approaches. In the case of the nightmare, imagining the dream as a story can prepare the dreamer to master the nightmare's climax. Within the logic of the nightmare, it enables the dreamer to identify or create sources of support and to see herself as someone who can solve the nightmare problem. It provides the dreamer with the means to eliminate the nightmare. A dream report is rarely a complete story, and narrative can be used when we can conceptualize the dream as a fragment implying a narrative whole. The nightmare can be seen as a fragment which consistently halts at what would be the climax of a plot. Correspondingly, there is a quasi-nightmare embedded in the plot of many novels and films; Stephen King's horror story Carrie is taken as an example. Many of the analyses and techniques used in both nightmare studies and in nightmare interventions already imply a narrative perspective. In particular, narrative offers an explanation for the success of the Imagery Rehearsal Technique (IRT) method of working with nightmares. Narrative analysis can benefit dream work in three ways. First, narrative suggests a framework in which current approaches to nightmares can be understood; second, it offers a different way to consider dream reports; and third, the extensive body of narrative theory as well as practical applications, such as screenwriting techniques, can be applied to dream work.

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