I was scrolling through a dream forum the other day, and someone was asking about her sudden lack of fear towards her nightmares. She expressed that she used to be terrified of her nightmares, but once she got to college, she started struggling with depression, and since then her nightmares don’t scare her anymore. I thought her question would resonate with many people out there. It’s not just in our waking life that we become numb or indifferent to the horrors around us, it can also happen in our dreams.
Here is her post.
Up until my college days, I used to have really horrible nightmares all the time. They were vivid and often really gruesome, and I was always really scared. Nowadays, even if my nightmares are gruesome, they don’t scare me anymore. Whether it’s dreaming about being chased by a rabid dog, dealing with a murderer, or showing up to work naked, I just don’t get scared or upset. I often confront the thing or person in the nightmare in a silly or indifferent way. I’ve often wondered if I’ve just gotten used to these nightmares over time, or if my struggle with depression has made me less bothered by stuff that should be scary. But whatever it is, that’s been my journey – from being haunted by nightmares to not being bothered by them.
Why Would Nightmares Become Less Scary All Of A Sudden?
There are a few possible reasons that nightmares wouldn’t scare someone any more. If you are experiencing a lack of fear in your nightmares, one of these reasons is likely the cause.
1. You’ve Been Exposed To Your Fears
One possible explanation is exposure therapy, which is a psychological treatment that helps you confront your fears. While it’s normally done under the guidance of a therapist, exposure therapy can also occur spontaneously in everyday life, without individuals even realizing it’s happening.
For example, someone who has experienced a traumatic event such as a car accident may become desensitized to other potentially scary situations, such as walking near busy roads or hearing loud noises.
Or in the above example, her constant exposure to her terrifying dreams might have functionally served as exposure therapy.
The bottom line is that exposure to nightmarish stuff in life can desensitize you to things that nightmares are made of. If you have been going through a lot of devastation in your life, the exposure to all the negative things that have been going on may have desensitized you to things that you used to fear, hence your nightmares no longer scare you.
2. Mental Health Issues Are Influencing Your Reactions
Another possibility – as the person questioned about themselves – is that an individual’s mental health struggles, specifically depression, could be influencing their reactions to their dreams.
Depression can sometimes create a feeling of numbness or indifference to things that would typically cause a strong emotional response. In this scenario, the decreased fear in response to nightmares might be a symptom of depression’s impact on emotional response and perspective.
It’s also worth noting that while this person’s fear response has decreased, that doesn’t necessarily mean their nightmares are any less intense or disturbing. They’ve just adapted to handle their dreams differently.
It’s also possible that their depression has influenced the content of their nightmares, making them less focused on fear and more centered around other feelings, such as hopelessness or sadness.
3. You Are Going Through Personal Growth
A person’s reaction to their nightmares can also be influenced by personal growth.
As we age and gain more life experience, our understanding and interpretation of fear can change. What was once terrifying for a child may not have the same impact on an adult due to a better understanding of the world and how to handle fear. Our subconscious minds may no longer see threats in various scenarios that used to terrify us.
For instance, a child might be terrified of a nightmare about being lost, but an adult who’s experienced the same situation in real life knows they can ask for help or use their phone to find their way.
4. There Have Been Changes In Your Life’s Circumstances
Changes in life circumstances can also reduce the fear associated with nightmares. If the elements within the nightmare become a part of the individual’s daily life or if the individuals find themselves in a secure and comforting environment, the fear evoked by the nightmares may diminish.
For instance, if someone has moved from a volatile environment to a safer one, their nightmares of being chased or injured may not instill the same level of fear as before.
5. You’ve Been Going Through Unconscious Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is typically facilitated by a trained therapist, certain aspects of it can occur naturally without an individual being aware. This unintentional form of CBT usually transpires when an individual starts to challenge their own negative thought patterns or alters their behaviors in response to fear or stress.
For instance, a person might spontaneously start to question the validity of their irrational fears or negative beliefs – an integral part of the cognitive restructuring in CBT. Similarly, they may unknowingly implement behavioral changes, like facing their fear instead of avoiding it, which resembles the exposure therapy component of CBT. Or they may learn relaxation and mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing and meditation, which help them stay calm in the face of fear – even in their nightmares.
6. You’ve Become Desensitized To Horror
Another factor that may contribute to a decrease in fear associated with nightmares is desensitization over time. As individuals experience more of their worst fears or confront past traumas, they may gradually become accustomed to these unsettling scenarios. This can result in a decreased emotional reaction towards these dream events and ultimately lead to a reduction in fear and distress in related nightmares.
For instance, someone who has nightmares of pandemic situations would become desensitized to a pandemic after going through it. A nightmare involving widespread sickness would no longer have the same impact on them it used to have.
Moreover, constantly being exposed to horror movies or books could desensitize someone to the horror in their nightmares.
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