“Can you help, I’m 20 and ever since I was 16 and watched Nightmare on Elm Street for my high school exams, I constantly think Freddie Krueger will come for me. There’s no pattern and thoughts just appear — I try to distract myself but I end up in one room of my house on my own with my son too scared to move.
Doctors won’t help; they just keep saying it will go with time, but it’s not going. Please help if you can — I can’t live any more days in fear.”
There are lions
The way your mind reacts to danger is primitive… that’s important to understand. So when you get immersed into a scary movie and imagine yourself as a victim of Freddie, your mind reacts in a way to protect you as if the danger was real — like if you saw a lion in real life. The more immersed into the movie you get, the more you suspend reality, the greater the response…
The initial response is often “fight or flight” which is a good state to save your life if you saw a lion… your body gets ready to run or fight. Intense danger could also cause you to become petrified — again, another reaction to save your life, because in nature, animals like lions react to movement, to something running away, so if you become petrified, this reaction in wild animals doesn’t happen and it can save your life.
As an aside, this happens to me if I climb too high, which is really a dysfunctional reaction because then I’m simply stuck up a cliff with no way to move! I’m just telling you that to show you that the way we react to fear is not always appropriate, it’s just an instinct, just primitive.
So, your initial fear is just primitive and if you clearly saw that “it was only a movie” and ignored your fear and your thoughts about it, it would go away in time, as your doctors said, and as is the case for most people who watch scary movies.
BUT, if you give the thoughts meaning and attention, keep imagining yourself as a victim, keep remembering the horror, then you make powerful thought habits that keep on triggering the primitive response in you. The horror will build and grow within you because we get really good at creating thoughts we repeat and give meaning to.
And the greatest meaning you can give is “I am in danger, my life is in danger.” Then, you will see the dangerous thing vividly in your experience and begin to associate with lots of other things to create triggers for the memory of the dangerous thing.
There are no lions
So to turn this around, you need to do the opposite of what you have been doing. For your mind to help you relax, you need to give it clear and consistent messages that the danger is gone.
You need to see the fear as not relevant any more… “There are no lions.” The picture left is the actor who played Freddie Kreuger in the original Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Just an actor, wearing make-up.
The movie is just a movie, not real, so have a think and get clear about that. “Just a movie, just an actor.” Now, every time a thought about it comes, recall this new clarity “Just a movie” and remove your attention, put your attention onto other things as quickly as possible.
So, your new “don’t care” attitude and your consistently removing attention will tell your mind “There are no lions, I am safe.”
BE CONSISTENT in ignoring any thought to do with this from now on. Every single time, ignore, remove attention. Don’t ponder it, hold it down, look for it, fight it, imagine it — NO attention.
Be clear and consistent… “There are no lions.”
If you get a fear flash, or you feel scared, remember “Just a movie,” and pay attention elsewhere. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s thoughts or feelings, the response from you is the same.
“Just a movie,” and remove attention, every single time.
And make sure you’re looking after yourself… enough sleep, good food and so-on, because when we’re under pressure in any way — tired, under-nourished and so-on, then our minds become more automatic and it gets harder to override the programming.
Stick with this new way consistently and look after your health, and these disturbing thoughts will die away gradually, coming less and less until they’re gone, they just don’t come anymore and you’re not even aware they’re not coming, they just aren’t there. That’s what we’re after… forgetting.