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Fear No More

It is estimated that 4% to 8% of the population experiences nightmares. However, of those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD), over 90% have recurrent nightmares, reliving the traumatic experience.

In a study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers reported they discovered a remarkably simple technique for lessening the impact of PTSD. It is a therapy known as guided imagery, where the PTSD sufferer is asked to recreate the traumatic incident in his mind, but in a "reconditioned" state. For example, let's say someone is suffering from nightmares after being viciously attacked. During therapy, he recreates the frightening experience, but with one difference: he imagines himself chasing his attackers with a baseball bat.

The study found that this guided-imagery technique does not only help to treat nightmares, but also has a therapeutic effect on the various daytime symptoms of PTSD. Part of the reason is that a good night's sleep has a profound effect on one's sense of well-being during the daytime hours. But it's not only that. The content of these "reconditioned" dreams, which give the subjects a feeling of power and control over their trauma, filters back up through the subconscious so that even during the day, the trauma is not as frightening.

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The basis of Chabad Chassidic philosophy is that we must train our minds to experience the emotions of love and fear of G-d. (Chabad is an acronym for Chochma, Binah and Daat, wisdom, understanding and knowledge.) Through intense contemplation into the greatness of G-d on the one hand, and His kindness towards us on the other hand, we can stimulate in our hearts feelings of awe and love for G-d. (The Tanya also offers a "short-cut" approach, which allows us to access our natural, innate love for G-d directly.) We learn to use the mind to control the heart.

The third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, sums up the chassidic approach in a simple aphorism: Think good and it will be good. In other words, if we can only learn to view our daily challenges and stresses in a positive light, we will find in ourselves the strength and tools to cope with them. 

The above discussion gives us a new way of understanding the prophecy of Redemption, as stated in Psalms: “When G-d will return the captives of Zion, we will have been like dreamers.” The coming of Moshiach will be, for us, like waking from a dream. This is not to say that our lives in exile had no reality. Rather, our perception of that reality will be transformed, so that in place of the nightmare that we experienced, we will see our accomplishments, and the courage and strength we showed over the course of the exile. Finally it will be revealed to us that all our suffering had a purpose, which will pay off in the time of Redemption.

 

 


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