Freddy Krueger, antagonist and star attraction of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, is the literal embodiment of a nightmare: A monstrous, razor-fingered child murderer, rummaging through the dream dimension, almost completely invulnerable, but capable of piercing through your delicate heart so that you die in the real world.
Needless to say, few people would welcome Freddy Krueger if he were to prance into one of their dreams — save for lucid dreamers, that is, since they claim they have the power to control their nighttime fantasies as if they were gods. So, for the sake of knowing what to do if Freddy Krueger were to ever appear in one of my dreams, I asked a bunch of lucid dreamers what they’d do if he came walking into one of theirs.
Let’s get weird!
Dr. Clare Johnson, past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, creator of Deep Lucid Dreaming and author of numerous books about lucid dreaming, including her forthcoming The Art of Lucid Dreaming: If I met Freddy Krueger in a lucid dream, I’d be startled, because horror-style nightmares are super rare for me. But I’d be inclined to take a deep breath and ask Freddy why he’s in my dream: Does he have a message for me? If he wants to destroy me, why’s that? Which part of my psyche does he represent? I might try sending him unconditional love, or giving him a gift. It’s wonderful to see the spontaneous changes that occur when we engage fearlessly and compassionately with scary dream-people. In such nightmares, often the simple act of relaxing and taking on an attitude of curiosity can result in amazing insights.
In my book Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming, I relate the story of an anxious and fearful woman who was always chased by nasty men in her dreams, until she learned about the potential of lucid dreaming to turn things around. The next time she found herself being chased by a giant man with glowing eyes, she realized that she was dreaming — and was, therefore, safe from harm. She stopped running and faced him. “Why are you chasing me?” she demanded. Instantly, the giant shrunk down to normal size and he looked utterly repentant. “But,” he stammered, “you need me for your fear!”
The woman realized she was the cause of her own fearful attitude toward life, and that on some unconscious level, she was actively feeding her fear. That nightmare changed her life; she became less anxious, and the nightmares never returned again.
The vital thing to remember is that dreams are thought-responsive environments: They react instantly to our unspoken thoughts, emotions, expectations and desires. So, if we feel frightened in a dream, it gets more frightening. If we take the briefest of moments to calm down, the fear factor drops and the dream becomes benign. Freddy Krueger may even become our new dream friend. When we harness the energy of our shadow selves, as represented by the threatening and seemingly dangerous people, animals or places we encounter in our dreams, we empower ourselves to have a happier dreamlife — and this empowerment carries over into our waking life, too.
Robert Waggoner, another past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, co-editor of the online magazine The Lucid Dreaming Experience and author of Lucid Dreaming — Gateway to the Inner Self: In a lucid dream, you realize that you’re dreaming. You literally know, “This is a dream!” I’ve been lucid dreaming since 1975, and I’ve logged more than 1,000 lucid dreams. All of that conscious experience in the alternate reality of the dreaming mind has helped me see the principled nature of the unconscious.
So if I suddenly saw Freddy Krueger in a dream, I’d realize, “Wait a second! Freddy Krueger is a product of Hollywood slasher films. This has to be a dream.” I might do a reality check, like pull my finger and watch it elongate — then I’d doubly know that I was dreaming.
In a lucid dream, you have the ability to decide consciously how to respond. So my first response would be an open-ended question to understand what I’m facing: “Freddy, what do you represent?” Incredibly, in a lucid dream, the dream figure will normally respond. Freddy might say, “Your fear of being stalked,” or “Your fear of being trapped.” At that moment, I’d “get it.” I’d have some understanding of what I’m interacting with in this lucid dream (and this might call forth some situation in real life, where I was being stalked or feeling trapped). From there, a lucid dreamer could ask more questions, or ask how to resolve that fear or issue.
Alternatively, you may suddenly see Freddy Krueger in a dream, aggressively coming at you with claws headed to rip out your heart. If you become lucidly aware, you’ll probably need to respond to all of this aggression. After decades of lucid dreaming, I learned this rule: Send the aggressive dream figure what it’s lacking. If an angry Rottweiler acts like it wants to kill you, send it thoughts of love, compassion and care. When you do this — when you send the dream figure what it’s lacking — it changes. Suddenly, the angry Rottweiler becomes smaller and smaller and turns into a friendly Dachshund (like we had when I was a little kid).
With Freddy ready to rip my heart out, I’d send him what he seems to be lacking: Peace, love and compassion. I’d send it from my heart, with empathy, and suddenly he’d change into something much less frightful, and much more loving — like a little kid, who needs a hug.
By seeing this process happen in the lucid dream, you realize an important lesson: The dream figure responds to your reactive thoughts and feelings, which shows that it’s a product of your mind. If you respond fearfully, then it becomes more powerful and scary. But if you respond thoughtfully with what it lacks, then it becomes more friendly and approachable. Now, it’s true that you can run from Freddy Krueger. But you know what? He (or the issue he represents) will return in a later dream, hoping that you can resolve it.
And yes, in a lucid dream, you can fight Freddy Krueger. You can shoot fireballs at him, have buildings fall on him and try to kill him. But what good is fighting Freddy Krueger? He’ll return in a later dream, in the hopes that you can resolve this issue.
Incredibly, if you send an aggressive dream figure complete acceptance, you’ll watch as it shrinks down and explodes into light energy, which returns to you. In dreams, you’re the “projector,” and the dream figures and objects are the projections of your mind. But when you accept them, their energy returns to you, their source.
Working on lucid dreams has clearly shown me that Carl Jung was right to suggest that, in some dreams, we meet “The Shadow,” or the denied, ignored, repressed aspects of the self. Normally, The Shadow is in a shadow’s position, which is behind us, because we refuse to look at it. But when we finally see The Shadow, we have a chance to resolve its energy. Lucid dreaming offers a key to understanding The Shadow within yourself — and resolving it to retrieve your lost energy.
Charlie Morley, lucid dreaming teacher and author of numerous lucid dreaming books, including Dreams of Awakening: Here are my options. Number one: Wake up. In a lucid dream, you can kind of wake yourself automatically. As anyone who’s had a nightmare and tried to wake themselves up will know, it can be tough, but eventually, you can do it and bust out of the nightmare. That’s option one. If you do that, that’s okay, but then the thing that Freddy Krueger represents is still there; still in your mind. That’s okay, but I wouldn’t advise it.
Number two: You get lucid in a dream with Freddy Krueger and you now know that it’s a dream, so because you know that you’re body’s safe and this is all just a three-dimensional virtual reality simulation of your own psychology, you know that Freddy Krueger isn’t real, so he can’t hurt you. Now you can just stay in the dream, knowing that Freddy Krueger isn’t real, and just kind of see what happens. You could maybe even dialogue with him and ask him what he represents. He might say, “I’m a childhood trauma,” or, “I’m your fear of your relationship with your father.” You can get cool insights if you ask the scary thing in the lucid dream what they represent.
The third option would be to get lucid, know that you’re safe, know that it’s all a three-dimensional projection of your mind, know that Freddy Krueger represents some sort of trauma, so then actually move toward Freddy Krueger and hug him. Just like I talked about in my TED Talk, literally embrace Freddy Krueger. You don’t need to know what he represents. You can just show him love through that symbolic kind of embrace, knowing that whatever he is, he’s some part of you that’s fucked up, because Freddy Krueger’s a fucked-up dude. So, he’s some part of you that’s traumatized, some part of you that’s violent, some part of you that’s pissed off.
Or, there’s another option, which is to get lucid in a dream where there’s not Freddy Krueger, and then intentionally call Freddy Krueger into the dream. Now, if you do that, you’re going to need to put your seatbelt on, because you’re literally calling into the dream the embodiment of whatever Freddy Krueger represents — probably some trauma, violence or aggression. But if you do that, and then you hug him, that’s like a fast-track. That’s like, as one therapist said, six years of therapy in one lucid dream, because you’re intentionally calling the traumatized aspect of yourself into the dream, and then embracing it with love, which can be really powerful.
There’s also a level above that, but I wouldn’t advise people do this — this is like an advanced Tibetan Buddhist thing. It would be that if you got lucid in a dream and saw Freddy Krueger, you’d allow Freddy Krueger to kill you, because you’d know that neither Freddy Krueger, the dream, yourself or anything truly exists. So to allow the dream to play out in this violent finale would be to know that the dream has non-existence, yourself has non-existence, Freddy Krueger has non-existence. That would be like a realization of the empty nature of the dream, which is kind of a high philosophical understanding of what the dream is.
So, yeah, those are the options.