My friend Webster defines a nightmare as, “An evil spirit formerly thought to oppress people during sleep.” Having been victimized by these for many decades of my life I’m not sure I don’t agree. In reality I believe (and I’m not an expert on nightmares) that sometimes we relive past experiences in our dreams albeit in a different form. They take on a life of their own and torment us as if they were real. I’ve also had dreams about events that happened in my life later. I call these psychic nightmares, sometimes they start out pleasant and wander very quickly in to fearful events and only after they happen in real life do I remember the nightmare I had. Nightmares torment us about out past, about our future but most of the time they are vagaries that roam through our mind while we are asleep sometimes providing black entertainment, sometimes too confusing for us to even want to figure out what they mean. That doesn’t stop a million and one people (and authors) from knowing how to interpret them for you.
I’ve had many survivors of child sexual abuse tell me about suffering for years from nightmares. Interestingly enough their description is exactly the same as the ones I suffered from for so long. I’m lying on a bed and a steamroller comes over me crushing me to death. Each time I wake up screaming for help and shaking with fear. Usually it took me hours to calm down and realize it was a nightmare. They only ended with my father’s death. It wasn’t until I got into recovery that I was able to link the two.
The following information on nightmares suffered from PTSD is available from MedicineNet.com.
“Nightmares are dreams that are threatening and scary. Nearly everyone has had a nightmare from time to time. For trauma survivors, though, nightmares are a common problem. Along with flashbacks and unwanted memories, nightmares are one of the ways in which a trauma survivor may relive the trauma for months or years after the event.
How common are nightmares after trauma?
Among the general public, about 5% of people complain of nightmares. Those who have gone through a trauma, though, are more likely to have distressing nightmares after the event. This is true no matter what type of trauma it is.
Those trauma survivors who get PTSD are even more likely to complain of nightmares. Nightmares are one of the 17 symptoms of PTSD. For example, a study comparing Vietnam Veterans to civilians showed that 52% of combat Veterans with PTSD had nightmares fairly often. Only 3% of the civilians in the study reported that same level of nightmares.
Other research has found even higher rates of nightmares. Of those with PTSD, 71-96% may have nightmares. People who have other mental health problems, such as panic disorder, as well as PTSD are more likely to have nightmares than those with PTSD alone.
Not only are trauma survivors more likely to have nightmares, those who do may have them quite often. Some survivors may have nightmares several times a week.”
Whenever I’m asked if having nightmares could be proof of childhood sexual abuse suffered years earlier I am always cautious in the assent. This is only one possible by-product. If they also came from a patriarchal family where one of the parents was alcoholic and abusive and add to it many years of suffering from insomnia, suicide attempts, abusive relationships, early onset of health disorders and severe depression I would be inclined to agree. If you are in treatment with a therapist or some kind of recovery program be sure to mention it. It sheds more light on something that often stays in the dark for decades only to torment us with realities that seem too ghastly to contemplate. Anything that is unpleasant that is tucked away in our mind and causes us serious mental, emotional or physical health problems is always better brought out in to the light where you can deal with it openly.