Guest Author - Kelli Deister
I believe that it is normal for a survivor of child abuse to have recurring nightmares. A therapist once told me that when a person has nightmares it is because their subconscience is trying to process abuse that has been otherwise hidden or repressed. When a child has been abused, there are many reasons why they do not tell someone else about it. Many, I believe, fear getting in further trouble by their abuser. They may also fear the rejection or lack of support from their loved ones. Lastly, they may fear that they have been bad and that their supposed bad behavior is the reason for their getting hurt.
Imagine being a child that has had to grow up in a very dysfunctional home. One example would be children with parents that are alcoholics. Imagine being a child that must look after mom or dad in ways such as having to put the lids on the bottles that are close by and covering them up with a blanket. Another example would be when the alcoholic parent is awake. They might place many demands on the child and if the child cannot live up to their standards, they might then be harmed and abused by their parent.
Perhaps their parents are neglectful and the child has been forced to grow up very quickly. In many abusive homes, the older children are expected to care for and essentially parent their younger brothers and sisters. The older children must function at a very high level. For example, the older siblings must lay aside their own feelings of fear, confusion, and anger, in order to care for their younger siblings.
As an abused child grows up, they begin to question many things that occur in their home, as well as attempting to process what they and their siblings have had to endure. However, many cannot even attempt to process, they must simply survive from day to day. The older siblings must help the younger ones to do what is expected in their home. From day to day, they may not know what type of mood their abusive parent is in. They may not know how they are to respond at home, until they gauge the initial mood when they return home from school. The older the children get, the more secrets they carry with them.
This is where nightmares come in. Abused children have nightmares due to the abuse they have endured. They grow up with those nightmares and continue to keep everything a secret. As they enter adulthood, they still have that baggage of prior abuse with them. As an adult, they want more than anything to be able to release the secrets. However, due to being raised in an abusive home, they do not trust anyone. They are scared that whoever they tell will judge them or think they are in the wrong.
The nightmares come often for those that have been abused as a child. They are terrifying in nature and leave the victim of abuse unsure of what to do next. They want to heal. Yet, healing can only come when one shares their previous abuse. It can leave the adult survivor of childhood abuse with the notion that no one will care or believe them anyway. The nightmares are a result, I believe, of years of abuse. They come when one is trying to process what they went through. They are definitely terrifying, as well as confusing. The child loves their parents, yet they hate what their parent did to them. How then, can a survivor of child abuse work towards stopping the nightmares and releasing the secrets? One of the most important things that a survivor can do is to seek therapy. Through the process of therapy, the survivor can trust their therapist and learn how to begin to unravel those years of abuse and the feelings that come with it.
I encourage all survivors of child abuse to seek therapy. I also encourage them to begin their healing process. I believe that the further one goes into therapy, the higher the chance of stopping the nightmares. As a survivor, one can become whole again. One’s past does not have to continually haunt them.