Dreams About Abuse and How I'm Using them to Recover

January 9, 2018 Emma-Marie Smith

Dreams about abuse play an active role in recovery from relationship abuse. As bad as dreams about abuse are, is there something positive to be said for them?

I still have dreams about abuse despite the abusive relationship ending years ago and the progress I've made in my recovery from verbal and psychological abuse. Sometimes I am trapped in a house with him, unable to escape. Other times the roles are reversed: I become the abuser, and he is the one begging for my love and respect. But then there are the nightmares -- the dreams so violent and terrifying that they take weeks to shake off. I'm sure these forays into my subconscious are simply my brain trying to process what happened, but the dreams about abuse always take me right back to the way I felt at the time of the relationship abuse, and sometimes they're just downright confusing.

Why Do Dreams About Abuse Reoccur in Recovery?

I'm sure there is a clearcut, psychological explanation for these dreams -- perhaps unresolved trauma, trauma suppression or even healthy expression of fears and emotions. But the strange thing is, besides writing these articles, I rarely think about my abusive relationship anymore. It's been almost five years since we broke up and I was forced to deal with the issues I'd carried around since childhood. I now have a loving partner, a job I am passionate about, and a toddler who requires all my love and attention, so what reason would I have to dwell on the past?

In my waking life, my abusive ex rarely comes into my mind unless I walk past a restaurant we used to eat in or hear a song that reminds me of him. I've been to therapy, I receive regular treatment for depression, and I consider myself a better, stronger, and more resilient person because of my experiences. I have, for want of a better phrase, put my past relationship to bed. However, my dreaming mind just can't seem to let it go.

Dreams About Abuse Provide a Safe Space to Recover

On the whole, I can deal with what my subconscious throws at me because I know that I have already overcome these situations and feelings in real life. Of course, I could live without the vivid nightmares, but even they give me insight and allow me to work through things I don't feel comfortable talking about. So are the abuse dreams really so bad?

In a sense, no. Dreams provide a safe space to explore our feelings without hurting ourselves or others. They allow us to uncover past traumas that we may have suppressed or forgotten about and face them head on, whether we want to or not. I can now accept that the dreams about abuse are my brain's way of saying, "Hey, remember that abusive relationship you were in? Yes, that did happen to you, and it's okay that you still feel sad and mixed up about it sometimes."

Using Dreams of Abuse as a Tool of Empowerment

Rather than wishing the dreams away or trying to analyze them, I've decided to turn to acceptance of these posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and -- dare I say it -- gratitude. It may sound hoky, but I now view these dreams as tools of empowerment, there to remind me how strong I am and what I've overcome.

I appreciate that this approach won't work for everyone and I know that nightmares can be unsettling for abuse victims. Trying to view dreams about abuse in a relationship in a positive light or even accept them for what they are might feel like too much for some, and that's okay. Personally, I have reached a place in my recovery where the dreams can't hurt me anymore, and I hope that with enough time, patience, and support, others can too.

It's important to note that disturbing dreams can often be a symptom of PTSD. If you have PTSD symptoms, you should contact your doctor or mental health professional for advice.

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2018, January 9). Dreams About Abuse and How I'm Using them to Recover, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Emma-Marie Smith

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