As a mother of three who has had first-hand experience of trauma and abuse in a supposedly stable relationship, I’ve had many dreams that expressed the terror of my life back then. One particular dream is especially traumatizing because it closely replayed the events of my actual life.
In the dream, my husband is becoming abusive and hits our son. My son’s eyes are swelling and I am in tears fearing for the safety of my children and myself. My husband then attempts to throw my son out of the window (he never actually did this in real life though he was physically violent on occasion) and I am absolutely terrified. As the dream reaches its conclusion, I think to myself I must escape from this relationship but I have to find the right moment.
This dream was just one of many nightmares I had and the dark themes were always the same with my husband as the recurring figure of terror with my need to protect my children and escape. Later on in life, I analysed and explored my dreams and I realized these dreams, as terrifying as they were, also helped me to cope with my day-to-day problems. Sometimes I would awake feeling refreshed from intense dreams and I later discovered that the mind and body possibly engage a natural self-defence mechanism where dreams are part of a beneficial cycle of healing and preparation for on-going threat. The trouble with being in an abusive relationship is that you see no end to the torment, there is not date where the trauma will stop, so my dreams had to step up to heal my body and prepare myself for the threats of the next day. This is reflective of Threat Simulation Theory of Dreams as proposed by dream researcher Antti Renvosuo, whereby dreams also serve a biological function of survival.
This theory and other major theories of dreams are explored in a new case study book called Dreaming and Trauma Recovery – . It is a fascinating read and explores the link between trauma and dreams.