Nightmares from Past Abuse?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My grandson’s mother suffers from nightmares, that seem real to her…Hallucinations? Can we help her? She is a 25 year old mother of one, she was sexually abused as and adolescent, and her father abandoned the family when she was about 11 years old, she is the oldest with 2 brothers…My son loves her very much they have a beautiful child together.

occasionally she wakes up in a fright punching, crying and believes that he has choked her to the point of passing out, she had an episode the other morning I’ve never seen anyone so pale, there were no marks to indicate anything was amiss (I am a retired in Law Enforcement Sgt.) I honestly believe she thinks this happened to her…this is just one episode. She is going to counseling for the childhood abuse, and does take medication things were very good for about a month with no nightmares/hallucinations. What if anything can me and my wife do to help? Thank you

A: What you are describing is common to people who have suffered terrible abuse. Her nightmares are a kind of flashback where she relives the trauma.

I’m very glad she is in therapy. With good treatment, she can work through the awful events of childhood and move on. What you can do is love her and support her. Ask her if you can join her in a session or two of her therapy to learn specific ways to help her. Because people are so individual in their stories, I can’t offer you anything more concrete but the therapist who has gotten to know her well certainly can.

You and her new family are the best “treatment” I can think of. You all offer her an alternative to what she experienced growing up. That in itself offers an important alternative story for her life.

I wish you all well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Jun 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Nightmares from Past Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/06/09/nightmares-from-past-abuse/