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Nightmare, Memory, Confusion of Being Sexually Abused

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When I was 14-17, I lived with a physically and verbally abusive step-father who constantly insinuated that I was gay. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself then. I remember a particular night, waking and feeling barely aware, as if I’d been drugged, and unable to move. I actually don’t know if this is, in fact, a memory or if it was a nightmare, but it was very realistic. I was in my room, in my bed, and every detail about the room is there. I distinctly remember seeing the hallway light and this man my mother was married to standing at the door. He comes into the room and forces oral sex on me. All I remember is gasping for air and being unable to move my arms. To this day, 18 years later, I’m not sure if this experience was just an awful nightmare or if it is a memory. During this time, I also began suffering from sleep apnea and have had trouble sleeping since then. My life has generally been stressful since those years for various reasons. For example, I learned last year that I have seizures in my sleep (in addition to the daytime ones that began 10 years ago). I’ve done pretty good at not letting myself feel like a victim, especially since I have confusion regarding the past. But I have always wondered if I was drugged and raped as a minor. And if this is why my life has been stressful, why I seem to lack self-confidence, why I developed epilepsy and sleep issues. I don’t know how to feel about it. Should I try to unlock any buried memories? Should I just shrug and bury the whole thing, move forward and all that? Will any of this help me better address the stresses I have? How important is it to resolve this? I am being treated for both the apnea and the epilepsy.

Nightmare, Memory, Confusion of Being Sexually Abused

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A.

It would be very uncommon, for an issue of the type that you have described, to cause sleep apnea and epilepsy. However, sleep problems are often accompanied by altered dream states. For instance, vivid dreams, feelings of paralysis, nightmares and what some would call lucid dreaming, are often the result of sleep disorders.

Were you sexually abused when you were 14 to 17 years old? There is no way to know. One can only speculate. Even hypnosis could not be trusted to provide certainty. False memories are associated with the hypnotic process. Even if your stepfather were to confess to the occurrence of this abuse, we could not be sure that he was telling the truth. Perhaps he would lie just to hurt you or to falsely take responsibility for your suffering and thus show him to be the powerful victor. It would be very difficult and perhaps impossible to know if the sexual abuse actually occurred or was only a vivid dream.

Finding the answer that you seek, would do nothing to help with your current problems. It would not help the sleep apnea, the epilepsy, the lack of self-confidence or your level of stress. Whether or not sexual abuse actually occurred is of no relevance to your treatment. Therapy will help you, just as significantly, in either case. I would expect your circumstances to make you a nearly ideal candidate for successful treatment and impressive results.

I hope you will consider my suggestions but, in any case, I wish you the very best. Thanks for writing and feel free to write again.

Dr. Kristina Randle

Nightmare, Memory, Confusion of Being Sexually Abused

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2019). Nightmare, Memory, Confusion of Being Sexually Abused. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2019/03/28/nightmare-memory-confusion-of-being-sexually-abused/
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Last updated: 28 Mar 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 28 Mar 2019
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