I have nightmares and flashbacks about a past relationship

I was the one who ended it, and I'm so glad I did. It was the best decision I made in my life. But how do I stop the nightmares and flashbacks? It is creating a wall in my current relationship.

Ending an abusive relationship is often very difficult, especially if you were very close initially without the presence of abuse.  If the abuse included verbal or psychological condemnation, you will often have a negative self-image that you may "know" is not true but often feels very true. This negative self-image and fear of being abused again can activate protections in you that were needed at the time you were abused but now create a "wall" in your current relationship.  The fact that you were able to end the relationship and know that you made the right decision is a great acknowledgement that you have solid internal resources to draw upon in healing from the abuse.  Good for you!

Nightmares and flashbacks are a strong sign of memories, including associated beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations, that have remained unprocessed and therefore unhealed.  There are likely reminders (called triggers) of the past abuse that are being activated in your current relationship that are allowing these unhealed memories to come to the surface and affect both your sleep and your waking experiences.  This is certainly not something you are purposefully doing but is the result of what happened to you.  However, you likely feel as if you are not in control.    

The goal is protect your current relationship, evaluate your self-image for flaws in beliefs and feelings, and begin working on healing your memories of abuse. In many cases, my use of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) would be helpful in reducing the emotional strength of your abuse memories, reduce or eliminate triggers, bring healing, and allow you to enjoy being in the present with your current relationship.  I would recommend discussing with your current partner your harmful past experiences, your decision to pursue counseling, and your strong desire to be healthy for your current relationship.  With a good support network in place, healing is very possible.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Frank Theus
Frank Theus
MA, LPC, NCC, CSAT

  Thanks for sharing and asking for help.

  You mention that you're the one who ended the relationship in the past, yet are haunted by nightmares and flashbacks. Your comments here lead me to wonder that you may have experienced some form of trauma in this past relationship; and, if so, I would encourage you to additionally consider the whole of your story-line as it relates to trauma. Doing so will serve you well for your own peace-of-mind especially so in your current relationship.

  The best way to do all of this in a supportive fashion is to work with an experienced therapist who specializes in trauma-focused care. The therapist may, if indicated, wish to to incorporate EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which "...is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.

  Best wishes.

Resource for Your Consideration: http://www.emdr.com/

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Janeanna Galli
Janeanna Galli
Bringing light to life's dark places
It sounds like you have not had the opportunity to process through the trauma you have endured. It would help if you have the opportunity to speak with someone on a regular basis until the symptoms of your trauma have subsided.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
I tailor my therapeutic approach to each client's strengths and goals

One thing you could try to do on your own is to focus on the partner who is in front of you now. If you are able to connect with them via touch or focusing on their tone of voice, that may help to center you. Tried to stay grounded and/or mindful. That is being aware of your position in the room, your feet on the floor, your hands in your lap, or your hips in the chair. Being mindful of the environment you are currently (for example, noticing what is around you) may be helpful. Try to use all your senses. For example, you could focus on hearing your husband's voice, feeling his hand in yours, being wrapped in your favorite blanket, seeing a comforting photo, using a comforting sense or candle, or tasting an apple that reminds you of times when you have enjoyed yourself in the kitchen.

It also sounds like you are having a very specific reaction that could very well be related to trauma. I would recommend that you talk with a local mental health professional.

Remember, just because it was the best decision of your life, that doesn't mean that what happened to you or in your presence automatically leaves you when you leave the relationship. Our brain is actually hardwired to remember things that have caused us pain or great emotional distress as a way of protecting us from them happening again. This is a very natural response and the reactions you have as far as nightmares and flashbacks are the past coming forward and your brain trying to make sense of it all.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal, as if you want to hurt or kill yourself or someone else, or are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), call 911, or proceed to your local emergency room.
Laurie Ward
Laurie Ward
Counselor

EMDR therapy has shown great results for work with PTSD symptoms which are similar to what you described. If you are unable to find a local EMDR specialist then I would suggest some meditation and journaling in addition to talk therapy to process your trauma. Your anxiety response centers int he brain are in hyper vigilance mode and retraining to turn down that response could be helpful for you. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Candice Conroy, MA
Candice Conroy, MA
Find relief from anxiety, depression, and trauma.

 A lot of times when you're experiencing nightmares and flashbacks, it can be a sign that you haven't fully processed what happened. Our brains tend to replay scenes in our life that we wish had turned out differently or  in an effort to desensitize us to it.  If you are comfortable with it, you may want to consider sharing what you're experiencing with your current partner so that he is able to understand what's going on. Also, you may want to consider  what parts of your past relationship you blame yourself for. This can be a difficult task to undertake on your own, and the help of the therapist may be necessary to sort through the memories in a safe way.  Typically however, flashbacks and nightmares are a sign that the trauma  of what you went through needs to be addressed.  it's a great thing that you were able to have the courage to get out of that relationship and you should be proud of yourself for that.  You may want to  begin therapy to address these traumatic memories and help you to sort through any conflicting emotions you have about it (i.e.  Feeling like it's your fault for not recognizing the abuse or getting out of the relationship sooner, blaming yourself for being  " The kind of person who gets into an abusive relationship ",  or believing that you somehow caused your ex to abuse you in some way.)  These types of beliefs and feelings can prevent us from moving past traumatic experiences and a trained therapist can certainly help you sort through them. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

From what you describe about yourself, I agree with you that ending your former relationship was a very wise decision.

The nightmares and flashbacks show that you were deeply affected emotionally and on the foundations of your basic nature.

The way for these to stop is by the slow process of realizing how badly injured and frightened you were of your former partner.

Once you've stabilized yourself by accepting the tremendous harshness that was part of the former relationship, then the nightmares and flashbacks will disappear gradually usually, maybe all at once.

There is a possibility too that your former relationship connected with being emotionally ignored, abandoned, treated harshly during your time of growing up years.

Since generally people choose partners who relate similarly to the ways in which they felt treated by parents, it is possible that you had been badly treated while growing up and weren't aware of this until going through this terrible relationship.

Congratulations on ending your relationship!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
David Alpert
David Alpert
Enlightened Care

Your challenge is called "co-dependency." People seek approval from others in an obsessive way when they are failing to truly accept themselves. I encourage you to truly love yourself and know that you have every right to every sensation, emotion, thought, and inspiration that you may have. Best of luck on your journey.

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