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elaina28's avatar

How can I help my girlfriend with her possible night terrors/nightmares? (NSFW)

Asked by elaina28 (110points) December 16th, 2011

Okay, well I’m 18, and my girlfriend Melanie is 19 (and yes, we’re lesbians. If you don’t like that, please don’t answer.) Her and I were friends for about a year and a half, and we started dating about 6 months ago. However,because we were really close friends before we started going out,I know her really well,and I know that I’m crazy in love with this girl. She’s beautiful and adorable,and sweet and quirky and so kind and understanding. She’s so much more than I could ever ask for. She’s the strongest person I know. She’s been cancer-free for five years, now, and I admire the strength she’s had even since she was a little girl to get through that. You can just see how much her family loves her, because they came so close to losing her during that time, and she appreciates every little thing in life, because she says she’s just happy to be alive. About four months ago, she also opened up to me and told me about her ex girlfriend, Jess, who was very nice and everything, but almost right after the first time that her and Melanie got intimate at all, she started putting Melanie down.

She verbally abused her, and told her that she was fat all the time. Melanie is very small. She’s only 5’ and she’s VERY fit; she dances and works out and eats extremely healthy. She just happens to have very curvy hips and thighs on the larger side (not chubby, at all.) She told me that Jess started hitting her and physically abusing her. She says she stayed with Jess because she had convinced Melanie that she was “annoying” and a “loser” and that no one else would “put up with her.” Luckily, she realized that the abuse was getting out of control, and got the strength to leave her. However, now I see the lasting effects that the relationship had on Melanie. She always seems very confident around friends and all, but once her clothes come off, she gets extremely self-conscious. I mean, she still initiates intimacy a lot, but she hides her thighs and doesn’t like the attention to be on them or her hips. I tell her all the time that her curves and her thighs are ridiculously sexy to me (and it’s true, she’s so sexy to me), but she still hides them. Also, sometimes, she’ll cuddle up next to me on the couch, and I’ll shift or move my arm to put it around her, and she’ll flinch and move away from me a bit until I tell her “Mel, it’s fine, I was just moving my arm.” She’s just so fragile and self-conscious, even though she puts on an excellent act of confidence around everyone else.

Well, we spend a lot of nights together, either me sleeping at her house or vice versa. I love sleeping with her (I mean in a non-sexual way… although I enjoy that, too. Haha) because she’s sweet and she’ll cuddle up to me all night. However, lately, I think she’s been having terrible nightmares or night terrors or something, because she’ll wake me up sometimes, unintentionally or otherwise, and she’ll be sweating and shaking and mumbling or crying about things that I don’t understand. Whenever this happens, I’ll spend some time talking to her calmly, until she relaxes a bit, but she clings to me the rest of the night. A couple of nights ago, Melanie and I slept at our friend Naima’s house, and Melanie woke me up crying, and she had scratched her face with her nails in her sleep, and I helped her clean herself up and everything, but she never tells me what she’s having nightmares about. I’ve asked a couple of times, but she just says “Oh, nothing, I’m fine.” I don’t want to pry, but I’m really worried that something is seriously wrong or that she’s going to hurt herself in her sleep. It’s to the point where, when I’m with her, I set my alarm for every three hours all night to make sure she’s alright. What could be bothering her this much? Is it something to do with her past? What can I do to help her? It’s breaking my heart seeing her like this and I want to help her…

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7 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

She should go to a therapist and talk through whatever is worrying her or making her feel bad, eventually the nightmares will go away.

FutureMemory's avatar

I want to read more.

tranquilsea's avatar

I went through a period of time when nightmares haunted me. I would wake up screaming and scare the crap out of my hubby.

Therapy, therapy and more therapy got me through the issues that caused the nightmares.

SmashTheState's avatar

There’s a huge difference between nightmares and night terrors. I suffered from night terrors as a child, and I would wake up screaming, covered in sweat, and trembling. I could not be calmed or consoled. Fortunately, night terrors fade with age, and adults almost never experience them. Nightmares can be unpleasant, but they don’t have the same physiological effects as night terrors. The reason this difference is important is if these are genuine night terrors, then it’s almost a certainty that they will fade on their own. Nightmares, on the other hand, can last a lifetime.

Assuming that these are nightmares and not night terrors, the reason we experience nightmares is because we’re forced, in our dreams, to confront unconscious material from which we are protected in our waking life by the power of denial and repression. I have nothing against denial and repression, I think they’re wonderful, and can allow an otherwise damaged or broken person to live a life of relative sanity. However, if one is experiencing regular nightmares, chances are that there is a large bolus of emotional ugliness which is trying to vomit itself up from the darkness of the unconscious in order to be dealt with.

From your description of your friend, she sounds quite repressed. And the material she’s trying to suppress is either too large or too important to be hidden away. The only way these nightmares will stop is when she chooses to confront whatever emotionally-charged neurosis is clawing its way up her brainstem. There are many ways of doing this, from psychoanalysis to drug therapy, but in my experience the fastest, most cathartic, and most efficient way to deal with it is to confront the material in the dream itself. As a regular lucid dreamer, I can tell you that the power of suggestion has a very, very strong effect on dreaming. It is likely that all that will be necessary for her to confront whatever is creating the terror in her dreams is for you to talk it out and have her spoken agreement that it’s for the best for her to stop running, turn, and face down whatever the monster is, no matter how terrifying it seems.

Fortunately, once the monster is confronted, it usually transforms into something less threatening, and one discovers that it only wanted to be heard. A word of warning, if she is extremely repressed, she may not be able to confront the monster on her own. In that case, she may need to make contact with a “spirit guide” in her dreams. Of course, it’s not really a spirit, it’s just a portion of her own subconscious processes, but it is capable of personifying in a dream and assisting the dreamer in identifying and dealing with material which would otherwise be too difficult to confront. My own spirit guide, for example, is the Anima, the personification of my own female nature. Because I have difficulty dealing with emotional material, she often appears in my dreams (most usually in the form of Christina Applegate who is, apparently, the ideal womanly form to my unconscious mind) and acts as interpreter and guide, and occasionally as mediator when there is an otherwise intractible conflict between portions of my nature.

RedmannX5's avatar

Yes I would agree with everyone thus far, the best way of getting past emotional troubles, no matter how severe they are, is therapy. You can first try and talk to her yourself and see if she is willing to speak about her nightmares with you. She will most likely be very resistant, since repression appears to have been her main defense mechanism all these years. You would need to approach the topic strongly, yet be very gentle if she starts getting uncomfortable (since a strong, dominant person was the cause of her emotional distress in the first place).

If I were you I would suggest to her that she start therapy as soon as she can, because you can attempt to help her yourself, but unless you are well versed in psychology and therapy, it might just be better for her to see a professional. Especially if she is very resistant when speaking about this topic, I’ve always found that it helps to see a therapist since it gives the person a sense of trust; a sense that the therapist knows exactly how to help him/her.

wundayatta's avatar

I think therapy would be very helpful. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could be diagnosed with PTSD, either. She was terrorized by her former girl“friend”. I wonder if there is other terror in her background, as well.

I am intrigued by @SmashTheState‘s idea of confronting the terror in the dream, using lucid dreaming practices. Learning to control dreams is a useful skill, in general. Learning to use dream time to manipulate the imagery of your own mind in a conscious way seems like it should be effective.

I would think she would need a good trainer in order to learn how to take over her dreams and make them go the way she wants them to. Maybe a therapist of the right sort can also help her become a lucid dreamer. This is not something I’d want to have to learn on my own, even though I had some natural talent as a lucid dreamer myself. I never followed up on it—it was more a game for me than anything else.

But in theory, if you can take the images in your dreams, and turn them around so that you are in power (and of course, it’s her head, so she is in power), then it seems like a good way to banish whatever demons she sees there—demons that are probably stand-ins for her past lover, if they don’t actually wear her face straight out.

If I were you, I would educate myself about PTSD and PTSD treatments, and I would also look into lucid dreaming and maybe find a group that meets to discuss lucid dreaming. And other than that, keep loving her and telling her, over and over, that she is beautiful and you love her thighs and everything else about her that you love.

KevinBradley's avatar

Can she remember if anything has triggered these, perhaps or a story she may have read or should have happened with her. I think she should try watching something funny or reading a lighthearted storybook before bedtime.

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