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Dreams, Sexual Abuse and Repression

Often when I give an interpretation I will elude to the possibility of repression of some experience within the dreamer's past. Although I can not say for sure what that repression is about, or even if it is a real possibility, often the symbolic language is so forceful that it is in fact the case. Many times when a childhhod home or experience is a part of a dream it is because of some real waking life experience during childhood. The symbolic language may be something the dreamer is aware of or it may be unconsciously repressed for one reason or another. Often the symbology in the dream of abuse includes Freudian language of poles, holes, caves, something that is metaphor for sexual appendages or experiences. Of course not all symbology of such sorts are sexually motivated. But they do require some thought to the possibilities.

I want to share an article of child abuse that is now in the news that reflects such repression. And it also shows how debilitating it can be when the life evolves because of these past experiences. Divorce, suicide, feelings of inadequances are the result of not letting these experiences out, repressing them in the unconscious.

The positive thing that psychologists have discovered is that when these experiences are finally remembered and revealed, a healing begins. This is where dreams can be of great importance. The abused person who is in theraphy but does not reveal unconscious past experiences can not be helped as they should be. By using dreams to look into the unconscious the past experiences can be realized by the dreamer and the therapist and the road to recovery can begin. By using the psychology of Carl Jung we can see into the dream and discover such possible repressed experiences.

The article appears in today's {Oct. 16} L A Times.
Abuse Victims Still Suffer Decades Later.

Your comments welcomed.


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Re: Dreams, Sexual Abuse and Repression

Jennifer - the second thread...Thanks - K.

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Re: Dreams, Sexual Abuse and Repression

Here are other resources and data that may help us better understand how repression of childhood abuse can be realized through our dreams. And although these repressed aspects can be real there is that possibility of false memories.

Repression, Memory, and Abuse
From Approaches to Psychology

Imagine a situation: An adult seeks therapy because of distress about personal relationships. In the course of treatment, the individual comes to recall traumatic experiences from childhood--in particular, of being sexually abused by a family member. Recalling these experiences seems to produce therapeutic benefit--but also leads the individual to seek criminal prosecution of their presumed tormentor. The incidents seem to have happened more than twenty years previously, and there is no corroborating evidence. What should the individual do? What should society (in the form of the legal system) do?

From a psychoanalytic perspective, this situation would not be considered unusual: in essence, the therapy has led to remembering traumatic events which were repressed. The concept of repression is fundamental to Freud's theory, since it provides the basic explanation of how thoughts and experiences end up in the unconscious. Freud encountered such reports many times in his clinical practice--though he ultimately concluded that most such reports represented fantasies, not real experiences. As noted in the text, both his original interpretation (that many adult problems relate to childhood traumas, including abuse) and his subsequent reassessment (that most such reports are fantasies) have attracted controversy. Today, given increased awareness of sexual abuse, many mental health professionals tend to support Freud's original view, that most reports represent repressed memories.

While our society has become more sensitive to abuse of children, the attempt to seek justice through the criminal law, rather than simply therapeutic release, has made the issue more controversial. Although circumstances sometimes lead to independent evidence to indicate the repressed memories are true, the situation is more problematical in instances where there is no corroborating evidence, but simply therapeutic reports of experiences decades earlier. Not surprisingly, individuals who are accused of such crimes tend to vigorously defend against the charges, and the concern arises as to whether the events really happened or not. (Recall Freud's doubts.). In some cases, the defendant will draw upon expert testimony by cognitive psychologists like Elizabeth Loftus, who notes that recall can be distorted and--at least in the laboratory--people can be induced to recall events that never happened. (See text, and Cognitive Approach.) Thus, critics have argued that at least some reports of repressed memories of abuse represent fantasies misinterpreted by inept therapists.

In the end, the issue involves both scientific questions about the nature of memory (represssion vs. reconstruction) and social questions about the justice system (burden of proof vs. false accusations). As the links below discuss, there is no absolute answer--some reports are doubtless true, but some may well be distorted or false, and there is no simple way to determine which is which. Indeed, the nature of memory makes it unlikely that we can find a technique to assess uncorroborated reports of abuse which will fully satisfy the needs of the justice system. As a result, the controversy is unlikely to disappear in the forseeable future.
read more from this article

From Fredrickson, R., Ph.D. (1992), Repressed Memories

Few survivors experience spontaneous recall, especially if they have no awareness of the abuse ever happening....Dreams, imagery, feelings, and physical symptoms must be painstakingly faced and pieced together into a meaningful whole that the survivor struggles to accept as reality.

Currently, seven major methods of memory retrieval are being used for retrieving memories (definitions follow of Imagistic work, Journal writing, Body work, Hypnosis, Feelings work, and Art therapy with reference to chapters containing detailed descriptions).



Ritual abuse survivors often have nightmares with ritual symbols or satanic overtones. Dreams of blood, sacrifice, torture, dismemberment, or other grisly themes may indicate repressed memories of ritual abuse. Nightmares about Satan, the devil, chanting, menacing robed figures, cannibalism, or other satanic symbols should be carefully assessed in terms of ritual cult abuse.


These are dreams with a set of symbols that point to the existence of a buried memory. The dream world acknowledges the abuse obliquely instead of directly, through symbolic representations of the forgotten abuse. Working with the symbols provides access to the associated repressed memory. In addition to the symbols already mentioned in the section on nightmares, secrets, closed or locked doors, mysterious passageways, or anything stored or hidden are frequent access symbols. The appearance of a child in a dream, particularly one who cannot communicate or whom you are trying to protect, is another common access symbol. Water, especially water that frightens you, can be an access symbol in dreams, often symbolizing sexual abuse in a bathing situation. Snakes or other phallic symbols are often references to abuse involving someone's penis. Sometimes the access symbol your unconscious selects as a focus is idiosyncratic to your abuse history. The symbol itself does not alert you, but the intensity of the dream or the repetition of the symbol in several dreams is a red flag. Mona, for example, was a survivor who often dreamed about chickens. Her "chicken dreams" were not nightmares, but she felt strongly that their meaning was important. When she finally did imagistic work using the chickens in one dream as a focal point, Mona discovered she had been abused by an uncle during a family gathering to butcher chickens. Once she retrieved this memory, her "chicken dream" stopped.


Journal writing is the most effective way to recover memories for some survivors, and it has a valuable place in the memory process for most others. Your journal operates as a twenty-four-hour therapist. It is always "on call" when a memory fragment emerges or your energy guides you toward working on a dream or image. You can turn to your journal as an avenue to your unconscious any hour of the day or night. ... As a technique, journal writing is similar to imagistic work, substituting writing for words. ...Journal writing utilizes acting-out memory. A focal point can be an access symbol from a dream, an image from a memory fragment, a body sensation, or simply the felt sense that an abusive memory is trying to surface.

HYPNOSIS, p. 148

Hypnosis is a structured process of relaxation designed to produce a state of dissociation. This induced state of dissociation facilitates your ability to get in touch with unconscious parts of yourself, such as feelings, awareness, or memories. While in the trance state, you can tap into your imagistic memory and retrieve repressed memories of abuse.


After you have undergone a form of trance induction, the hypnotherapist will use some method of directed memory work....While three possible approaches are described below, there are thousands of equally valid approaches. ... Age regression is the most commonly used method of retrieving painful childhood memories with hypnosis. After trance induction, it is suggested that you are getting younger and younger. ... Imagistic work can be done in a trance state. After trance induction, an image, dream fragment, or some other form of memory fragment is used as a focal point.


Your hypnotherapist will also use suggestion to help you with your repressed memories. A trance state opens a direct link to the unconscious, and suggestions can be given that reduce or remove the unconscious blocks to memory. Suggestions that promote your healing and emotional well-being can also be given, as well as suggestions to deepen your trance state during the next session of hypnosis.

RETURN, p. 151

Hypnosis is very similar to imagistic work. Imagistic work is, in actuality, hypnosis without the trance induction. Imagistic work is the preferred method of memory recovery if you are not a good hypnotic subject, if you do not have access to a qualified hypnotherapist in your community, or if you have unusual fears about being hypnotized.

Other Resources



Age & Gender & Location {Required}: 56

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Dreams, Sexual Abuse and Repression

Thanks Gerard - bringing this information forward is really important


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Re: Dreams, Sexual Abuse and Repression

The article on abuse of altar boys was overwhelming. There is a book on abuse in the Mormon church written by a woman named Beck: Leaving the Saints. I havent read the book, just the review and that was a few years back, but have saved the review because the author's conviction moved me. She says in part: "I see childhood trauma as a gateway either to heaven or hell...Actually, it's both: in Dante's Divine comedy, you abandon all hope, go through the center of hell, and then you get to heaven--but its the same path...Having a story that divides you from the human community, and not being allowed to tell it, is solitary confinement. I won't live there."

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