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Is She Asking the Wrong Question and Exactly How Scary Is This Husband?

08 Jul

Dear Belleruth,

I read about getting rid of recurring nightmares on your website. Here is my question:

My husband has been having a repeating nightmare about me being hurt by a robed attacker with a knife. I've been researching what we can do to help him.

This has been going on for four months.  He's becoming aggressive and can't focus on much.  He broke his nose in a drunken stupor last week.  
 
I've sat on the phone with him for hours, reassuring him that everything is okay, that my angels are looking after the both of us and that I’m fine, but it is taking longer and longer to calm him down.  
 
I'm clinically depressed most of the time now, and I try to hide it but that upsets him too.  I tell him I’m getting better. 

I feel responsible, and I am. I love him, and I need to find a way to help him.

Please, email if you have anything, proven or not, that I may be able to do in order to help get rid of this recurring nightmare.   

Sarah


Dear Sarah,

The protocol described in the link you refer to on the site (http://www.belleruthnaparstek.com/ask-belleruth/getting-rid-of-those-pesky-repeating-nightmares.html/) has the recipe for getting rid of repeating nightmares. There are therapists who know how to guide you in this technique if you don't want to try it yourself - it's called IRT: Imagery Rehearsal Therapy or, alternatively, Nightmare Reprocessing.

But it sounds like you're dealing with a lot of heavy and volatile issues, and these nightmares may be just the tip of the iceberg.  You say you've been really depressed.  He's been getting "aggressive" and has injured himself.  Things sound pretty serious.

At the very least, I would suggest that you're feeling excessively responsible for him.  The bottom line is that he's the only one who can be responsible for his behavior, just as you must be for yours.  If he chooses to go ballistic over the fact that you’re depressed, that's his choice.  Another choice might be to try and be supportive and helpful to you when you’re feeling so lousy. 

Knowing who's responsible for what - that's an important boundary in a relationship. But it seems like that boundary has gotten pretty blurred between the two of you.  You may need a good couples’ therapist to help you get things back on track and sort out what problem belongs to whom.

Additionally, you may be giving him so much attention and tender loving care with these daily sessions of reassurance, that you're inadvertently rewarding him for being a mess and helping him to stay that way!  

And by the way, you're getting distracted from whatever causing you to feel depressed in the first place.  You were the one who was upset, remember?  A good therapist could help you sort that out too.

But my ears reluctantly perked up when you said (a) he was dreaming about you getting knifed and (b) he was getting more aggressive. Does he own a firearm?  Is he getting more aggressive with you, too? Because, if he is, you need to assess your situation for a pattern of abuse.
 
Abuse often looks like this - the perpetrator says: "It's your fault I feel terrible.  If it weren't for you (fill in the blank – you being down in the dumps, having a crying kid, not picking up my shirts at the cleaners, parting your hair on the wrong side of your head - whatever the 'offense'…), I would be fine.  You're making me get violent. See what you just made me do??"  

No matter what, it becomes all about him and what he needs.  And his misery and anger is all your fault.

So, if the shoe fits here, Sarah, I have to tell you, it only gets worse.  You're already walking on eggshells with this guy, but it could escalate to the point where you could get seriously hurt.  He may be telling you with his ‘dream’ that you are in fact in danger… from him.

If this describes your husband, forget the couples' therapist.  Instead, seek help for yourself - go to a counselor, a trustworthy friend who can keep her mouth shut, your family, a women's shelter, a domestic violence center - somewhere you can get help finding a safe, smart, careful way to get away from this man. And then get away from him.

You’ll have to stop feeling guilty and responsible for him in order to do this.  That won’t be easy – you seem geared to take it all on.  That’s why you’ll need support.

But I'm not kidding.  Please pay attention and look after yourself. I’m concerned for you.  You need to start looking after yourself.  Not for your husband… YOU.

Wishing you the best,
Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award