Dreams of Sexual Abuse

Photo by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino - http://flic.kr/p/chMH1 - For illustration only

Reader’s Question

A couple of years back, I had dreams for two consecutive nights of being molested as a child. All this while, I have ignored the dreams, but I must say that whenever I think about it I feel disturbed. However, I had managed to keep it from everyone all this while — even my clinical psychologist whom I used to work with for 13 months.

My new therapist hinted that we should do psychoanalytic “digging” to uncover my disordered eating issues. When I heard that, I went into a panic frenzy because I was afraid of what would come out. And then this dream came back to haunt me for the first time. I began to wonder if it has contributed to my general absence of interest with sexual relationships, and the constant fear of being followed by men or that something would happen.

In the dream, I was about two years of age. I was carried by a man (whose identity I couldn’t recall, but I have a slight feeling that he was someone who might have played a part in taking care of me), sat on a bench or raised surface, had my private parts touched, and then let go. I remember a sense of terror in that little girl (me).

Of course, I have absolutely no memory of what happened. I mustered enough courage to ask my mum if she knew anything about abuse — but she said no. Now, I can’t get the dream out of my head…even though I no longer dream about it.

Is it possible that the abuse took place, or can it be just a random nightmare? Or can it signify something else — like another form of abuse?

Psychologist’s Reply

Some dreams do have meaning, although in most cases the content of the dream does not equal waking realities. Other dreams, as far as anyone can tell, are totally random. This is especially the case with fever dreams, or with some medications. So yes, it is possible that your dream could be like a memory fragment, it could signify something else entirely, or it could be a random nightmare. It also could have been triggered by something you read in a book or saw on the news.

Some of the content of dreams is what Freud labeled “day residue,” literally, material left over from the day. It might be something you haven’t finished with emotionally, like an argument with a friend, or it could be random stuff like what you had for dinner reappearing in a dinner in your dreams. Other aspects of your dreams can represent wishes or fears — for example, anxiety about performance at work can lead to one of those naked-at-school dreams. And who has not dreamed of flying?

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched
(Please read our important explanation below.)

So there’s not one simple answer to what your dream might mean. The only way to figure it out is going to be to analyze it in therapy. In the meantime, it is important to avoid jumping to conclusions. I am sure that you can think of other dreams you have had about things that you know for a fact never happened to you: that is the nature of dreaming. Plus, while people with histories of child sexual abuse (CSA) often develop problems like sexual issues and eating disorders, so do people without CSA in their pasts. There are also many other reasons for getting anxious at the thought of psychoanalysis, including fear of really getting to know yourself. Many people do not expect to like the self they will uncover in analysis, and so avoid it. However, the opposite is usually true: while you might not like some aspects of your personality that you uncover, the norm is that you will learn compassion for yourself and find many things that you do like.

Whatever is behind the current difficulties you are having, you cannot resolve it as long as it remains hidden from yourself. I’d say that if you like and trust your therapist, you should give it a try. If you tell her about your fears, she can help you handle them.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

Ask the Psychologist provides direct access to qualified clinical psychologists ready to answer your questions. It is overseen by the same international advisory board of distinguished academic faculty and mental health professionals — with decades of clinical and research experience in the US, UK and Europe — that delivers CounsellingResource.com, providing peer-reviewed mental health information you can trust. Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. CounsellingResource.com is accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Copyright © 2021.