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Dreams of Sexual Assault: Fighting Back When You Feel Powerless

Understand how to connect your dream to the waking situation it is reflecting.

Key points

  • Sexual assault in a dream may not reflect an actual waking life event.
  • Focusing on the feelings in a dream helps connect us to the internal conversation concerning a current life situation.
  • A nightmare may be there to help push us to taking action.

Sexual assault is a traumatic experience, whether in life or in dreams. The trauma in the dream may mirror an actual event of assault or harassment in life, and it can bring the feelings associated with the trauma to light. Further, a dream may trigger those feelings to encourage the dreamer to take back their power in a waking-life situation where they feel powerless.

Lana was passing through a difficult time and her dreams of sexual assault encapsulated her emotions of vulnerability, shame, and powerlessness. But they also gave her the impetus to push back and start to take control of the situations that triggered these emotions.

The Dream

“I have had this dream series every night for the past five days,” she reported. “They are like episodes. The first two I dreamed that a close friend was assaulting me, sexually. He and my boyfriend are super close, so I have to talk to him often, and just thinking about him makes me sick. The last three have been the aftermath of the assault.”

The Discussion

I began by asking about the main character in the dream. “Do you normally like the guy who’s your boyfriend’s friend?”

Lana answered, “My boyfriend’s friends are a huge part of our relationship, I am really cool with them all. Except that one. I mean he's cool, but he's always given me the creeps.”

I said, “Why do you think that particular friend gives you the creeps? Did something specifically ever happen with him?”

She responded, “This friend, he used to make comments about my body and used to tell me that I would make him feel a certain way in a certain place. He would say those things knowing I was in a relationship with his best friend.

“The last time he behaved like that, I asked him to stop. My boyfriend even told him to calm down.”

Looking at the feeling of the dream, I asked, “Did something happen in this past week that made you feel taken advantage of or like you lost your choice about something?”

Lana connected. “I've been feeling like that a lot recently. My dad died a few months back, and I always liked his side of the family, but my mom didn't. She's been putting a lot of pressure on me to not see them. My mom is making me feel like I have no choice."

“Did you tell her that cutting off your dad’s family is not something you’re prepared to do?”

Lana admitted, “No. I didn’t. I don’t feel like I have much choice.”

I commented, “Feeling powerless, or like you have no choice, can explain your using rape as a metaphor. Are you fighting back in the dreams?”

“In the aftermath I am,” Lana answered. “But in the actual rape I wasn't.”

“So, your dreams are providing both a mirror of your current feelings with your mom, and the solution,” I offered. “While you don’t fight back at first, you do in the aftermath. Do you think these dreams give you the push you need to speak?”

Lana said, “I see where you’re going. Do you think if I speak up the dream will go away?”

I offered, “In my experience, dreams create a balance. If we are leaning too far in a waking situation, the dream will help push the dreamer in the other direction—in this case, a story about rape to help you push back.”

“So, there's nothing really wrong with the friend?” Lana asked.

I responded, “Well, it’s about him, too! You say his comments have made you feel pushed, uncomfortable, and even creepy with his lack of respect for your space. His appearance in your dream links you to the same invasive kind of feeling your mom’s behaviour has triggered in you.”

“Yes, it does ... Now, does the scenery have anything to do with the dream? Because we are back in my high school locker room showers.”

I responded, “If this was my dream, my high school shower room reminds me of getting naked and exposed in front of my friends. I remember feeling self-conscious of my body and exposed.”

Lana connected with the feelings again. “Wow, I have been feeling super self-conscious lately. I've been feeling a little down about my weight and how my body looks. It's summertime now, and everyone is wearing bathing suits.”

I suggested, “You are reflecting on different situations simultaneously. Welcome to the world of dreaming! You’ll want to bring these feelings about your body outside, to discuss during the daylight, with a friend you trust or a counsellor.”

What We Can Learn

At first glance, the different pieces of this discussion seem disconnected. There is the sexual assault from Lana’s boyfriend’s friend, who really has harassed her; her feeling of powerlessness with her mom; the fact that her dad recently passed away; and finally, the exposure and vulnerability of a high school locker room shower.

Powerlessness. Vulnerability. Shame. Self-consciousness. Lana is at a difficult moment, experiencing these different but related feelings, and the conflict with her mother is bringing them to the fore. Her distress may be aggravated by her isolation from her father’s family, with whom she wants to come together in this time of grief.

Her silence with her mother intensifies all the emotions. The dream reveals the situation—in the rape where she doesn’t fight back. And it reveals the solution—in the subsequent dreams, where she does fight back. She has already taken steps to take control of these feelings with the harassing “friend.” Now she can follow the same promptings with her mother, and by talking through her feelings over body image with a trusted friend.

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