People that are in an abusive domestic household are very likely to develop insomnia.
Need to Feel Safe in Order to Sleep
There is a tremendous lack of feeling safe. In order to sleep, we have to feel comfortable and safe. From living in a long term situation of anxiety and fear, our brains are conditioned to stay on “alert mode” 24 hours a day. Once we get our of our abusive household, we still do not feel safe to sleep.
We are aware that we are vulnerable when we are asleep. We are vulnerable to physical attack. We cannot see someone coming towards us. We also cannot protect our home, our possessions, our cash and credit cards, etc while we are sleeping.
Need to Protect Others
For those people with children in the house, there was also a fear of any harm coming to the children, when we might not be looking, When we lived in the abusive household, we were afraid to not be vigilant and always had to be watching to protect the children or others in the household.
Now we are in a safe house, but the feeling that the children are not safe still carries with us. We still have trouble sleeping in a deep sleep, because we feel that we have to be the look-out person.
How You Had to Adjust Your Sleep When You Were Living in Abuse
People in these situations are forced by real safety issues to adjust their sleep routine. They may sleep in the living room with the lights on. They may create some kind of makeshift blockade for the person to be slowed down by, on the way to the bed.
I used to hide my purse in a different place each night before I went to sleep. I also used to pile things in front of the couch I was sleeping on to create a barrier. I always slept with the light on.
These behaviors become a routine that makes us feel safer. It is not surprising that the routine will be carried on, even when we have left the danger behind us.
Fear of Property Being Stolen
To this day, I sleep with my purse right next to the bed. I cannot sleep if it is in the kitchen, even if I am alone in the house. It causes me too much anxiety to sleep, even though I rationally know that no one is going to steel my money.
The feeling that my money could be stolen and my personal items thrown out all over the floor, is an extremely unsafe feeling.
I spent an entire winter in New Jersey with no heat once, because of financial abuse of a domestic partner. He thought his beer and cigarettes were more important than filling up the oil for the heat.
These behaviors are not something you should feel ashamed of or stupid about. Of course you are an intelligent person who knows that the abuse is in the past.
You know that these behaviors are no longer needed. Or are they? If you still need these routines in order to feel safe to go to sleep, I would say go ahead and leave the lights on, sleep on the couch or whatever. It is more important that you sleep.
You went through an extreme trauma and your brain needs to heal. Your brain is trying to protect itself from more trauma. If forcing yourself to put the purse in the kitchen is going to traumatize you, don’t do it.
If you still have the feeling of being unsafe when you sleep, try to think of ways that you might feel safer. I don’t care how stupid someone else might think it is.
The therapist might tell you to force yourself not to keep the same rituals you had when you were being abused. It really depends. It is the lesser of the evils.
If the behavior is not hurting anyone or yourself then it is ok to continue it for as long as you need to. The need for sleep is far more important than forcing yourself out of safety rituals before your brain is ready to handle it.
You Need to Sleep
Sleep deprivation is dangerous to you. It is far more important that you can sleep than almost anything else, including what some therapist tells you.
Insomnia causes severe sleep deprivation. Your sleep cycle is disturbed. You will eventually not be safe to drive. Your job will be in harm’s way because you will be in danger of oversleeping and cannot focus at work.
Give yourself a break. First things first. Your brain needs to heal from the trauma. You need sleep to heal.
Sleep first, feel better, feel safe, then worry about having odd behaviors.
Find ways you can feel safe. Keep someone on the phone with an open line while you are going to sleep, sleep with teddy bears, sleep on the couch or in your child’s room with them. Buy extra locks for the doors.
Talk to someone at bed time about how you feel about sleeping. Write your feelings down on paper or on wordpress. Sleep with your clothes on if you need to. God knows , I slept with all of my clothes on for months after I got out of my abuse house.
I slept in everything but my shoes. Keep in mind, I was sleeping all alone in my room .
There was no one dangerous or abusive living with me anymore. But my need to feel covered was a strong need of my brain in order to feel safe enough to sleep.
These things can’t be rushed. Your brain has the job of protecting you by alerting you of danger. When the brain becomes traumatized by being on alert too long, it gets stuck.
It can’t just shut off. It still feels the need to protect you by letting you know you might be in danger. Let it slowly get used to the idea that you are ok now.
Trying to force yourself out of trauma will cause you more trauma. Be kind to yourself. Do the best you can to make yourself comfortable and safe, so you can sleep.
If you still can’t sleep at night then try to get some sleep during the day. Sleep deprivation will inhibit the brain’s ability to heal from the trauma.
Take naps during the day, if you cannot sleep enough at night. It is best to sleep the full 8 or 9 hours at once, but it is better to get enough sleep somewhere during the 24 hours. If you do not sleep well one night, try to catch up the next day, even with naps. Any extra sleep will be welcome by your weary brain and body.
Do not feel guilty for taking naps or doing whatever it takes to heal your body and your brain.
Take care of yourself.
Difficulty sleeping is not uncommon after domestic abuse. Victims have trouble feeling safe to sleep during the relationship because we are more vulnerable when we sleep.
The feeling of being vulnerable and unsafe during sleep carries over and follows you. It is hard for your brain to process that you are now in a different situation and are no longer threatened because you are sleeping.
I will explore this topic of insomnia in the near future. If you have insomnia and feel it is related to domestic abuse, feel free to leave a comment.
Cover me with roses
Cover me with pearls
Turn all of my light off
Let me lie and curl
Cover me with blankets
Cover me with lace
I “breath in” dark and silence
Dream of elegance and grace
Cover me with solitude
Make the demands all stop
I can’t meet them today
I am all covered
Toe to top
Cover me with blankets
Cover me with pearls
I’m not the one they think
I am a tired little girl
Cover me with nothing
Cover me with all
I am not really here
You will not catch me when I fall
Cover me and leave me
Take sensation all away
The mental torment also
I’ll not come out to play
Cover me with roses
Cover me with pearls
Leave me to my solitude
I am not of the world
Once you have been living in abuse for awhile, it is hard to relate to yourself again. Our relationship with ourselves has become disrupted and damaged. Just like starting over again, if you were to rekindle a love affair, you must start over again to rekindle your relationship with yourself.
You used to know yourself better. Things like what you want, what you like and what you feel are harder to access now for a good reason. If you were under the tyranny of a narcissist, they took over. The only person who mattered was them.
You were trained to only focus on what they wanted. You lost yourself in the process. I remember the first few weeks after I left the abuser. I had trouble even knowing how to make simple choices. Now I could eat what I wanted to for dinner. I could order pizza from the pizza place that he never allowed me to order from. It felt wrong to do it, even though he wasn’t there.
I could use the coffee maker in my own kitchen and make my own coffee. When he had lived there, the coffee maker was off limits for anyone to even touch but him. God forbid, I moved it an inch to the left while I was cleaning the table. All hell would break loose.
So, there I was standing there, thinking I might like some coffee and feeling afraid to touch the coffee maker. I had to force myself to touch it once or twice. Then I moved it to the other side of the table. I waited and nothing terrible happened. He was gone and I could move the coffee maker anywhere I wanted to.
The I did the deed ! I made my own coffee. I not only made coffee, but I made it the way I liked it ! This was a very freeing sensation throughout my entire body ! The I began to move around in the kitchen and started putting things back onto the places I used to have them, before he lived there.
This act of making coffee and putting things where I wanted them to be, was the beginning of my getting back in touch with myself again. You know what I found out? I could trust myself to do all of those things.
The world did not come to an end, the way he had acted like it would, when I put the silverware in the dish drainer face down, rather than face up. I hated the knives pointing up, with the sharp part where it could scratch me, when I was washing the rest of the dishes, but he always made me put them up.
I began to try out my own ideas and it turned out that they were all okay. I was beginning to learn to trust my own choices and my abilities to organize and care for my own things, in my own personal way. It felt so weird for a few days, but especially the first day.
Over time I started to get myself back. I could eat when i felt like it and if I wanted regular bread with my spaghetti instead of french bread, it was perfectly okay. Over the next couple of months, little by little, I began to remember how I liked to do things.
Sometimes I would freeze and just stand there, because I could not remember how to find out what I wanted to do. Being told what and how to do things for so long, I was not in the habit of thinking “what do I want to do?” or “how do I want to do that?” or “where do I want that to be” etc.
I did not realize how many choices during the course of a day, that my abuser had taken away from me, by threats and fear manipulation. There is such an element of control to these abusive relationships that we lose touch with ourselves and how to trust ourselves.
I still sometimes start to wash off the top of the coffee maker, just the way he always insisted it be washed. I still feel funny when the coffee maker gets moved to a new location. These are all things that I had to learn to take care of myself, and these are just the little things.
The big things, like life decisions were another step. We become used to being told no, all the time. The first time we are allowed to just go for a drive without having to know where we want to go or when we will be back, is a really big thing. So decisions like taking a college class , changing jobs or even taking a Saturday morning yoga class are all things we have to learn that we can do.
We should have been “allowed” to make those choices all along, but we were not allowed to do things without prior approval. The feeling of coming home from work and not worrying all the way home about what I will be yelled at about, was amazing. I could just come home and relax.
We do not realize how many things we missed out on, until we are out from under the clutches of the abuser. Now we can learn to trust ourselves again. We are capable of knowing what we want to do and then making a plan of how to do it. We can take classes, watch TV when we want to and go to bed when we want to. It was so much better going to bed all alone, than going to bed with an angry person.
Little by little we get our self esteem back. We are ok and we can do things. The task of getting back in touch with how we feel and what we want, takes time. We can learn to know ourselves again.
You matter and your thoughts and ideas matter. You can have opinions that are yours. You do not have to pretend to go along with him anymore about anything.
If you are still living in abuse, then you are still subject to his threats and you do not have the freedom to state your own opinions. Imagine what it would be like to be in love with someone who let you have your own opinions, even if they were different from their own.
Imagine someone treating you with respect and dignity, even when you did not have the same thoughts and ideas as each other. That is what love is. What love is not is…having to agree with them even when you disagree, having to do everything the way the person wants it done, having no freedom to have coffee with your best friend on the spur of the moment.
Life is there for us to taste, touch, feel, see, and experience. We have the right to experience life the way we want to.
How can I feel okay after the relationship with an abusive person ends? Why do I feel so lonely and miss them?
You will not feel ok, at the beginning. It is very painful and I empathize with the extreme emotional trauma of the breakup. Due to the tendency of a narcissist to become blended with you , when you break up, it is hard to function without them. They will do much better than you and recover faster.
The illusion is that they are very needy of you and that you are their angel and savior. It seems like they should have an emotional crisis and be in the same pain you are after the breakup, but it is usually much more painful for the victim.
You actually loved them and felt real caring for them. You probably still worry if they will be able to survive without you. But they are good at getting people to the things they want and need them to do. They will manipulate them with flattery, and a seemingly humble deferring to their expertise.
They will then appear as a helpless, victimized person who is desperate for the other person’s help. They will get help and be able to find people to be there for them. Believe me.
You can let that worry go, and that will help you to start with. You do not have to feel guilty about breaking up.
The other reason you feel pain, is that the narcissist was involved in every aspect of your life and in every part of your day. There is no thing you can do, that does not make you feel like you should be doing it with them. You feel like you should be consulting with them, checking in with them, getting approval from them.
You temporarily lost your individual identity to this relationship. It will take time to get it back and learn to make your own choices without feeling guilty. Remember, in healthy relationships, people do not have to get permission for everything they do or include the partner in everything they do all day.
There was a feeling that you thought was love from them, but it was their need to be in control over you and over everything. They scolded you if you did not call them bout your plans and also if you did not schedule your day around them.
You become used to scheduling your day around the other person. It feels like you are working as a team to d that, but the question is,”How many times did they ever, work their schedule around you? How many times did they ever put your needs before their own?”
In contrast, “How many times did you rearrange things for them because they told you it was an emergency? How many times did you sacrifice and put your needs before theirs??”
Part of you knew that this was not right. You knew that if they really loved you, then they would put your needs as a priority sometimes, especially when you were suffering for some reason. But what happened every time you needed them to help you? They suddenly had a crisis that was much more important than yours. Something suddenly came up that was a life and death circumstance with their job and they had to tell you “NO” this time.
How many times did you ever tell them no? What happened when you did try to tell them you could not do something?
How many times did they tell you “ok no problem” when you asked for something? When they did do something for you, how many times did they remind you about it? Did they use it as an excuse not to do anything for you, for a long time after that?
On the other hand, how many favors would you do for them in a row? When you tried to say “N0” to the 20th favor they asked, because you were overloaded, how did they respond? Did they make you feel like a bad partner? Did they mention the one favor they did for you? Did they seem to completely forget all of the other things you have ever done for them, like they did not exist?
Yeah, been there, done that.
It is going to hurt. But it will get less over time. The more of your identity you get back, the better. The more you become comfortable with making your choices and running your own schedule again, the better.