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.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you can NEVER please them. They created the illusion for you at the beginning of your relationship that they were very pleased with you. They made you feel like you were a wonderful partner for them. This illusion was just that…an illusion.
The narcissist will set down the standards of your interactions with them, at the beginning of the relationship. You will attempt to comply with them, because they have convinced you that this will benefit you somehow.
They want you to believe that the rules were a mutual agreement between the two of you. They want you to think that the rules evolved, as a natural process of the growing relationship.
The rules about constant contact, personal interaction and how to solve (or ignore) disagreements were made by both of you…..or were they?
No matter how much effort you put into following the rules of the relationship, you cannot follow them. Why? Because the narcissist will change the rules when they feel like it. They will not always tell you that there are different behaviors required from you, or tasks that they want done.
The rules will suddenly change and you will break them, because you are still trying to be a good partner and follow the rules you think are correct. When you do not do what the narcissist want you to do, you will be punished for you misbehavior.
One example of how the rules can change is the clingy aspect of the new relationship. At the beginning of your relationship with the narcissist, they were clingy and needy. They told you that they wanted to be in constant communication with you.
They called and texted you all the time. They answered your emails. they answered when you called them or called you back right away.
They told you that they wanted to be supportive of you. They made you feel like they thought about you livingly all the time and really missed you when they had to be away from you.
This made you feel special and wanted. You felt that the narcissist had always had bad partners who had abused them in the past, but now they had you. You were the one partner that they needed all along.
You were made to feel safe in the relationship. You were made to feel admired and valued by the narcissist. They told you often. “I am so glad to hear the sound of your voice. Seeing you is the best part of my day.”
Then one day, you were not able to pick up the phone, right away. You were working, shopping or on the other line. Maybe you were in the shower. You were not aware the narcissist was calling you or there was no possible way for you to answer the call right away.
When you called them 2 hours later, they were furious. They questioned the very nature of the relationship itself. They thought they could trust you and now they felt betrayed.
They will overblow the situation of your not calling them back right away, into a major relationship issue.
Then their true colors begin to peek through the charming exterior. They become cold to you and make you feel emotionally shut out.
This “emotional shut out” is cruel punishment. It is a tool of manipulation to control you. They have already set you up to need them to be there for you. They have isolated you from your other emotional support, by demanding all of your time.
Once you have lost contact with your friends and family, the narcissist becomes your sole source of emotional comfort. This is done deliberately and it is calculated into their plan. Once they have you in a position of being emotionally dependent on them, they can use it against you.
The narcissist ensures that you will have to turn to them for emotional support. They allow you no other place to turn. Then when you do not follow “the rules” they can restrict you from their emotional support. They manipulate you by making you feel like you have to “be good” in order to have emotional love and approval.
They may have hinted that they might have to break up with you, because they need to be with someone who is reliable. They made you feel selfish and inadequate.
So, you comply with the newly set down rules they make which are probably as follows.
- Check your phone frequently for calls in your call history.
- Do not go anywhere without your cell phone glued to you.
- Frequently check your text messages and your email. (the narcissist may communicate by a means that they do not usually use, just to check that you paying attention )
- Let the narcissist know if you are going to unavailable for any period of time and exactly (to the minute) how long that time period will last.
- Notify them immediately upon becoming available again. ( Don’t take a shower, stop for coffee. Do not do anything in between that specific thing that you have to do, and notifying the narcissist of its completion)
You can follow these rules for a while and they will be the rules for however long the narcissist wants them to be.
But the rules you follow become different that the ones that they have to follow. You will begin to notice that they do not call you back for hours and hours, because they are talking to someone else on the phone. They expect you to be available at 8pm, each night so they can call you. But one night they do not call you until midnight.
The rules become confusing to follow. You are made to wait for them, but they will not tolerate waiting for you. You have to revolve your schedule around them, even to the point of finding out from them when the best time is for you to take a shower. Your personal care should not interfere with their needs.
So, you sit there by the phone and they do not call. Hours go by and you call a few times. You worry that something may have happened to them.
But if you try to talk them about this, they will not communicate in any logical way with you. They can be angry when you make them wait, but when it is you that has to wait, there is no discussion.
Your feelings of worry, loneliness and fear about what is happening in the relationship are simply “NOT OPEN FOR DISCUSSION.”
The narcissist rule of “Not Open for Discussion” is a whole post in itself. We will get to that one soon.
There is no two-way communication at all. They are allowed to insist on your being there for them, but they are not there for you. You long for the clingy narcissist that you had the relationship with in the beginning. They seem not to need you anymore, in the way they originally said they did.
There may even be short-term rule that they make and do not inform you about. They always have an agenda to be met.
By expecting you to comply with an agenda that is in their head, they set you up to fail. By expecting you to do things that you have no idea they want, they set up to fail. They love for you to fail, because they can use this in order to watch you suffer.
It must have been your fault that you were not aware that they needed help with something. They may even say to you “Next time check with me if I need anything, before you just start talking about your day.”
There is no way to keep track of what the rules are, or when they change. The narcissist may give you the schedule for the next 2 hours and then tell you they are disappointed in you because you did not remember that the other thing needed to be done also.
They will say “I count on you! I count on you to make sure my needs are met. I count on you to make me feel safe. What am I supposed to do, if you do not help me?”
There is always a need of theirs that is greater than the needs that you have. Their problems are more urgent. Their feelings are “more sensitive” than yours are. Thier past was more painful. Their struggles are greater.
There is always an emergency or something that is critical for you to do. Things have to done the “right way” and you are supposed to know what that is, even if they do not tell you.
YOU CANNOT WIN! DO NOT PLAY THE NARCISSIST GAME WITH THEM !
They are far better at this game than you are. They have years of experience of learning about how to control and manipulate other people. They are better than the average psychiatrists at predicting human behavior, modifying human behavior and studying people.
They will study your mind and then take it apart. Don’t play. Get away !
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.