Nightmares, Flashbacks, Anger: Can I Ever Heal from Abortion?


Ask IPS: Advice from psychological experts, drawing on Catholic faith and modern psychology

Question: I had an abortion some years ago. While I’ve been to therapy and looked to Project Rachel* for help, with all of the media hype about Planned Parenthood I’ve been having nightmares, flashbacks, and I’m just angry all the time. Will I ever find healing?

Response (William McKenna, M.S.; Clinical Extern at the IPS Center for Psychological Services):

Let me first express my admiration for your courage in seeking mental health assistance after your abortion. It isn’t an easy, or simple, journey recovering from a very difficult experience. Indeed, I have always told my patients that they are some of the bravest people that I have ever met. What you may be unaware of is that you are suffering from trauma, which is why you are experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, and a great amount of anger. While many people think that only those exposed to warfare can experience PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), research has shown that there are a variety of experiences that can lead to people developing symptoms.

You mentioned the effects of recent media hype; these news stories are producing something called a trigger. A trigger can be a variety of things, persons, or events that remind us of a past experience, usually negative. Something within the media reporting is bringing your mind and body back to the experience of the abortion. This in turn is leading to your traumatic symptoms.

I would be lying if I told you that there was a magic formula for you to find healing from your trauma. What I can tell you is to consider your healing process with the idea that it will take time, courage, and a great amount of patience. Understanding what is triggering your symptoms and helping to cope with triggers is important. Continuing to rely on outside support through this time is essential. Therapy can focus on making you feel safe and should allow you to openly talk about and process this experience so that you can eventually make sense of the trauma and ultimately how it fits with your wider life narrative. And, above all, rest in the certainty that Christ can bring peace to your life, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

*Project Rachel is a Church-sponsored post-abortion healing ministry;
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William McKenna, M.S. is a Clinical Extern at the IPS Center for Psychological Services.

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