Was This a Flashback?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

It has been about a months time, where things have been going lower and lower and lower in terms of my mood. Soon enough it got to these recent 2 days where I was all of a sudden giggling, then crying, and then I would get so angry, then I would be just completely in confusion. I do not have any personality disorders that I know of. I was physically hurt (I dont like “abused”) by my father from the age of 4-12. I was sexually abused by someone else from age 12-14. My mother triggers me sometimes because she can get upset and hit me. But in no way, as severe as my father could. I dont think I can describe in detail without getting upset, I cannot handle details, I am sorry. But it consisted of sometimes predictable and often unpredictable or uncalled for beatings. Today, I was on the “edge” not knowing how to feel, upset, happy, angry all at the same time. During the night, something reminded me of my fathers fist racing at me, and all of a sudden my upper body completely jerked foward. My torso just contorted itself continuously. I swear I felt his hand wrapping around my arm, I kept shuddering and no one was doing anything to me. I was completely alone in my room.Please dont think I am crazy. I started crying and I cried in rhythm with how many “hits” I was literally feeeling. I literally was crawling on the floor from myself. I have never had such an episode. Afterwards when I calmed down a bit, but my back felt so sensitive, like if I just put the tip of my finger near it it would immediately jerk. My muscles felt so tingly and sore. NOTHING had happened, and I felt like I just got beat up so bad. The pain was so fresh, and raw. I had made an appointment a couple of days ago to see a therapist for the first time (before this happened) Because things are getting worse. But she cannot see me until 2 weeks from now, and I dont know how to deal with this. I am sitting here and my back is still in pain in the spots where he would have beaten me. Im really scared, I thought maybe I was possessed. Please help me understand what this is? and in the meantime, perhaps what can I do to stop it? or relieve it? How can I deal with the anxiety of waiting 2 weeks? Please, Im sorry this is so many questions.

A. Those experiences must have been frightening and painful. I can state, with relative confidence, that you are not “possessed.” I also do not believe that you are “crazy.” What you likely experienced was a flashback. You may have felt “possessed” or “crazy” because it was the first time you had such an experience. A flashback essentially is a re-experiencing of a traumatic event. During a flashback, an individual may literally feel as though the traumatic experience is happening. In a flashback, a person may lose awareness of what is going on around them. Flashbacks are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am not certain if you have PTSD but if you would like to read more about it, you can click here. On the left side of that link, there is a list of many other resources related to PTSD that you might want to explore.

In the meantime, experts believe that learning what triggers flashbacks is an important step to preventing them. It would also be helpful to learn grounding techniques to manage a flashback when one occurs. These skills help to “ground” you in reality. If you would like to read more about how to identify triggers, ways to prevent a flashback and how to handle one when it occurs, please click this link. You could also do an Internet search using the key terms and phrases such as “dealing with flashback” or “flashbacks,” among others.

It is best to learn and practice these techniques in conjunction with therapy. It is encouraging that you will be attending treatment. When you meet with your therapist, be sure to ask him or her whether they have had specialized training in treating trauma and abuse survivors. If given the choice or opportunity, it would be wise to choose a therapist who specializes in the treatment of trauma. Psychology Today is a website where you can type in your zip code and search for a therapist in your area. The website allows you to read descriptions of therapists’ specialties. I wish you well. Thank you for writing.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Was This a Flashback?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/21/was-this-a-flashback/