Vague Flashbacks

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Since very early in my life I have experienced intrusive sexual images that have been nearly impossible to rid myself of during some episodes. Recently I have reflected on how these thoughts seem quite like flashbacks. They are always involving the same person and are extremely real to me. Almost too real for someone supposedly having never experienced the things that were in these intrusive thoughts. After these episodes I never want to be touched and am very reclusive. I also have quite a phobia of being raped and find interactions with men extremely awkward. I have always found stories and images about rape and molesting extremely triggering. For instance, recently I watched a T.V. show where a girl talked about an incident when she was raped. After watching this the intrusive images came in floods and I felt suicidal because they were so bad. For days after that I did not want to be touched or be around people. I also have always had an unexplained fear that I am going to molest children even though I have no plans or desire to. I recently researched symptoms of repressed memories/ abuse and was surprised that child abuse can cause many issues I myself have struggled with in my life. These issues include eating disorders, self harm and anxiety/panic attacks. I also have low self esteem and a feeling of worthlessness. I have troubles with relationships and a fear of being left and abandoned. No one has ever seemed to been able to properly diagnose me with anything so these issues have gone unexplained. My question is if these symptoms might suggest that I was abused as a child and the intrusive thoughts are indeed flashbacks. They are, again, always of the same person and I shockingly little recollection of this person, seeing as they lived with my family for four years.

A. There is a good chance that your symptoms are indicative of past abuse. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might also be a factor. It would explain why you are experiencing flashbacks and why certain images trigger an intense emotional response.

Another possibility exists. You may have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It might account for the intrusive images and your unexplained fear of molesting children. Some individuals with OCD become obsessed with the idea that they may harm or kill someone. They don’t feel as though they can control themselves.

You would benefit from a thorough psychiatric evaluation. A mental health professional can gather an extensive psychosocial history and determine what might be wrong. Sometimes people exhibit symptoms of various disorders but don’t meet the criteria for any one disorder. A mental health evaluation could determine what disorder, if any, you may have. Choose a mental health professional who specializes in trauma.

Once your symptoms are under control, you may want to consider hypnosis. Hypnosis might help to uncover repressed memories. One must choose a qualified therapist especially because repressed memories might trigger an intense emotional response. Hypnosis must be done with extreme care and should only be considered when you are emotionally ready. Now might not be the best time since you are still investigating what might be wrong but it is a treatment option to consider at a later date. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle
Mental Health & Criminal Justice Blog

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Aug 2013

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2013). Vague Flashbacks. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/08/07/vague-flashbacks/