Coping with Flashbacks
Flashbacks are memories of past traumas. They may take the form of pictures, sounds, smells, body sensations, feelings, or the lack of them (numbness).
Many times there is no actual visual or auditory memory with flashbacks. One may have a sense of panic, of being trapped, or a feeling of powerlessness with no memory stimulating it. These experiences can also happen in dreams.
During the initial crisis, the survivor had to insulate her/himself from the emotional and physical horrors of the trauma. In order to survive, that insulated part of the self remained isolated, unable to express the feelings and thoughts of that time. It is as though the survivor put that part of her/his self into a time capsule, which later surfaces and comes out as a flashback, feeling just as intense in the present as it did during the crisis.
When that part comes out, the survivor is experiencing the past as if it were happening today. The intense feelings and body sensations occurring are frightening because the feelings/sensations are not related to the reality of the present and many times seem to come from nowhere.
The survivor may begin to think she/he is crazy and is afraid of telling anyone of these experiences. The survivor may feel out of control and at the mercy of her/his experiences.
Flashbacks are unsettling and may feel overwhelming because the survivor becomes so caught up in the trauma that she/he forgets about the safety and security of the present moment.
What Can I Do To Help During a Flashback?
1. Tell yourself that you are having a flashback
2. Remind yourself that the worst is over. The feelings and sensations you are experiencing are memories of the past. The actual event has already occurred and you survived. Now it is the time to let out the terror, rage, hurt, and/or panic. Now is the time to honor your experience.