About Flashbacks

Those who don’t have flashbacks usually have no idea what a flashback truly is.  They sometimes think those of us who have them are exaggerating or being dramatic about something we remembered, & have little patience for us because of our “drama queen” ways.

People who think like this need to understand something.  Flashbacks aren’t the result of someone being overly dramatic.  They also aren’t simple memories or even repressed memories.  They are much different.  They’re intense & complicated.

Flashbacks aren’t as simple remembering a traumatic event.  All of your senses kick in & you see, hear, smell, taste & feel the same things you felt when the event originally happened to you.  It literally feels as if you’re reliving the traumatic event, even though logically you know you aren’t.  It can be very hard to tell the difference between reality & the flashback.

If you’re very lucky, when a flashback happens, you still maintain enough composure to remember to ground yourself somehow.  Touching something with an extreme texture, such as burlap for example, can help.  Or, smelling something with a very strong scent like lavender also can help.  The trick is to override your confused senses with something real in order to get them to focus on something other than the flashback.  Grounding yourself like this can be quite effective in helping you to get through the flashback.  Even so, remembering what to do in the midst of a flashback is something else entirely.  It’s incredibly hard to have focus on anything when your mind & body are trying to convince you that this horrible memory isn’t just a memory, but it’s happening to you all over again.

As if all of this isn’t quite enough, once the flashback is over, you’re drained both mentally & physically to the point of exhaustion.  I have described it as feeling like I was hit by a huge truck.  The anxiety of it tenses your muscles greatly.  When it’s over, those muscles can ache badly for a while.  Your heart races during the flashback & it takes time for it to slow back down once the flashback dissipates.  Chances are very good your stomach will be upset & you’ll have a nasty headache for a while as well.

In addition to the physical side of flashbacks, there is also the mental ones.  Flashbacks are utterly depressing.  It’s so unpleasant remembering traumatic events under any circumstances, but it’s even worse when you feel as if you just relived it.  They also can make you feel ashamed for not being healed from the trauma by now, embarrassed if it happened in front of another person or other people, & they take away your hope of having a normal life without flashbacks.

They also make you incredibly anxious because you wonder when is the next one going to strike?  Will it be just like this one or will it involve another traumatic event?  What if it happens when I’m driving?  What if it’s worse?  Is it possible to get stuck in the flashback & never come out of it?

If you’re one of those folks who never has experienced a flashback, I’m telling you, count your blessings!  Thank God for this!

If you know someone who has flashbacks though, I hope you will remember this information & treat your loved one accordingly. Remember that this person isn’t seeking attention or being overly dramatic.  They are dealing with a very difficult & painful mental illness.  They have experienced something or some things so traumatic that their brain physically broke!  It isn’t your loved one’s fault they have flashbacks, & chances are excellent if this person could find a way never to have them again, they would.  So please, be patient & understanding with anyone you know who suffers with flashbacks.  A little gentleness can help us more than you know.

8 Comments

Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Christian Topics and Prayers, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health, Narcissism

8 responses to “About Flashbacks

  1. I experienced a severe emotional flashback recently, which I myself was only able to identify after the facts. It took me about two weeks to finally get rid of the anxiety and panic attacks that came with it. It is indeed draining and I was surprised of my reaction.

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  2. Flashbacks are hard on me because of the shame you wrote about. The fact that I am aware of them, the fact that I’ve been through therapy and see them for what they are, makes me feel bad that they still happen. Like as if it’s in my control. So weird. But then I get past it and move forward. I will say, they don’t scare me or take control for as long as they did before…at the end of the day, that’s progress.
    Those who never have experienced them have no clue, in my opinion, what a person with them goes through. A certain smell will take me back to places and times in an instant. Several smells bring up several traumatic childhood events.

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    • Shame really makes flashbacks hard for sure!

      It’s really not in your control, but knowing that & feeling it are two different things sometimes.

      That is absolutely progress! Good for you!!!!

      I agree… I really don’t think those who haven’t experienced flashbacks truly get how awful they are. I’ve been mocked for having them, like they’re no big deal, just remembering something unpleasant. If only they were that simple! They’re awful! I’ve had several when driving & that has been even more awful than a flashback that happens say, while watching tv at home.

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      • Alot of memories/flashbacks seems to hit while doing the mundane tasks of life. Wierd

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        • So very true. While doing mundane things & not thinking anything related to the topic of the flashback. I wonder if the brain thinks it’s safe now, time to bring this up & face it.

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          • Never thought of it that way. Always thought (which is lie of sorts) keep busy so you don’t think about it. Can’t face it that way…

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            • I’m pretty sure that is a VERY common way to think. Seems like society as a general rule is all about keeping busy so you don’t have to think about or face things. Avoidance is touted as a good thing. I once got chewed out by another blogger for not avoiding all my triggers. Well, for one thing that’s totally impossoble. For another, what good does avoiding do anyway?! Facing stuff is hard, but it’s healthier to face things & heal than keep avoiding.

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