I would guess about everyone has heard of flashbacks, but I don’t think all that many people realize there are different types of flashbacks. This post is going to explain them.
The first flashback is the type everyone knows. It’s where the person having the flashback feels as if they are reliving a traumatic event. It’s much like you’re watching a movie in your mind, but it seems so real, it can be very hard to differentiate between reality & the flashback as it’s happening.
There are also emotional flashbacks. Instead of feeling as if you’re reliving a traumatic event, you feel the emotions of a traumatic event flooding back to you. Something seemingly unrelated can trigger this, such as someone using a phrase your abuser used during the traumatic event or speaking to you in a similar manner to your abuser.
Both types of flashbacks also can trigger a sort of body flashback where you feel physical pain that you felt during a traumatic event. As an example, I’ve told the story before of how my mother threw me into a wall when I was 19. I had back pain for 10 years after that, then God healed me. Although God healed me over 18 years ago at this time I’m writing this, if I have a flashback of the night that happened, or sometimes if I just think about it, my back starts to hurt.
Having had all three types of flashbacks, I’ve learned some ways to cope with them that help me, & I hope will help you too.
During the flashback, I find it extremely important to keep myself grounded. People do all kinds of things to make that happen. Some clap their hands loudly, stomp their feet hard or hold an ice cube. I prefer touching something with either a very coarse or very soft texture. Smelling something with a strong scent is helpful too, such as lavender essential oil. A bonus of lavender is it has anti-anxiety properties to it, so not only does it smell lovely but it helps calm you naturally. I actually keep a small vial of lavender essential oil near me at all times just in case I need it. Whatever you choose to do, it needs to be something that basically “assaults” your senses to override the flashback & keep you grounded in reality.
It’s also a very good idea to remind yourself that this is only a flashback. It isn’t real. There is nothing that can hurt you happening right now. You’re completely safe.
Also try not to focus on anything else as the flashback is happening. Instead, focus only on getting yourself through it. Nothing else.
Once the flashback has subsided, chances are you’re going to feel tired. They take a lot of energy, physically & emotionally. That is totally normal. Try to take it easy if you can, & get some rest.
When you have recovered & feel able, I really recommend thinking about the topic of your flashback. If it was reliving a traumatic event, what was the event about? If it was an emotional one, do you know why this flashback was triggered? What happened that made you feel the way this event did?
From there, you can begin to deal with the event however works best for you. Pray, journal, talk to a close friend, a pastor or therapist or a combination of these things. Don’t forget to really feel the emotions connected to this event. You’re allowed to cry or get angry about it! In fact, you need to do so. Feeling the emotions will help to get the out of you & help you to heal.
A wonderful thing will happen as you heal from this painful & traumatic event. It will lose much of its power over you. It won’t hurt so much to remember it anymore, & it’s likely you won’t have a flashback about that particular event again.
This day is a difficult one for me. On November 28, 1990, my mother physically assaulted me.
It was the day before Thanksgiving. I got home from work & as soon as I walked through the door, I could tell my mother was itching for a fight. No idea why. My father could see it too, so he quickly said he got a new model airplane & wanted me to see it (we shared a love of models). I practically ran downstairs. I knew it was best never to give in when she was in that mood, so I was grateful for the means of escape.
We were downstairs for a few minutes when my mother stood at the top of the steps, yelling at me. I’m not proud of it, but I finally had enough when she called my car “a hunk of junk” or something like that. I snapped & cussed her out. It just happened. I don’t think the words went near my brain – they just came out. This enraged her, & she started yelling at my father. “Did you hear what she just said to me!? Are you going to let her get away with that?!” My father quietly went upstairs, & left the house while my mother raged at him.
Meanwhile, I went into my room to grab my keys & purse so I could do the same. As I walked back down the hall to get to the door, my mother stepped in my path. She told me she wasn’t going to let me leave. I told her get out of my way before I make you do it. She blocked the doorway by putting her hands & feet against it. I pushed her aside (not knocking her down, just knocking her a bit off balance so I could rush past her). I ran to grab my shoes & by then she was steady on her feet again. Before I knew it, she was in my face, & slammed me into the wall beside the front door, & held me there. My head was the only part I could move.
Two things went through my mind at that moment…
Suddenly I blacked out, I assume from the intense pain & fear. When I came to a moment later, I was biting her on the arm. She & I were both shocked at what I had done. My shock wore off a bit faster than hers, so I ran out the door & to my car & sped off in a cloud of tire smoke.
I believe my mother wanted to kill me, & if I wouldn’t have blacked out like that, she probably would have succeeded.
Interestingly, I caught up to my father at a traffic light. We pulled over & I told him what happened. We then went to my now ex husband’s parents’ home since it was nearby. My father later went to his parents’ home in Virginia. I moved in with a friend’s parents that night, & got my things from my parents’ home a couple of days later.
Naturally, my mother never accepted any responsibility in this. In fact, when I had to quit working a few months later, she told people I was just lazy & faking back problems to get out of working. And, in 2014, my father mentioned this incident.. He told me it’s ok, I didn’t have to apologize for busting up his wall. How kind, right?! I never even thought of how the wall was damaged, but he said it was really bad. He fixed it though, so I didn’t need to apologize. I told him I had no plans on doing so! Not my fault my mother broke it by slamming me into it!
This incident along with having extremely selfish in-laws who have demanded my husband & I spend the day with them no matter what (I spent it alone when I refused to go) is why I absolutely hate Thanksgiving. Kinda hard to feel warm & fuzzy about the day when there are memories like this assault & years of jerky acting in-laws associated with it.
I honestly thought I was ok with this incident. (Well, as ok as one can be when they think about their mother trying to kill them & father abandoning them to an obviously raging lunatic.) What makes it even harder, I think, is this year, the dates have fallen on the exact days they fell on in 1990, so in some weird way, I almost feel like I’m reliving that time of my life. I feel some of the same shock & anger I felt when it happened, just to a much lesser degree. I feel disappointment too. In my father for abandoning me that night, in my ex for making it all about how he felt about the incident & not caring about my pain (I think he even spent Thanksgiving with his family out of state the following day, if memory serves correctly), & my friend’s father who found it hilarious I bit my mother. I’m even disappointed in my mother for not only attacking me but using it as one more weapon to trash me to other people then expecting me to act like it never happened. I’m also disappointed in myself for failing to press charges against my mother. The thought never crossed my mind until not long ago when I friend mentioned it.
I’m also less than thrilled that thinking about this has made my C-PTSD flare up. Hardly surprising though. So if there are spelling or grammar errors in here, please pardon me. I tried to catch them all a couple of days after writing this, but it doesn’t always happen with flare ups.
I don’t even know why I’m writing all of this as a blog post. I do promise to keep my writing real but even so, this isn’t like me. Usually things like this I write in my journal, maybe sharing details later once I have had some time to come to terms with whatever the trauma was. For some reason though, I felt I needed to write this in my blog instead. Maybe someone who reads my blog needs to see this. If that describes you, Dear Reader, I really hope this post helps you somehow. ❤
Today’s post is a reminder for everyone who has been invalidated…
Your pain is real, & there is nothing wrong with you for feeling that pain. You aren’t crazy, stupid, weak, “wallowing”, living in the past, looking for attention or whatever other invalidating things you have been told. You have no reason to feel shame for what you’re feeling. Other people have no right to judge you. They aren’t you & they haven’t experienced the things that you have experienced. How can they say that you should or shouldn’t feel what you feel?! They can’t!
You, Dear Reader, are just fine. I know it may not feel that way, but it’s true.
Anyone who has survived narcissistic abuse is going to have some issues as a result. It’s just what happens due to the horrible nature of the abuse. Admittedly it, well, it sucks, but it’s also unavoidable. People lacking compassion & empathy fail to understand this. Or, they may see you dealing with your own pain & it serves as a reminder of their pain that they are working hard to ignore. That is why many people invalidate others- to shut them down so they don’t have to face their own issues & pain.
You’ve survived a lot, & if others can’t understand that or feel they must hurt you for it, they obviously have some problems! You hold your head up high & ignore the invalidating jerks! You go on, doing what you need to do to heal, & pay no attention to the invalidators of the world. You have survived so much, you can survive a person who doesn’t possess the humanity to display basic respect & love for a fellow human being!
I have a knack for remembering dates, including kinda obscure ones, that even having brain damage hasn’t affected. I graduated high school on May 13, 1989, for example.
Two other dates I remember are August 23, 1990 & November 24, 1990. Those were the dates I met & then broke up with a man I was involved with. He made me feel so guilty for breaking up with him that ever year for many years, I dreaded those dates because I’d feel such guilt. Although he was only in my life briefly, the dysfunctional relationship had quite an impact on me.
January 31, 2014, I learned that he shot & killed his boyfriend & then himself two days before. The news came as a complete shock to me since I had absolutely no clue of his orientation or capacity for murder. Keeping in mind my knack for remembering dates, all those dates bring him to mind & every time, make me sad for him, his family, his victim & his victim’s family.
A few times, I’ve mentioned the date in passing conversation & the person I was speaking with told me, “Just don’t think about it.” It sat very wrong with me, even when I knew the person had good intentions, & I’ll tell you why.
“Just don’t think about it” is invalidating. You’re thinking about something that bothers you & are trying to talk it out, yet the other person shuts you down. That is invalidation. Why they do it doesn’t change that fact.
If you “just don’t think about it”, how are you supposed to heal from the incident? If you want to heal, you have to think about it & process the emotions connected to it. Not thinking about it is no help at all!
Not thinking about it also contributes to mental & physical problems. It can create anxiety, depression, anger, high blood pressure, heart disease, & kidney disease. It also reduces the effectiveness of your immune system, leaving you open to sickness.
Obviously, “just don’t think about it” is not good advice & you should NOT follow it!
I’m not saying you should think of nothing but the traumatic event you were told not to think about. Instead, I’m saying work with it. Realize you feel as you do for a reason. Maybe it’s there to let you know now is the time you should face this issue. If so, face it. No, it isn’t easy to face past trauma, but do it anyway! If you face it, it will lose much maybe even all of the negative effect it has over you. It also won’t affect your physical health.
If it’s something you’ve already dealt with like I have dealt with my situation, maybe it’s a reminder to pray for the people involved. I know, praying for a person who has abused you, especially one with no remorse or who has made you out to be the abusive one is tough, but do it anyway. Do it not because this person deserves your prayers, but because God wants you to do it & because it really can help you. Praying for those who use & abuse you is incredibly helpful at releasing the anger & even bitterness you feel towards them. Carrying such things around isn’t good for your health, so why do it? You can maintain boundaries or even no contact while not carrying around anger.
Whatever you feel when something traumatic comes to mind, honor those feelings & know they are there for a valid reason. Accept them without judgement. Face them however you feel you need to do in order to heal. Pray for the abusive person if you can too. Whatever you do though, remember that “just don’t think about it” is terrible advice. Ignore the advice, & take good care of yourself!
Recently I read an article about symptoms of PTSD. I didn’t think much more about it at first, but it kinda bopped around the back of my mind a bit for a few days.
A couple of days later, my husband & I had to go to the doctor for our health insurance. His appointment was first, & we texted periodically. He mentioned the doctor was concerned about his depression. When I saw the doctor, I asked him about it & he said, “I see a lot of people day after day. He has the look many have who have been depressed for years.” I thought it was an interesting statement- he’s very observant!
A couple of days later, something hit me. Our doctor didn’t say a word about my mental health. Not a comment one about me looking like someone who’s been depressed for years, even though I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t depressed. Somehow, my lazy Susan-esque brain connected that with the article I read about PTSD symptoms. In that moment I realized just how much I have been ignoring my C-PTSD symptoms. I’m so good at it that even my observant doctor had no idea I struggle with C-PTSD.
Yes, I’m hyper-vigilant, but you probably wouldn’t know it to look at me. Rather than upset people by startling easy, I am on constant guard, surveying my environment so not much surprises me.
I also get very quiet when I have flashbacks. Naturally I’m quiet anyway so that isn’t a huge red flag My husband has seen me have many flashbacks, but hasn’t noticed a lot of them because of that. I don’t even tell him most of the time when I have flashbacks. I just recover & go on the best I can.
These are just two examples, but there are others.
Thinking of such things I realized how incredibly unhealthy this is that I ignore so many of my symptoms. On the outside, I look like I’m managing the C-PTSD just fine, but on the inside is a very different story.
In considering all of this, I think this happens simply out of habit. Growing up with narcissistic parents, I learned early never to “bother” my parents with my problems. My purpose was to take care of them, not the other way around. As a result, like most children of narcissistic parents, I learned to hide or even ignore anything that didn’t please them. I ignored emotions, illness, thoughts, wants, & needs. Now here I am, an adult in my 40’s with my own life, still hiding & ignoring important things that I shouldn’t be hiding or ignoring.
No doubt I’m not the only person in this position, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the issue with you, Dear Reader.
It’s important with PTSD & C-PTSD to manage your symptoms. Ignoring them isn’t the same thing. Managing them means you have some control over your symptoms. Ignoring them means you’re working hard to pretend they don’t exist, which shows they have control over you.
Ignoring symptoms also means the problem won’t get fixed or at least controlled. It also can mean you face health problems because emotions that are ignored can cause stress & we all know stress is terrible for your physical & emotional health.
With both PTSD & C-PTSD, there are some symptoms that are just a part of life but others that can be managed. Flashbacks come to mind. Rather than ignoring them or simply accepting them, why not make them work for you whenever possible? Flashbacks can be a sign of a particular issue that you need to work on. I’ve learned that if I deal with the issue my flashback was about, I don’t have another about that particular issue. The same goes for nightmares. This also can work with anxiety. Figure out what is the root of this anxiety. Ask God to help you if need be. Once you know the root, you can face the problem & eliminate one cause of your anxiety. Chipping away at it one issue at a time can help make it more manageable.
Maybe your symptoms are flaring up because you’ve been pushing yourself too hard lately or it’s near the anniversary of some traumatic event. If that is the case, your brain is trying to tell you to slow down & do some good self care. Listen to the symptoms! They’re trying to get your attention for a reason!
Remember, PTSD & C-PTSD are potentially life threatening disorders. They should be taken very seriously. Ignoring your symptoms isn’t going to help you & can hurt you. Pay attention to your symptoms- your brain is trying to tell you something, so listen to it!
It seems like there is a strange believe among many people that processing trauma quickly is a sign of strength. People are admired for getting back to work or a normal routine quickly, & it’s assumed they’re “over it” when they do that. Unfortunately a lot of people who others think are “over it” are actually avoiding dealing with their pain.
Healing from trauma of any sort isn’t a quick process. How could it be? Trauma overloads your mind, emotions & even body. It’s impossible to simply shake it off & move on. It’s even worse when you’ve been exposed to repeated traumas, such as in the case of child abuse.
Never let anyone make you feel weak or ashamed because you’re not “over it” yet. Truly processing trauma takes time, & lots of it. It also takes a great deal of energy & courage to face the ugly truth, to get angry about it, & to grieve about it. It may take a lifetime to do. There is no shame in that. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’ve been through unimaginable circumstances.
I realized something recently that has been a big help to me, & I believe it can be to you too.
When remembering some of the traumatic & abusive events I’ve been through in my life recently, suddenly I started seeing just how wrong those things were. Oddly, doing that small gesture has helped loosen the hold the damage from such events had over me. I think that happens because I never really questioned these things before.
If you’re reading my blog, chances are you too have experience with narcissists, so you probably know just what I’m talking about. Narcissists don’t allow you to question anything. Whatever they say or do, that is the end of the matter. They’re right, according to them, & you aren’t allowed to think otherwise. Especially with parents, when this happens often as a child, you learn not to question things, just accept them as fact. Seeing clearly that they were wrong & accepting that is a big step in breaking the hold this abuse has over you.
I recently had a flashback about something that happened to me in late 1989 when I was 18. My current ex husband & I were dating, & I hadn’t moved out of my parents’ home at that time. I forget why, but he wanted to use my car one day, so we swapped cars. I was off work that day & my mother insisted I go to the grocery store with her. I said before I went, I wanted to put gas in the car since it was low, as usual. I’d do that then meet her at the store. I did, & on my way to the store, I lost control of the car & landed in a ditch around a turn. It was raining, & the ex’s car had bald tires, so it’s no surprise this happened in spite of me being very careful. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt, & his car only had minimal damage. This happened close to my ex’s parents’ house so I went there. A nice man driving a dump truck took pity on me walking in the rain & gave me a ride. When I got there, I told the ex’s dad what happened. He arranged to get the car towed & I called my mother at the grocery store (pre-cell phones, obviously).
You’d think ditching the car was the trauma, but it wasn’t. When I called my mother, she yelled at me, telling me she knew when I didn’t show up, I’d been in an accident & it served me right for driving that piece of junk car. The ex’s father was furious at what happened, blaming me for driving recklessly. The ex’s mother also blamed me but was at least nicer about it. The ex, believe it or not, was glad it happened, because it meant his parents would finally buy him the new tires he wanted. Later that evening, the ex & I visited my (narcissistic) grandmother who wouldn’t have cared less what I had went through that day.
For years, I accepted that this accident was my fault & I deserved what I got. It simply hadn’t crossed my mind to question that until my recent flashback. Suddenly it hit me how incredibly wrong this whole event was! I didn’t know just how bad the tires were- all I heard was they were wearing out so be careful. I never thought to check for myself. It wasn’t my car, so why would I, especially when my ex was a mechanic? Also, this could’ve been avoided if I’d had my own car- it was ridiculous my ex wanted to have mine as often as he did at that time. Granted, mine was the better of our two cars, but if he wanted better, he should have got his own better car! My ex’s parents should have replaced the tires, too, since they knew just how bad the tires were. And lastly my mother.. that is how she treated her own daughter after her first car wreck?! No “Are you ok?” or any sign of concern, just yelling at & blaming me. Considering her mother didn’t care either, it’s obvious where she got her lack of compassion.
For the first time, I finally realized how wrong all of this was. Every single person in this scenario was wrong except me, the one who got all the blame! I realized how wrong it is that the only person who was nice to me in that incident was the dump truck driver- a total stranger! This entire situation was wrong- every single thing about it!
Looking at the situation differently reminded me of turning a kaleidoscope. One small turn & the scene inside looks entirely different. At least kaleidoscopes give a pretty picture. This was far from pretty, but at least it helped me to release the guilt I felt for almost 29 years!
Since this happened, I’ve been looking at other situations in a new light, & having the same type of results. The slight turn of the kaleidoscope gave me a new perspective, & enabled me to release guilt, shame, & false beliefs while accepting the truth in their place.
Dear Reader, I urge you to try this too. Think about a specific trauma in your life from a more objective perspective. Try to look at it as if you’re watching a movie, for example, or as if it’s happening to someone else, so your emotions are not so involved. Chances are, you’ll see how wrong & unfair it was as I have. Did it help you to release any guilt or false beliefs you had received as a result of that awful experience? If not, ask God to tell you the truth about it, & I have no doubt He will help you to release those things!
Recently, seemingly out of nowhere, I suddenly felt as if a ton of bricks landed on me. I have had one very hard, painful year & currently have quite a bit going on. The intensity of it all hit at once. I really felt overwhelmed for a while & couldn’t stop crying.
Eventually I did though, & realized what was happening. I hadn’t really dealt with things very well. In fact, I avoided thinking about some things, stuffing my emotions like I always used to do. Old habits die hard, & apparently that one resurrected briefly without me realizing it. I think my old habit returned because I had so much happening at once. I didn’t have time to cope with one thing when three more bad things happened.
Upon realizing all of this, I have formed a plan. I will take things one issue at a time. When I first realized I had problems stemming from my childhood, I thought I could deal with everything at once. Forgive my parents, accept the fact they were abusive, face being depressed & anxious, think positive, & all would be fine. Naive? Oh yes.. but truthfully, I didn’t realize how deep my issues went or have any grip on this emotional healing stuff. Now I know better, & I have learned that a lot of times, it’s best to face one issue at a time, as it arises.
What I mean is this…
As an example from my life, part of my issue is the fact that when my father was dying, so called “family” came out of the woodwork to tell me what I needed to do regarding my parents,what a horrible person I was for not obeying them or “forgiving & forgetting” & not “honoring” my parents. Mind you, this is on top of the death of my father. Instead of lumping this all into one thing to deal with, I’m dissecting it, & dealing with each issue as I am able. Here are the issues:
I think it’s healthier to deal with things this way because the events of that time are very distinct & complex, not to mention overwhelming to face all at once. Even just the one part with family is difficult because there were two very different dynamics at play. My relationships with these people were very different, so naturally that means I must deal with the situations differently. Plus, doing this also gives me smaller things to cope with rather than trying to tackle one huge issue. Smaller bits will be easier to cope with, which is especially important since I have C-PTSD. Having the disorder means my brain is broken. I have to treat myself gentler than a person without C-PTSD treats themselves.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed too, Dear Reader, I’m sorry. It happens sometimes & it’s rough, I know. Just try to remember to approach the situation in small doses, especially if you too have C-PTSD. Break it down into manageable parts, & deal with those however works best for you rather than tackling the big picture all at once. The little things will add up to form the big picture. Also remember, Psalm 23:4 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (KJV) Sometimes when you’re facing your pain, it feels like you are all alone. People don’t understand, & may avoid or even abandon you during your darkest hours. God isn’t that way though. He loves you & is with you no matter how bad things may be. xoxo
When you first learn that you have PTSD or C-PTSD, you will hear about having nightmares, but very little has been discussed about what kind of nightmares.
When I first realized I had C-PTSD in 2012, I read everything I could find on the disorder, & kept seeing nightmares on the list of symptoms. I assumed it would be dreams repeating traumatic events. Unpleasant, for sure, but I lived through the real thing so I figured I could handle the nightmares.
Not even close!
I have had nightmares ever since I can remember, but the frequency has increased greatly since 2012. And, of the many nightmares, very few were actually reliving the trauma. Instead, many were very strange, such as having my car stolen then totaled, finding a little child I needed to protect or other odd subject matter. I honestly wondered what was wrong with me. How could I have such awful & strange dreams yet nothing of the trauma I have been through? It seemed completely bizarre to me.
Recently I realized something.. these dreams may not be specifically about trauma, but they share similar emotions to traumatic experiences I have had. The nightmares often leave me feeling powerless, abused, unloved (even hated), helpless & more.
I’ve heard a few people say their nightmares are much like mine- not about traumatic events, but about events that trigger similar emotions.
I believe this means such nightmares must be a normal part of having C-PTSD or PTSD.
If you too are having odd, unsettling nightmares, then know you aren’t alone. Nightmares are part of PTSD & C-PTSD, unfortunately.
As disturbing as they are, they may be able to help you. Dreams & nightmares alike have meanings. They’re never random, even though they feel that way.
Dreams can show you areas you need healing in or areas where you have healed well. They can show you things you weren’t aware of or you need to be aware of. They also can simply help you because your brain is processing some information. The brain processes information every single moment, even when you’re asleep.
If you want to understand your dreams & nightmares, prayer is the best place to start. Ask God to help you to understand them & learn what you need to know from them.
A good dream dictionary is a helpful tool too. I use a website (there are many to choose from). They can help you to see what each item in your dream represents, which can make it easier to interpret them.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of your dreams. Write them down & look them over from time to time. That can help encourage you when you see how far you’ve come. It also can help to remind you of things you need to deal with.
Personally I write down my dreams & nightmares, plus what I find the meaning of everything I can remember in them. Colors, objects, people, feelings. Once it’s all written down, I ask God to help me to understand what the dream or nightmare meant. It’s proven to be quite helpful to me many times. It could benefit you as well
Since I have been no contact with my parents, strange but good things have been happening. One of those things is God has helped me to get in touch with the negative emotions I had stuffed inside for years.
I’ve had a lot of nightmares, repressed memories & flashbacks to deal with, especially in the last few months. While it hasn’t been fun by any stretch, it’s been a very good thing. I’ve been able to remember things I hadn’t thought of in a long time, then deal with them. This has enabled me to make great strides in healing. I feel freer & even physically lighter, as odd as that may sound. I feel cleansed of things I didn’t even realized I needed cleansing from.
I can’t help but thinking that this is happening as a result of going no contact. I noticed this has happened to me after being no contact with my parents for several months & also years before after going no contact with my narcissistic mother in-law & sisters in-law.
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist- be they your parent, sibling, spouse or anyone- so much of your thinking is taken up by that person. Either you’re trying to find ways to appease her to avoid her rage, or survive the relationship with your sanity in tact. Either way, you simply don’t have time to cope with the constant wounds inflicted on you by her abuse. You’re functioning in survival mode.
Once the narcissist is out of your life, it takes some time for your mind to feel safe enough to stop functioning in survival mode. When it does though, finally, it seems to demand that you work on all those issues you weren’t able to face due to constant trauma.
If you too are faced with nightmares, flashbacks &/or repressed memories after going no contact, please don’t panic, Dear Reader. Your brain may be doing as mine has done- it stopped functioning in survival mode & wants to be healed. I would suggest going with it. Work on your healing from narcissistic abuse however helps you. Pray. See a therapist. Whatever works for you. After all, maybe one of the reasons for you being out of that toxic relationship is so you can heal.
Going no contact with a narcissistic parent (or two) is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It takes a tremendous amount of prayer, thought, discussion & energy to make that decision. Chances are you feel peace about your decision even though it hurts things came to this. You read about the smear campaign & flying monkeys, so you feel prepared, but the truth is, you aren’t. Other things can happen that no one warns you about.
One of the other things is the incredible influx of memories, nightmares & even flashbacks that happen.
I functioned my entire life with my parents in survival mode. It wasn’t until they were out of my life for almost one year (this past May 5) that survival mode finally stopped. I finally felt safe enough to let my guard down, not worry that at anytime they may show up at my home, may call or I may see them in a public place. It was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders! At least until the nightmares, repressed memories & flashbacks started.
While I’ve experienced them all for many years, the sheer amount was shocking. It seemed like I couldn’t go a day without something happening, often a few times a day, & frankly, it was overwhelming & scary at first. Upon praying about it, God spoke to my heart saying I no longer have my parents in my life demanding so much of my attention & focus, so now is the time to heal. When memories came up, or nightmares or flashbacks happened, pray, & He would enable me to heal. He truly has!!
Each time something happens, I pray about it. I feel the anger or hurt, & tell God about it. I often journal about it too, because something about seeing things in writing is so validating. It’s a good reminder that I didn’t deserve the things that happened to me & that none of it was my fault, as I was told.
Doing such things has brought me a tremendous amount of healing in a short time! Yes, it’s been difficult, but I’ve been through much more difficult things. And, as a bonus, at least these difficulties have a purpose- to help me to heal. Thankfully, things have slowed down quite a bit. I can go a couple of days without a nightmare, repressed memory or flashback.
If this happens to you too after going no contact with your parents, Dear Reader, don’t be surprised. In fact, I would encourage you to go with it. This may be a time of great healing for you. If it happens, I would recommend you start by praying. I don’t even know why I didn’t pray as soon as things began to happen, but it was a mistake on my part. As soon as I did pray though, my healing started to make real progress. I’m sure yours will too! All you have to do is trust God & work with Him however He suggests.
If you have PTSD or C-PTSD, you know about nightmares. You have them so often, they aren’t a surprise. They’re just a way of life. Yet, little is mentioned about the nightmares.
I’d always had frequent nightmares, but it got much worse in 2012 which is when I realized I had C-PTSD. I began having several almost every night, which of course led to a lot of fatigue. The nightmares also became even more vivid than usual, which is saying something since I’ve always had very vivid dreams. They became so vivid in fact, that often I would wake up feeling as if I’d just done whatever I did in the dream. If I dreamed I ran a marathon, for example, I woke up physically tired & achy.
After learning about C-PTSD, I assumed the nightmares would be about reliving traumatic events, which does happen, but only rarely. Most of my nightmares are about strange things- being an adult yet having to repeat high school & relying on my mother to take me rather than driving my own car; while repeating high school as an adult, being unable to find or remember the combination to my locker; my car being stolen &/or totaled; my husband mocking me when I was obviously upset or rejecting me somehow; or someone letting my cats outside & they ran away. Strange stuff! I finally asked God about it after waking up for yet one more bizarre nightmare. What He shared made a lot of sense & I think it will if you too suffer with odd nightmares like I do.
The brain constantly processes information, whether the information is good, bad or indifferent. Our dreams are often a result of that processing, because the brain doesn’t take breaks. Sometimes we don’t remember dreams because they weren’t important- the brain simply processed something unimportant. Other times, it tries to make sense of horrible things that have happened, which is where nightmares come into it. Sometimes the brain relives those awful, traumatic events in an attempt to understand it, but not always. Sometimes nightmares look as if they have nothing to do with traumatic events on the surface, yet they actually have a lot to do with them.
While the circumstances of the dreams may be different, the emotions they stir up feel exactly like some trauma you have experienced. My nightmare of my car being stolen & totaled? It caused a huge amount of anxiety & fear, & I felt completely helpless. Eventually I realized it triggered the exact same emotions of my seventeenth birthday. That day, my mother took my gifts from my then boyfriend/now ex husband & destroyed them on the way home from school. She blamed me for making her do that & making her car messy. The event caused me so much anxiety (knowing I’d have to tell my ex what happened to his gifts), fear (wondering what she was going to do next) & I felt helpless (she destroyed the gifts as I was picking up her Avon order & gone for maybe 3 minutes- I couldn’t have known what she was going to do or stop her from doing it)
When these nightmares happen, the good news is that they have a purpose. They show you that there is an area in which you need more healing. It can be hard to figure out, so I highly recommend asking God about it. He loves you & wants to help you, so let Him! Ask Him what did that dream mean? If you like, you also can look up symbols on a dream dictionary website- I’ve done this. I write down everything I can from my dream- items, colors, feelings- then look up what each means & write it down beside each item. Sometimes things make more sense to me when I see them in writing so that can be a helpful tool.
Once you realize what the dream was trying to make sense of, you can heal. Work on coping with the traumatic event however works for you- pray, talk to a therapist, talk to a close friend, write in your diary. What you do doesn’t matter, so long as it works for you.
I know nightmares are a very difficult part of C-PTSD & PTSD, but they are also unavoidable. Why not make them work in your favor by learning what they’re trying to help you cope with? Once you do, the nightmares often go away or at the very least don’t happen nearly as often. I haven’t had a dream about my car being stolen or totaled in a couple of years. 🙂
Triggers are things that trigger PTSD or C-PTSD symptoms to flare up. A certain sound that makes you have a flashback or a scent creates a panic attack are triggers.
Unfortunately triggers are everywhere. There is no avoiding them entirely, as wonderful as it would be if that was possible. I have realized there are times when you can be more easily or less easily triggered. Certain dates (an abusive parent’s birthday for example) can make you more sensitive to triggers. Some people also are more or less triggered at various stages of healing.
So what can be done about triggers? Since they can’t be avoided completely, they need to be managed.
Prayer is the best place to start. Ask God for help showing you ways to manage your symptoms during triggers or ways you can avoid them.
Identify your triggers & avoid them when possible. This isn’t always easy, as thinking about your triggers can be upsetting. But, you need to know what upsets you so you can either avoid it or be prepared to deal with it when you can’t.
Triggers can show you what areas you need healing in, so pay close attention to them. For me, hearing someone talk about being sick & having their family care for them is a big trigger for me. I barely saw a doctor growing up, my mother complained when I was sick about having to take care of me or being stuck at home with me. As an adult, my mother doesn’t believe me if I have a health problem, blames me for getting sick or injured or accuses me of faking it. When I hear someone talking about their awesome family who was there for them during a health crisis, I know that I couldn’t experience the same thing, & it hurts me. It also makes me angry at my mother for being incapable of feelings that any normal mother feels for her child, for seeing nothing wrong with her behavior & instead getting upset with me for being rightfully angry with her. All of this shows me I still need healing in this area. The good part about all of this is the more that you do heal in that area, the less power the triggers will have over you.
Also focus on the here & now. Being well aware of your surroundings can help you to stay focused on that rather than get caught up in a panic attack. This also can help you to stay in reality during a flashback. Touch something with an extreme texture- very soft or coarse fabric, maybe hold an ice cube. Smell something with a strong scent, such as lavender (which also has anti-anxiety properties) or that holds good memories for you, such as the perfume your favorite aunt wore when you were a child.
Write in a journal. Writing can be extremely therapeutic. It also can be validating when you see things in writing rather than speaking about them.
Learn what self-soothing techniques work best to relax you. They should involve at least one of your senses. Soak in a bubble bath, wear soft & comfy clothes, stretch, listen to calming music, listen to nature sounds, sing, drink herbal tea or flavored coffee (decaf is best), light a scented candle or incense, smell some flowers, read a book, watch a funny movie or tv show, look at pictures of those you love or that inspire you.