Understanding PTSD Flashbacks and How You Can Cope With Them

Flashbacks are memories of past traumas. They may take the form of pictures, sounds, smells, body sensations, feelings, or the lack of them (numbness). It is common for a survivor to experience vivid images of rape or sexual abuse, making you feel as though the event is happening all over again. These vivid images are known as flashbacks and are active memories of a past traumatic event. Flashbacks can occur at any time, are out of a person’s control, and are difficult to get rid of. A flashback is able to mimic the real thing because it provokes a similar level of stress in the body. The same hormones course through your veins as did at the time of the actual trauma, setting your heart pounding and preparing your muscles and other body systems to react as they did at the time (Rothschild, 2010).

Though flashbacks are horrible and terrifying, they can show that a person is ready to deal with the traumatic event.

It can be helpful to explore the patterns of flashbacks as well as dissociation. Identifying your experience of a flashback can provide helpful information:

  1. How a flashback happens (triggers).
  2. The internal experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations).
  3. External reactions (coping).

This can lead to beginning to understand healthier ways to manage this intense experience.

Some ways you can help yourself to cope with flashbacks:

  1. Tell yourself that you are having a flashback: Learn to recognize what happens to your body when you are having a flashback. Recognize the clues your body gives you just before a flashback happens.
  2. Remind yourself that the worst is over: The feelings and sensations you are experiencing now are memories of the past. The actual event took place in the past and you survived it.
  3. Get grounded and focus on the present: Use all your senses to keep you focused on the here and now. Look around and notice different colors and objects around you. Listen to the different sounds – music, people, or your own breathing. Feel your body, your clothes, the chair, or the floor supporting you. Stamp your feet on the ground, so that you know where you are and that you are no longer trapped in a situation you cannot escape from.
  4. Breathe: When you are scared it is likely that you may experience shallow breathing or stop breathing altogether. As a result, your body could react to the lack of oxygen, causing panicky feelings, a pounding heart, pounding in the head, tightness, sweating, faintness, and dizziness. If you breathe deeply some of this panic will stop. Put your hand on your stomach and breathe in so that your stomach pushes against your hand and then breathe in so that your stomach pushes against your hand and then breathe out so that the stomach goes in.
  5. Compare then and now: Remind yourself of where you were then and where you are now. ‘I was in the sitting room then. Now I am in my bed.’
  6. Give yourself some boundaries: Sometimes when you are having a flashback you might lose the sense of where you finish and where the world begins: as if you do not have skin. Wrap yourself in a blanket, hold a pillow or go to bed; do anything to help you to feel protected.
  7. Tell your friends, partner or relatives about flashbacks: It’s important that the people around you know about flashbacks so that they know how to help you. You may want someone to be with you during or just after a flashback, or you may prefer to be alone. Decide what you find most helpful and let others know.
  8. Take time to recover: Flashbacks are very powerful, so give yourself some time afterward. Don’t expect yourself to jump into activities right away. Take a nap, have a warm bath or take some quiet time. Show yourself kindness, gentleness and patience, and allow your body some comfort.
  9. Bring your memories into the open: Anyone who understands the effects of rape, sexual assault, and childhood sexual abuse can be a valuable resource to helping you heal. If you feel able, it can be helpful to write down the sights, sounds, smells, emotions, and sensations from your flashback too. Putting it on paper can help to get it out of your mind.
  10. Finally, know you are not crazy. You are healing and you’re dealing with the normal reactions to a traumatic event.

Adapted from: Rape and Sexual Violence Project – http://www.rsvporg.co.uk

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Seraphinite AcceleratorBannerText_Seraphinite Accelerator
Turns on site high speed to be attractive for people and search engines.