Addressing Emotional Pain #6 – Flashbacks

Squirrel Spinning
Squirrel Spinning, a photo by Fergiemoto on Flickr.  (click on photo to enlarge)

a sudden rewind
engulfs me in a whirlwind

Do you experience flashbacks of traumatic, sad or other painful events?

A description of flashbacks is:

a psychological phenomenon in which an individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience. These experiences can be happy, sad, exciting, or any other emotion one can consider. The term is used particularly when the memory is recalled involuntarily, and/or when it is so intense that the person ‘relives’ the experience, unable to fully recognize it as memory and not something that is happening in ‘real time.’  Flashbacks are the ‘personal experiences that pop into your awareness, without any conscious, premeditated attempt to search and retrieve this memory.’  (Source: Wikipedia)

I have grouped painful flashbacks as part of  the “addressing emotional pain” category because I’ve learned through my pain psychology sessions that they are handled similarly to emotional pain.  In previous postings, I included some of the tools that can help with painful emotions, including having an awareness of the body and how it is feeling, physically and emotionally.

Certain situations (events, places, smells, comments, time of year, etc.) can trigger flashbacks.  They can be very uncomfortable and lead to feelings like fear, sadness, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  There are a few situations that trigger flashbacks for me.  They can go as far as feeling anxiety, and a couple even resulted in panic attacks.

A flashback can feel very real, and your body may think it is a real event.  When a flashback occurs, what are some things we can do to get through it?  The key thing to remember is that the traumatic event in the flashback is not happening now even though the emotions, fears, and physical responses may be the same.  Over time, the reactions to the flashbacks will diminish.  Some with take more work than others.  The goal is to get to the point where they are “just memories” and that’s it.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Breathe and practice relaxation techniques
  • Allow your body to feel what is happening and have a curious acceptance about those feelings.
  • Use some of the tools I’ve talked about to address emotional pain like mindfulness meditation, body awareness, guided imagery, etc.  Click here to see more examples.
  • Have empathy for yourself and coach yourself through it calmly and objectively.  For example, some of the things I’m learning to say to myself are:
    • “I wonder what this means.”  (This is an important one for me because it involves seeking guidance from our inner advisor, which I’ve also posted about before.)
    • “What was the trigger?”
    • “I am remembering things very vividly, but it is not happening to me now.”
    • “This is uncomfortable, I hate it, but I got through this before and I will get through it again.”
    • “It will not kill me.”
    • “I have the skills and tools to help me, and I know how to use them.”

Although coping with some of my flashbacks still need more work, there are a few that now carry no emotion, no hurt, and no anxiety if the memories occur…they have gradually become “just memories!”

If you have experienced painful flashbacks, what methods have helped you get through it?

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TBM
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 06:02:37

    Great tips. I haven’t dealt with this too much in my life but I’m working on a story with a woman who has to live with flashbacks. Thanks for the information.


  2. sondasmcschatter
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 07:09:44

    Thank you— may I please–share this on my blog


  3. Trackback: Addressing Emotional Pain #6 – Flashbacks | sondasmcschatter
  4. recoverythrumylens
    Nov 21, 2012 @ 13:58:42

    What a great topic! What I’ve learned about these flashbacks is that they are temporary, just like feelings, and that the best way to deal with them is to let them pass through you, let yourself feel them, and then you can let them go…


  5. mcolmo
    Nov 22, 2012 @ 08:36:32

    Thank you for posting this. Once thing that gets me anxious is going to high school reunions. Some of them were such bullies. I’d rather not go, but now a school mate has passed away and one must attend such services, just out of sheer respect. It makes me anxious to see them all again and remembering the times they were quite horrible. Who knows if they have matured and changed over time. I hope so. Thanks for the tips!


  6. zendictive
    Nov 26, 2012 @ 17:22:05

    cute… And I know how this little one feels sometimes… Awesome (*_*)


  7. eof737
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 06:32:13

    “What was the trigger?” That’s a great question and I use that too… Hope you are feeling better!


  8. eof737
    Dec 27, 2012 @ 07:42:48

    ¸.•*¨*•.♪♫♫♪ 😆 Happy Holidays to You & Yours! 😆 .♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸ ♥
    ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜” ♥ ˜”*°•.˜”*°•.˜”*°•.★★.•°*”˜.•°*”˜.•°*”˜”


  9. eof737
    Dec 27, 2012 @ 07:43:10

    Long time no hear… hope all is well.


  10. Stewart M
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 01:41:48

    Interesting post – Although I can offer any suggestion. Great squirrel image!

    Stewart M – Melbourne


  11. Leaky Gut Syndrome
    Feb 09, 2013 @ 05:11:18

    Thanks for your this posting.


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