a flashback is a vivid and sometimes intense experience we realive some aspects of our traumatic event or feel as if it's happening right now. Flashbacks don't always involve a dissociative type state such as feeling as if you are watching videos of your trauma, flashbacks don't always involve reliving your trauma beginning to end and can actually come in the form of feeling physiological sensations such as: pain or pressure, noticing sounds or smells associated to your trauma or experiencing the emotions that you felt during the trauma.
Flashbacks range from one-off smaller experiences that may go unnoticed to repeated places and situations triggering an emotional response. Some flashbacks can be worked through with a combination of therapy, analysis and safe coping mechanisms however, for some flashbacks you need to learn to ride the wave. When emotions come and go, it's best not to fight them off; rather than to ride with them.
C PTSD triggers often go unrecognised, not like single type 1 traumas with a beginning middle and end that can be identified easily. With CPTSD, due to the nature of traumatic events - multiple traumatic events result in small social environmental cues that can be easily missed. With complex trauma, the effects of trauma is not clear-cut and neither are the flashbacks associated with it. Every person is different and will experience different types of flashbacks and every person may also respond differently to treatment methods.
People will see PTSD and developmental trauma will often think they are going crazy. breakneck reactions of pure rage come out from seemingly nowhere. I won't ever sugarcoat anything I experience and even as recovered as I am, flashbacks still persist to be the number one contributing Factor to the issues I'm working on in my own life. That is because most of my flashbacks are somatic (smell or sounds) or emotional. If I am feeling like I am in any way being put in a situation that is anywhere near to my past, I automatically become emotionally triggered. It causes me to shake and tremor, to be aggressive in language, tone and even needs. I have certain acute symptoms that tend to go hand in hand with being emotionally triggered that I have had to slowly work through to realise.
For a long time, a decade almost - I felt over sensitive. I didn't know, nor was I given the knowledge of what an emotional flashback was. I thought a flashback was an experience where you viewed the experience beginning to end, and I wasn't experiencing that, therefore: I can't have trauma related issues.
Feelings like this can lead to shame and intense self-criticism as our inner critic begins to take control. This can result in self destructive behaviour such as; physical violence, aggression (throwing objects, breaking things) and periods of uncontrolled crying or periods of feeling numb, emotionless or detached.
Emotional flashbacks can cause rage, Insomnia, stomach issues and GI disorders but may also cause a trauma survivor to dissociate which can lead to further mental health issues if prolonged.
The best way in my opinion to combat an emotional flashback is to first understand what range of emotions it can cause. This is usually because an emotional flashback is subtle in it's beginning and hard to pinpoint for many events. Some emotional flashbacks are easier to pinpoint and when you have found a trigger; address it. Own it. Explore it. Only if you are in a safe enough place to do so.
When you have an understanding of why you seem to "overreact" you can begin to combat it. Our inner critic will be "untamed" and without proper knowledge and understanding, will cause self-doubt. In order to navigate our trauma we need to try to shed the negative judgemental voices within us. The voices that blocks us from healing, because, let's face it if we heal; they die.
For trauma survivors who experience childhood neglect and developmental trauma, the inner critic is deeply underlying and the brain may have developed its own pathways, causing threats of abandonment rejection and criticism to create emotional flashbacks. We don't have to actually experience a situation similar to our traumatic event but the possibility of being abandoned or rejected can cause us an acute or intense emotional flashback response.
The way our brain forms pathways is not conscious. It developed as a response at that particular time in order to survive. Emotional flashbacks are not discrete or clear images but overwhelming emotional states that are very different from our ordinary selves.
It is through better understanding of ourselves and with proper support that we can really begin to free ourselves from the intense overwhelming urges that emotional flashbacks cause.
As you heal through this knowledge that you are not alone and reach for support, you enable yourself to live a less reactive life. Coping mechanisms can slowly start to be incorporated into your life as you also practice self-compassion. Reducing the voice of the Inner critic and replacing with positive affirmations. Hear the critic, but argue back.
When we enter an emotional flashback our bodies suffer physiologically. Adrenaline in excess floods the body, cortisol rises and our body gets into the same state it was when facing our trauma - except the trauma is not there any longer.
Emotional flashbacks can cause the fight, flight, freeze and fawn response (4f), which blocks all rational thinking as explained in identifying emotions and regulating emotions earlier. Flashbacks that are emotional or somatic can be and are very subtle, therefore it can be hard to identify them. It can take years of reflection to identify many of them, but it does all start with knowledge and understanding of what an emotional flashback is and causes.
To deal with the emotional flashbacks we analyse the trigger: what was it? what thoughts were involved? what emotions were involved? It can be beneficial to write them down, if you prefer - I can type up a table as I have done with recognising emotions, as it's very similar and approach.
Have realistic expectations of what you can achieve, understand that even people who don't suffer trauma lose it sometimes. It will happen that an emotional flashback rises that you can't casually write down on a piece of paper. Maybe you're not there yet and understand that's ok too, at least you're here right now with me working on recognising it.
However keep in mind that by experiencing more positive situations/ outcomes and reflecting on these experiences will mean you are slowly regaining your life back with a more accurate picture of reality. Know that you are stronger than any flashback and dealing with them is a never ending process at times, you just have to accept that.
You have a 100% track record for surviving every single emotional and physical or somatic flashback you have had to endure. You don't have to be perfect anymore. With self-confidence and strong support and coping you can minimise the effect emotional flashbacks have on the practicality of your life.