When you have an emotional flashback, it can often be sudden, overwhelming, and distressing. It’s like they seem to just come out of nowhere. The slightest thing could be a trigger.
Flashbacks connected to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can, in an instant, mentally transport you back to the trauma that has shaped part of your life ever since. And, of course, these traumatic flashbacks are upsetting because they bring up so many painful emotions, especially fear.
It’s no exaggeration that emotional flashbacks due to trauma can wreck your life.
However, they don’t have to impact your life forever. There is a way out! Here are some ideas for how to cope with their effects.
Educate Yourself about Trauma-Induced Emotional Flashbacks
Emotional flashbacks are just one part of the struggle for those who have experienced trauma. When you have such a flashback, it seems as if you are once again back in the situation or event that caused the trauma. What does that feel like?
You might experience:
- A combination of being present but also in the past
- Strong emotions such as confusion, fear, and anxiety
- A sense of powerlessness and dread
The problem with emotional flashbacks—besides being distressing—is that while you are experiencing them, it’s hard to know what is your current reality, and what isn’t.
Since PTSD flashbacks are so painful, confusing, and frightening, your first step to deal with them is to educate yourself about what they are and how they affect you. That can at least take some of the fear out of the equation. What else can you do?
Understand How Trauma Triggers Work
A trigger is something that takes you back to that traumatic moment. It could be one thing specifically. Or it could be anything related to the trauma. And if you struggle with complex PTSD (C-PTSD), or developmental trauma, then you will likely have flashbacks that are triggered by safety issues in relationships
For instance, for a person who was in a car accident, just the smell of gasoline may be the trigger to send them back to that accident. On the other hand, a person who has experienced trauma over a long period of time may struggle with multiple triggers.
To handle emotional flashbacks, it helps to recognize what your triggers are. It’s also important to understand that just because you have been triggered, doesn’t mean that you are unsafe.
Stay in Control
One of the lasting effects of trauma is that you never feel in total control. This is especially true when you are triggered. However, there are many things that you can do to cope with this.
- Use breathing exercises to avoid panicking or hyperventilating
- Stay grounded by using your different senses to identify what is in your environment right now
- Do a body scan, starting either at the head or the toes
- Take note of any sensations you are experiencing
- Distract yourself by getting active, taking a walk or doing some light exercise
Staying calm and in control is one of your primary defenses when emotional flashbacks happen. When you realize you’re alright and not in danger, that feels empowering.
Therapy for Trauma and Emotional Flashbacks
Ultimately, you will need professional help to overcome your trauma and the emotional flashbacks it causes. Therapists use a variety of treatment methods, but I practice two in particular.
EMDR therapy is a very effective treatment for trauma. Short for eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing, this technique helps your brain to resolve traumatic memories and put them to rest.
The key is using bilateral eye movements during a guided therapy session as you recall a painful memory. This exercise helps the brain disconnect the emotional distress from the traumatic memory, reprocess it, and resolve the symptoms of trauma.
Neurofeedback therapy is designed to help you observe your brain patterns in real-time via a monitor. With this tool, I can guide you through specific exercises to alter your brain patterns and ease your trauma symptoms, including emotional flashbacks. In effect, you transition from feeling distressed to being more calm and centered.
Experiencing emotional flashbacks due to trauma can be very hard on your mental health. You may feel that there is nothing you can do about your PTSD. Yet, there are steps you can take to minimize the effects trauma has on your life. This includes getting therapeutic support.
If you’re struggling with emotional flashbacks, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to learn how trauma therapy can help.