Coping with Flashbacks
Flashbacks are considered one of the re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD. In a flashback, you may feel or act as though a traumatic event is happening again. For example, a rape survivor, when triggered, may begin to smell certain scents or feel pain in her body similar to that which was experienced during her assault.
- Tell yourself you are having a flashback and that it is ok and very normal in people who were traumatised as children (or as adults).
- Remind yourself that the worst is over – it happened in the past, but it is not happening now. The “child” inside you who was abused is giving you these memories to use in your healing and however terrible you feel, you survived the awfulness then, which means you can survive and get through what you are remembering now.
- Call on the “adult” part of yourself to tell your “child” that she/he is not alone, not in any danger now and that you will help her/him to get through this. Let your child self know that it is okay to remember and feel what she/he feels and that this will help her/him in healing from what had happened to her/him. However hard it is for you, she/he is communicating in the only way she/he can.
- Try some of these ways of “grounding” yourself and becoming more aware of the present:
- Stamp your feet, grind them around on the floor to remind yourself where you are now
- Look around the room, noticing the colours, the people, the shapes of things
- Listen to the sounds around you: the traffic, voices, the washing machine etc...
- Feel your body, the boundary of your skin, your clothes, the chair or the floor supporting you
- Have an elastic band to hand (or on your wrist) – you can ping it against your wrist and feel it on your skin – that feeling is in the now, the things you are re-experiencing were in the past
- Take care of your breathing: breathe deeply down your diaphragm; put your hand there (just above your navel) and breathe so that your hand gets pushed up and down. You can also count to 5 as you breathe out and in. When we get scared we breathe too quickly and shallowly and our body begins to panic because we’re not getting enough oxygen. This causes dizziness, shakiness and more panic. Breathing slowly and deeply will stop the panic.
- If you have lost sense of where you end and the rest of the world begins, rub your body so you can feel its’ edges, the boundary of you. Wrap yourself in a blanket, feel it around you.
- Get support if you would like it. Let people close to you know about flashbacks so they can help you if you want them to. That might mean holding you, talking to you, helping you to reconnect with the present, to remember you are safe and cared for now.
- Flashbacks are powerful experiences, which drain your energy. Take time to look after yourself when you have had a flashback. You could have a warm, relaxing bath or a sleep, a warm drink, play some soothing music or just take some quiet time for yourself. Your “child” and you deserve being taken care of, given all you went through in the past.
- When you feel ready, write down all you can remember about the flashback and how you got through it. This will help you to remember information for your healing and to remind you that you did get through it (and can again).
- Remember you are not crazy – flashbacks are normal and you are healing.
Share with us some of your coping skills for flashback.