Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

A journey to healing from complex trauma.

‘Emotional flashbacks’ are the worst of my Complex PTSD symptoms.

15 Comments

Flashbacks are an inevitable part of PTSD. A flashback is anything where the past is triggered, whether that be a visual flashback of the trauma, or sensory flashback, like emotions, or body memories.

I have had the visual type of flashback, they are horrible and once triggered, almost impossible to control. They didn’t last long, and ended in either massive distress, or a panic attack, requiring grounding and breathing to manage, the same as waking from a nightmare. I don’t get those often. I get mostly nightmares, as visual re-experiencing.

Emotional/sensory flashbacks, where intense emotions from the past are triggered, are very hard to identify and once in one, again are almost impossible to control/manage. I know whenever I am feeling panic, fear, shame, guilt, severe depression etc, that is not rational for the current situation, I am experiencing an emotional flashback. And these can last for a few hours, but I know they end. And I know my emotions will return to normal.

Triggers can be anything, a phrase said by someone, an invalidating comment on Facebook, seeing someone I know has lied to me/hurt me, something I see on the TV.

Flashbacks can be triggered by so many things, especially when you have a trauma history like mine, with 20+ years of severe abuse/trauma.

I have so much trauma and multiple abusers, all causing their own piece of damage over prolonged periods of time, through all my formative years, cumulating in Complex PTSD.

I have absolutely no idea where any one of the emotional flashbacks comes from. I have known fear and panic, abuse, neglect, shame, blame and severe depression, throughout a large portion of my life.

Trying to figure out where sensory flashbacks originate, isn’t possible with someone with a trauma history like mine, so I don’t even try. And because there is no ‘visual’ I don’t connect it immediately as being from the past.

Instead, I focus on understanding it is a flashback and to not be hard on myself and not judge myself for it. It is involuntary and not because I want to feel the hurt, pain, fear, shame, depression etc I felt before in my life.

I am getting better at understanding emotional/sensory flashbacks, identify the emotions quicker and sort through how to try not to trigger it that way again.

Managing emotional/sensory flashbacks with no ‘visual’ to identify immediately as a flashbacks, is the hardest part of my journey in healing. The other symptoms – nightmares, anxiety, abandonment, grief etc, I can manage better now, certainly not perfectly, or as consistently as I would like, but better. But emotional regulation and emotional flashbacks feel impossible to control.

I truly know it will be a work of God to ever manage them well.

As I am not.

Yet.

05/07/13, Update on this post.

I am actually controlling them far better than I believed I was. I can identify them as they are occurring, and I can stop them quickly now, as per discussion with my counsellor. I often feel I have to be perfect, and if I am not, then assume I am doing badly, when in fact this emotional control management is something that has increased fast, by two things – knowing where these intense emotions come from and why and also prayer to help control them, which had occurred.

These emotional flashbacks, can be managed.

And the feelings I get, are also useful, as they indicate something is wrong, which I am very accurately able to pick up. So, for example, when someone is lying and I know they are, yes it may triggers emotions about being lied to before, but this doesn’t last long. If when calm and totally okay, I still feel annoyed about the lying, then this indicates to me, my emotional response was correct, and that this lying and betrayal is something serious.

So, these triggered emotions, don’t mean I am acting irrationally, they mean something is really wrong and I have picked up on it and know it needs dealing with.

It is why I don’t react emotionally to all lies, just the ones that will indicate something is very wrong.

My vigilance and deep discernment ability being the reason I have picked up on it in the first place, and my emotions being that something is really wrong.

So again, this is really a gift and can be used accurately and is being used by God.

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Author: Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

I am a survivor of complex and multiple trauma and abuse, who at the age of 40, began my healing journey. I am using my journey to recovery and healing, to help others, to help survivors feel less alone, validated, encouraged and to enable others to understand themselves more. Complex trauma, particularly from severe, prolonged childhood abuse, is profoundly life changing. Complex trauma produces complex adults. The journey to recovery is a painful, often lonely, emotional daily challenge and it is my aim to encourage others in their daily battle. With my strengthening relationship with God, my wonderful husband, my highly experienced therapy team and my friends, I am on my journey to recovery, after decades of abuse. I am truly blessed.

15 thoughts on “‘Emotional flashbacks’ are the worst of my Complex PTSD symptoms.

  1. Thank you for writing this. It explains so much about me.

  2. You are very welcome, I know when I truly understood emotional flashbacks, it was a ‘wow’ moment of realisation that was much needed. Knowing as much as we can about our own symptoms, is needed to know how best to manage them.

    • hi. im really glad I found this.
      I have been through a rough two years… serious emotional family abuse.
      I had an event that happened back in mid july which was more of a breaking point for me and the start of some of the things I have been feeling for the past several weeks.
      during the two years that the abuse was happening, my options for a place to live were limited to the house that I had to be in. I was numb for most of this time.
      For the past two months I have been struggling a bit–but I am glad that I am not in that situation again and I never will be.
      Some of the things that I have been experiencing since the event are extreme anger if the name of the person(s) is brought up, feeling like I always need to be looking over my shoulder, and thinking that this individual knows where I am all of the time. I have also been incredibly jumpy and paranoid about my safety. I don’t really sleep unless I take some kind of sleep aid, and even then it doesn’t help, or it is still difficult to fall asleep. If I hear a noise outside of my dorm room, I am immediately overtaken with fear and I assume that someone is outside of my room trying to enter. I feel an immense amount of fear come over me and I feel like I am in danger. I was up till 5am staring at my door–as this happened last night actually. Nightmares are the most persistent above all else, and this is embarrassing for me because I am a sophomore in college, and my roommate is sometimes woken up by me yelling in my sleep. If the nightmare is not an exact recap of that day, the nightmare will evoke the same feelings of that day. how can I make this stop.
      My doctor told me about a week ago that this is ptsd, and once he said that I actually felt better for a few days because I felt that okay.. im not going crazy. but after last night I am concerned.. I don’t know if this is ptsd. or if I am actually crazy.
      yesterday I woke up feeling just really out of it. not happy not sad just in a fog. I was studying most of the day so I figured maybe it was a mix of boredom and tiredness–I drank a lot of coffee throughout the day and I still felt the same. I got back to my dorm around 12pm and got into the shower, and. I was taken over with panic and fear, and I began to cry uncontrollably. my head began jerkng along with my hands. my breathing became uncontrollable also. all of this lasted for about three minutes until I started to settle down. What was the most bizarre was that I could hear a voice in my head. I was listening to a song that night on repeat which may have invoked a sense of sadness, but I tend to retreat to music when I am in a bad mood. I could hear this voice in my head and I tried to think of something different but it continued. this lasted for about two minutes. what is going on???

  3. I won’t even begin to try to share why we share so much PTSD symptoms but I will tell you that meditation, specifically zazen meditation, can provide the emotional regulation skills you seek. It will also strengthen your mood regulation skills. I am a therapist AND diagnosed with MDD and multiple events that resulted in PTSD but have no other connection than the diagnosis. I understand your frustration and can only encourage you to make a 6 month commitment to twice daily 10-20 minute sessions first thing in the morning and sometime before going to bed. It isn’t a magic pill but you will be amazed.

  4. Thank you Steve, I have liked your Facebook page on mine, as I clicked on your name :-) I also believe in meditation and mindfulness as being a very healing part of PTSD therapy. My meditation is faith related, but I truly believe in the mind’s ability to recover. It takes time and I’m only 9 months into therapy and I’ll be in therapy for some time yet. Doing EMDR as well, so hopeful that will also help reduce the flashbacks. I think doing meditation before bed is an excellent idea and will no doubt be something I can practise now, ready for when I come off meds which currently get me to sleep.

  5. Zazen is not a religious exercise in any way and its practice is very effective for mood management and regulation. By practicing not attaching to your thoughts you develop a much better ability to manage moods and to de-escalate once triggered. Here’s one of the many good sites on the subject:

    http://zenhabits.net/meditation-for-beginners-20-practical-tips-for-quieting-the-mind/

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  7. Thank you for an enlightening and sensitive post!

  8. I have read your story. I too suffer from flashback sight smell emotional. I had mutiable abusers sexually and one abuser was my dad he rapped me when I was thfree and was very physically and mentally abusive for years after. I’m pretty sure my dad accidentally rapped me he was an alcoholic and blacked out when it happened that all the flash backs shared with me. My uncle molested me but . Always remembered it no flashback now I’m having flash backs about glean he has been with my grandmother for40 plus years. He is a pedifile and has been molesting my cousins to I don’. Think they remember. But I believe he has been molesting their children now. I just had my first flash in regards to this one I was at a play group with my 5 month all they were video taping I had asked her to stop as it made me feel uncomfortable and then I started to sshake cry and my body went completely numb.I thought this part of my piranhas over but the flashback started up again maybe this time I’m more prepared . Forgave my dad and my uncle but this man has got to go to jail he has been abusin. Alto of children . Believe but my family thinks I’m crazy once again think I’m ducked up but I’m not this stuff is real the flash backs are just starting again I know it’s him I can even smell him when my flashbacks come on its scary but I’m stronger and I will make it through

  9. Pingback: ‘Emotional flashbacks’ are the worst of my Complex PTSD symptoms. | Warrior Soaring Spirit

  10. thank you for sharing your experience. i have mostly emotional flashbacks, and as you pointed out at first it is harder to understand if it’s flashback or something else. can you please share your technique to overcome the emotional flashback? is it something similar to get relaxed, focus on body sensations and to tell yourself “i’m safe, i’m and adult, i’ts a flashback, etc”?

    thank you

  11. Thank you so much for writing about this topic, Healing from trauma is so complex and I don’ believe anyone has all the answers, so hearing what helps from others fighting the same battle is very helpful.
    agree that emotional flashbacks are very difficult. I have a great difficulty with completely shutting down, not being able to articulate a word except “yes”, “fine” and “I don’t know” . when things are playing in my head. Body memories used to paralyze me and send me straight into full flashbacks-reliving the experience in my mind like I was actually back in it. Those were my biggest problems, having a body memory in the middle of classes or at the library, party. Eventually I learned to literally grab hold of whatever was around me and rub it with my thumbs ( our finger tips have more feeling nerves in them than any other point in our body)for texture and label/count everything in my genera area until it stopped. It took time but I have been doing well for a few years to where I am still able to somewhat hear if someone is talking to me, but not go into flashback.
    As far as emotional flashbacks I am not great at noticing them or managing it. The only way I can really notice that I am having one is that I am reacting to someone, usually in a negative way, for no reason. A good example for me is when I see my fathers old work friends, my father is now retired, but I saw those people all the time growing up from age 3-22. I am on edge, cold, almost rude and feel like I want to throw up.
    I think this is a great blog post and would make a great discussion piece- if thee is a way to hold a discussion on the internet with multiple people.
    I am glad thing are going better for you, as per your update!

  12. My emotional flashbacks literally come out of nowhere and I find it so hard to understand them. I have realised with help that this has been something I have had for years. They have. Got so much worse though in the last year or so. I need counselling and need to talk about things but this is something I’m not quite ready for and being on a waiting list is fine with me. I have written a bit about my past which has helped a bit, but being able to say word aloud and not to feel the intense emotions that they bring up would be amazing. These words are hideous to have to connect to myself and when i hear them they trigger me….smells, songs, places, voices….i want to be able to cope instead of falling apart….but fighting these with the turbulance that my mhi brings with it just leaves me exhausted and vulnerable. Maybe one day i will achieve what u have. Xxx

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