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.
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.