Flashback Management

It is normal for everyone after going through an ordeal to experience reactions on a physical, psychological or behavioural level. This is a common reaction for those who have gone through traumatic experiences and is not a reflection of your strength or weakness of character. As individuals, as our experiences are all unique, so then can be the effects of the impact of trauma. Some individuals are impacted with many symptoms and others experience few symptoms. Some people experience flashbacks very shortly after the ordeal, otheres may feel the effects in time over weeks, months or years.

Ways To Cope

  • Within the first 24 – 48 hrs, periods of appropriate physical exercise alternated with relaxation will minimize some of the physical reactions
  • Structure your time – keep busy
  • You are normal and having normal reactions – don’t label yourself crazy
  • Talk to people – talk is the most healing medicine
  • Be aware of numbing the pain with over use of drugs or alcohol. You don’t need to complicate the situation with a substance abuse problem.
  • Reach out – people care
  • Maintain as normal a schedule as possible by sharing feelings and checking out how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten  and share hoq you’re feelings with others.
  • Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts and feelings about the incident.
  • Do things that feel good for you.
  • Realize those around you are under stress.
  • Don’t make any big life changes
  • Do make as many daily decisions as possible which give you a feeling of control over your life.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Reoccuring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks are normal – don’t try to fight them- they will decrease over time and become less painful.
  • Eat  well balanced meals regularly

Flashbacks

What are they?

Flashbacks are memories of the past traumas.  They may take the form of pictures, sounds, smells, body sensations,feelings or lack of them (numbness). Many times there is no actual visual or auditory memory. One may have the sense of panic, being trapped, feeling powerless,with no memory stimulating it. These experiences can also happen in dreams.

As a child or adolescence, we had to insulate ourselves from the emotional and physcial horrors of the trauma. In order to survive, that child remained isolated unable to express the feelings and thoughts at that time. It’s as though we put that part into  a time capsule until it comes out in the present.

When flashbacks occure one often feels like a scared child and experiences the past as if it was happening today.As the flashback occures it s as if we forget that we have an adult part available to us for reassurance, protection and grounding. The intense feelings and body sensations occuring are so frightening because the feelings/sensations are not related to the reality of the present and many times seem to come out of nowhere.

We begin to think we are crazy and are afraid of telling anyone (including our therpist) of these experiences. We feel out of control and at the mercy of these experiences. We begin to avoid situations and stimuli, that we think triggered it. Many times flashbacks occur during any form of sexual intimacy. It may occur with a person who has similar characteristics as the perpetrator. It may be any situation that stirs up similar trapped feelings. If you are feeling small or having body distortions you may be experiencing a flashback. If you are experiencing stronger feelings than are called for in the present situation you may be experiencing a flashback.  Flashbacks are essential to healing because they allow us to learn what happened and release feelings that are stored in our bodies. Flashbacks are normal. Vietnam vets have normalized this experience and have coined the term post traumatic stess syndrome/ response. Even the diagnostic category book for psychiatry defines post traumatic stess syndrome as  the normal reaction of all people experiencing an event that is outside the range of normal human experience.  Flashbacks feel crazy because you often revert to a regressed or childlike state. You are not going crazy, you are feeling very scared and vulnerable. It is not crazy to feel very scared and vulnerable as an adult. Most people whether abused or not feel this way, at some time. People who have experienced trauma may feel this way often and more intensely.

Co produced by Donna Bailey and Cathy Shawongonabe Family Mental Health Case Manager – Enaahtig Healing Lodge and Learning Centre.

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