​MANAGING FLASHBACKS

(A fantastic article by Pete Walker, M.A., Psychologist)

  • Say to yourself: "I am having a flashback". Flashbacks take us into a timeless part of the psyche that feels as helpless, hopeless and surrounded by danger as we were in childhood. The feelings and sensations you are experiencing are past memories that cannot hurt you now.
  • Remind yourself: "I feel afraid but I am not in danger! I am safe now, here in the present." Remember you are now in the safety of the present, far from the danger of the past.
  • Own your right/need to have boundaries. Remind yourself that you do not have to allow anyone to mistreat you; you are free to leave dangerous situations and protest unfair behavior.
  • Speak reassuringly to the Inner Child. The child needs to know that you love her unconditionally- that she can come to you for comfort and protection when she feels lost and scared.
  • Deconstruct eternity thinking: in childhood, fear and abandonment felt endless - a safer future was unimaginable. Remember the flashback will pass as it has many times before.
  • Remind yourself that you are in an adult body with allies, skills and resources to protect you that you never had as a child. (Feeling small and little is a sure sign of a flashback)
  • Ease back into your body. Fear launches us into 'heady' worrying, or numbing and spacing out. 

            [a] Gently ask your body to Relax: feel each of your major muscle groups and softly encourage them to                          relax. (Tightened musculature sends unnecessary danger signals to the brain)
            [b] Breathe deeply and slowly. (Holding the breath also signals danger). 
            [c] Slow down: rushing presses the psyche's panic button. 
            [d] Find a safe place to unwind and soothe yourself: wrap yourself in a blanket, hold a stuffed animal, lie                          down in a closet or a bath, take a nap. 
            [e] Feel the fear in your body without reacting to it. Fear is just an energy in your body that cannot hurt you if                  you do not run from it or react self-destructively to it.

  • Resist the Inner Critic's Drasticizing and Catastrophizing: 

            [a] Use thought-stopping to halt its endless exaggeration of danger and constant planning to control the                          uncontrollable. Refuse to shame, hate or abandon yourself. Channel the anger of self-attack into saying                    NO to unfair self-criticism. 
            [b] Use thought-substitution to replace negative thinking with a memorized list of your qualities and                                  accomplishments

  • Allow yourself to grieve. Flashbacks are opportunities to release old, unexpressed feelings of fear, hurt, and abandonment, and to validate - and then soothe - the child's past experience of helplessness and hopelessness. Healthy grieving can turn our tears into self-compassion and our anger into self-protection.
  • Cultivate safe relationships and seek support. Take time alone when you need it, but don't let shame isolate you. Feeling shame doesn't mean you are shameful. Educate your intimates about flashbacks and ask them to help you talk and feel your way through them.
  • Learn to identify the types of triggers that lead to flashbacks. Avoid unsafe people, places, activities and triggering mental processes. Practice preventive maintenance with these steps when triggering situations are unavoidable.
  • Figure out what you are flashing back to. Flashbacks are opportunities to discover, validate and heal our wounds from past abuse and abandonment. They also point to our still unmet developmental needs and can provide motivation to get them met.
  • ******Be patient with a slow recovery process: it takes time in the present to become un-adrenalized, and considerable time in the future to gradually decrease the intensity, duration and frequency of flashbacks. Real recovery is a gradually progressive process (often two steps forward, one step back), not an attained salvation fantasy. Don't beat yourself up for having a flashback.

 

  • Name 5 things you can see in the room with you.
  • Name 4 things you can feel (“chair on my back” or “feet on floor”)
  • Name 3 things you can hear right now (“fingers tapping on keyboard” or “tv”)
  • Name 2 things you can smell right now (or, 2 things you like the smell of)
  • Name 1 good thing about yourself

Some Ideas for Mindfulness:

  • Keep your eyes open, look around the room, notice your surroundings, notice details.
  • Hold a pillow, stuffed animal or a ball.
  • Place a cool cloth on your face, or hold something cool such as a can of soda.
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Put your feet firmly on the ground
  • FOCUS on someone’s voice or a neutral conversation. 
  • Bring up today’s newspaper on the web, notice the date. Read something fun!
  • Breathe slowly and steadily from your core. Imagine letting fear and worry go, evaporating along with each breath.
  • Trace your hands against the physical outline of your body. Experience your own presence in the world.
  • Call a friend and have a chat.
  • If you are feeling ‘stuck’, change how you’re positioned. Wiggle your fingers, tap your feet. Pay attention to the movement: You are in control of what your body is doing, right here and now.
  • Eat or drink something. Is it hot, or cold? Sweet, or sour?
  • Meditate, if you are able.
  • Use your voice. Say your name or pick up a book and read the first paragraph you find out loud.
  • Look at yourself in the mirror. Smile, even if that’s the last thing you feel like! How does that feel? What can you see? (If  negative thoughts come to mind, write them down to look at later but let them go for now. You’re anxious enough as it is.)
  • Write out what’s going on. Keep writing until you start to notice it makes a difference, lets some of the things you’re anxious about out.
  • Take a shower/bath. Notice the sensations of the water.​
  • Write somebody you care about an email.
  • Imagine yourself in a familiar, comfortable place. Feel the safety. Know it.
  • Take a look outside. Count the number of trees and street signs.
  • Exercise. Jump up and down on the spot. Try some gentle yoga, or ride a bike.
  • Hold onto something comforting. Maybe a blanket or an old stuffed toy.
  • Laugh. Even if that’s hard. Just the act of laughing about something, anything can break that spinning out of control feeling.​
  • When you’re not too stressed, make a list of the things that provoke your anxiety. Take it to your therapist and ask them to help you find ways to desensitize you to some of those things. Then those triggers won’t be quite so powerful, and your anxiety coping skills will work better.
  • If you get PTSD flashbacks, when you’re feeling OK, make a list of the furniture in your home and what room it’s in. Give the list to a friend you can call to help you focus on what’s now and safe.

Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present. They help reorient a person to the here-and-now and in reality. Grounding skills can be helpful in managing overhelming feelings or intense anxiety. They help someone to regain their mental focus from an often intensely emotional state. Grounding skills occur within two specific approaches: Sensory Awareness and Cognitive Awareness

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