Managing Flashbacks

  • The term flashbacks is used to describe the experience of an event from the past being re-lived in the present
  • The feelings that are aroused through the experience are often as real (and can be just as frightening) as when the original event occurred
  • Survivors of abuse may experience flashbacks when something reminds them of events that still cause them distress and pain
  • Although flashbacks are very distressing they can be ‘managed’
  • There are ways to control them and also ways that family, friends and others can help
  • People who have been through traumatic events often have flashbacks, especially if they have not been able to talk through what has happened to them

Helping yourself

Flashbacks are a normal response that deals with trauma. If you have not already done so, seek help.

Try and see what sets off a flashback for you.

Being aware of the triggers can be helpful in avoiding or controlling situations that are difficult for you to handle  A trigger can be anything involving the 5 senses touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing.  What triggers you today may change tomorrow

You cannot stop the initial intrusive thoughts occurring however you do have a choice with how you respond, you can go with the flow or you can choose to come back into the present. The way to do this is through ‘grounding skills’ (see below).

  • With practice, eventually, you do have a choice whether you take the invitation to go into a ‘flashback’ or not.
  • You can begin to take note how you are caring for yourself during these events rather than taking note of the content
  • This can be done by noticing when you make decisions about whether to intervene and what you say to yourself when you make these choices
  • As you gain control over these intrusions, which it may take time, you will feel empowered
  • The benefits of not taking the ‘invitation’ which is the trigger is the knowledge that you can have control

Grounding Skills

Grounding skills help by keeping you in touch with what is actually around you ‘now’. This makes it more difficult to be overwhelmed by memories of the ‘past’. We can use any of our 5 senses to do this

  • Sight – keeping your eyes open when you feel yourself going off can be helpful, so can concentrating on an object or colour in the room
  • Touch – feeling your feet on the ground or standing up quickly, moving your body can also help bring you back into the ‘present’. Holding onto an object or holding someone’s hand is helpful
  • Hearing – concentrate hard on listening to something or someone – a friend, the radio, a favourite piece of music
  • Taste – a strong taste can bring you back, e.g. lemon juice on your tongue
  • Smell – take deep breaths, light a scented candle, smell your favourite perfume/aftershave