Flashbacks Are Normal
Flashbacks are recollections from the past. They
may be pictures, sounds, smells, feelings, or the lack of them (numbness).
Sometimes there is no actual visual or auditory memory. You may feel panicky, or
trapped, you may feel powerless without knowing why. These experiences can also
happen in dreams.
As a child you had to protect yourself from the
emotional and physical horrors of abuse. In order to survive, that child
remained locked inside, unable to express the feelings and thoughts of that
time. It is as though we put that part of us into a time warp until it comes out
in the present.
When that part comes out, the child in you is
experiencing the past as if it were happening today. As the flashback happens,
it is as if you forget that you have an Ďadultí self available for comfort,
protection and grounding. The extreme feelings and body sensations occurring are
so frightening because they are not related to the reality of the present and
many times seem to come from out of the blue.
We begin to think we are crazy and are afraid of
telling anyone about what is happening. We feel out of control and at the mercy
of our experiences.
We begin to avoid certain areas and situations,
that we think triggered it. Sometimes flashbacks occur during any form of sexual
contact, or it may be a person who looks or behaves and reminds you of the
person who abused you, or it may be a situation today that stirs up similar
trapped feelings (confrontation, angry people).
If you are feeling little... you may be
experiencing a flashback. If you are having stronger feelings than you expect to
have in the present situation ... you are probably having a flashback
Flashbacks Further Defined
Flashbacks are sometimes called Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The diagnostic category book for psychiatry defines
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the normal experience of all people
experiencing an event that is outside the range of normal human experience.
Flashbacks sometimes make you feel insane because
the child in you doesn't know that there is an adult survivor available to help.
What Does Help?
Tell yourself that you are having a flashback.
yourself that the worst is over. The feelings and sensations you are
experiencing are memories of the past.
Get Grounded. This means stamping your feet on the ground so that the child knows you
have feet and can get away now if you need to. (As a child, you couldn't get
away........ now you can).
When we get frightened we stop normal breathing. As a result our body begins to
panic because we havenít got enough oxygen. Lack of oxygen causes a great deal
of panic feelings; pounding in the head, tightness, sweating, feeling faint,
shakiness, dizziness. When we breathe deeply enough, a lot of the panic feeling
to the present. Begin to use your five senses in the present. Look around and
see the colors in the room, the shapes of things, the people near, etc. Listen
to the sounds in the room; your breathing, traffic, birds, people, cars etc.
Feel your body and what is touching it; your clothes, your own arms and hands,
the chair or floor supporting you.
Talk to the child
in you and tell her she is OK. It is very important that the child knows that
the adult is around to take care for her. The child needs to know that it is
safe to experience the feelings and let go of the past.
Find your boundaries.
Sometimes when we are having a flashback things get out of proportion we lose
the sense of where we end and the world begins; as if we do not have skin. Wrap
yourself in a blanket, hold a pillow or soft toy, go to bed, sit in a
cupboard... anything that you can do to make yourself feel safe.
You may need to be alone or you may want someone near you. In either case it is
important that your friends and relations know about flashbacks so they can help
with the process, whether that means letting you be by yourself or being there,
whatever is right for you is right.
to regain control. Sometimes flashbacks are very powerful. Don't expect yourself
to be able to do adult things immediately. Be kind and look after yourself do
something that you enjoy. Donít punish yourself, you and your child donít
It takes time to heal the past. It takes time to learn ways of taking care of
yourself, of being an adult who has feelings and developing effective ways of
coping in the here and now.
Find a competent therapist.
Look for a therapist who understands the process of healing from incest. A
therapist can be a guide, a support, a coach in this healing process. You do not
have to do it alone every again.
Join a self-help group.
Survivors are wonderful allies in this process of healing. It is a healing thing
to share your process with others who understand so deeply what you are going
Know you are not going mad .... you are healing!
More on TRIGGERS AND DESENSITIZATION