PTSD Flashbacks are a normal symptom of Post Traumatic Stress. Flashbacks happen instantly and are triggered by something associated with the trauma like a smell, sound that takes you back into the past and you relive the trauma again. Reliving the trauma is not only a visual experience it can also trigger the physical responses experienced during the original trauma.
What are PTSD Flashbacks? PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Flashbacks are fragments of memories from a real and traumatic experience which surfaces to consciousness. PTSD flashbacks cause the person to re-experience a trauma event or parts of it.
Reliving the memory of a traumatic event can make you feel as if it’s happening all over again. Flashbacks can last a few moments or they can feel as if you’ve lost all awareness of the present moment until you’re back in the past experiencing the traumatic event again.
Along with the visual aspect of the PTSD flashbacks, it also triggers similar if not the same physical body responses encountered in the original trauma. Including increased heart rate, sweating, nausea, panic, anxiety and sheer terror.
PTSD flashbacks can happen at any time. What you need to know about flashbacks is there are warning signs if you take the time for awareness. If you have a flashback, once you have calmed down and grounded yourself into the present, it’s important to keep a journal and write down what was happening before the flashback, where you were at the time and what symptoms you experienced.
When you can identify these details, you will be able to identify your PTSD triggers. Then you can put steps in place to counteract the trigger and learn new coping skills so you feel like you’re in control.
Gaining control gives you back your personal power. It builds your inner strength. It also weakens the triggers, the flashbacks and trauma symptoms.
Flashbacks, Nightmares & Bad Dreams
Nightmares and bad dreams are like another form of PTSD flashbacks. In dreams, your unconscious mind can play out parts of the memory and adds in new scenarios or things that didn’t happen. The dreams can correct the circumstances of the trauma, give a better ending to it, change the whole situation so it was prevented, or it can be even more horrific and traumatic.
None of these scenarios will make you feel good upon waking. Reliving the trauma intensifies what the mind and body have already gone through and a happier ending reiterates the situation you couldn’t change.
Nightmares and bad dreams influence PTSD flashbacks because your mind has to filter through more memories and new scenarios from your dreams that didn’t happen. It makes everything more confusing and intense.
You may find in your dreams, there are other people you love or know who are in the event who were not there in reality. It can make you feel helpless, stressed and anxious.
Although nightmares and bad dreams are not ideal, it’s your unconscious minds way of finding some meaning or purpose of the trauma. You may have nightmares and bad dreams straight after the traumatic event or some time after.
As you progress through the healing process and your mind finds some peace the nightmares or bad dreams will go away or stop altogether.
PTSD Flashbacks, Emotions & Reactions
Flashbacks are a sign that your mind is trying to make sense of an event that probably doesn’t make sense. Your mind’s looking for closure and you need to give yourself time to heal.
Allow your mind time to process what happened. No matter how much you want to control it, change it or forget about it, flashbacks are part of the healing process.
The healing process can vary between people for many reasons. People interpret situations differently. It’s common for a group of individuals who have witnessed the same event to recall different versions of what happened.
Likewise, they will also internalise the event, attach emotions and thoughts to the event that will be uniquely different to each other. Some people will feel shock, grief and fear. Others will feel helplessness, anxious or anger. Some people will have PTSD flashbacks and other’s won’t. And some people will learn to detach and disassociate so they don’t feel emotions from the trauma.
When it comes to emotions, you can only block them out for so long before they come back when you least expect it. You might find yourself fighting back the tears that threaten to run down your cheeks, or you try hard to swallow the lump that feels like a big rock in your throat.
You can work hard to distract yourself from the anger that follows the feelings of helplessness because you couldn’t change what’s happened.
Try as you might, these feelings have a powerful energy behind them. These feelings want and need to come out. PTSD flashbacks will trigger these emotions instantly. You can either allow your feelings to surface, experience them in the moment and then let them go or keep pushing them down.
If you don’t deal with your feelings, they will come out at some point in the future in an intense and uncontrolled way. That means, everyone thinks you’re fine and your going ok. You may even think you’re fine, until you knock the pen off your desk…..
All of a sudden you’re swearing, yelling, kicking something or you’ve burst into uncontrollable tears. Maybe you’ve just snapped the head off some innocent person when they simply said “good morning” to you. You might find you’re picking on or criticising people and feelings of anger or frustration slowly leak out, even though you think you’re keeping it together.
Holding back your emotions doesn’t make you a stronger person. When bad things happen, you’re going to feel emotions because you’re human, right? It’s ok to feel your emotions. It’s ok to cry or to get angry about the trauma. Allowing yourself to feel your emotions means you’re being honest with yourself.
No-one else knows how you really feel so it’s up to you to take care of you and ask for help when you need it. The best thing you can do when it comes to stress, trauma, anxiety, PTSD and PTSD flashbacks, is acknowledging the feelings as they come.
If you keep pushing them away or keeping busy so you don’t have to think about it, over time, it will keep coming back to you in the form of flashbacks because you haven’t reached closure.
The only way you can achieve closure is to address the reality of the situation, be aware of negative and self-defeating thoughts and experience your emotions.
Flashbacks & Dissociation
Dissociation is a PTSD symptom and is similar to PTSD flashbacks. When a person dissociates, they feel numb and disconnected from reality. When the traumatic event occurred, their mind was able to co-ordinate their thoughts, their actions and record in their mind what they saw.
However, their emotions were stored separately instead of being experienced during the event. This separation and storing of emotions allowed them to function without feeling.
Although this may sound ideal in a traumatic situation, it isn’t ideal in the long term. The problem with dissociation is it’s not confined just to the traumatic event. It usually spreads to every area of a person’s life so they don’t feel emotions for anything or anyone. It can make them seem cold and unresponsive.
Dissociative flashbacks are an expression of powerful emotion and are triggered instantly. They change the person’s behaviour. It’s as if a switch has been flicked whereby the person shuts down and detaches from their feelings.
It’s almost as if the person is functioning in a “trance” state from the overwhelm. Dissociation is a characteristic of severe trauma. If this is something you’re experiencing, seek help with counselling or see your doctor immediately.
Tips For Getting Through PTSD Flashbacks
There are some things you can do to help yourself get past flashbacks and prepare yourself. Understand that it’s normal to have flashbacks and that they will become less frequent until they stop altogether. Flashbacks cannot hurt you or anyone else. It’s just a memory or pieces of a memory. The best thing you can do is interrupt the pattern of the flashback using these steps:
- Keep a lacky band on your wrist. Anytime you feel you are going back into the past and reliving the trauma flick the lacky band on your wrist and say STOP to yourself. The tiny pain infliction from the lacky band sends a signal to your brain to interrupt the pattern of the flashback.
- Once you have broken the pattern, make sure you have one positive statement that helps keep your mind focused in the present like “I am safe in this moment and I will be ok”.
- Then you need to ground yourself in the present. This is done by using all your senses.
- Notice where you are and what you can see around you. Feel your shoes around your feet or take your shoes off and ground yourself in the present moment. Notice how your clothes feel on your skin. Listen to the sounds around you and even the sound of your breathing.
- Wiggle your fingers and your toes and step out of the space where you’re standing, even if you move over 2 or 3 steps, it will shift the energy around you.
- Take a moment to think of all the good things you have in your life and feel the gratitude in your mind, body and soul.
It’s ok to feel grateful you’re alive. It’s ok to have a good day, to smile and to feel happy. It doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happened. When you can feel positive about your day and you can feel positive emotions towards other people, you know you’re recovering.
Life After A Trauma Event
There is no right way to experience trauma. After the trauma when the shock has worn off, the healing process can begin. Nothing will change what you’ve experienced but you can determine how the trauma to impacts your future.
There are always lessons to learn from a situation either directly or indirectly. The lesson is something you have to work out for yourself. Hearing life lessons coming from someone else, will only make you feel frustrated and annoyed.
Finding the life lesson will involve some soul searching and the ability to think differently. Finding life lessons doesn’t justify the traumatic event or make it ok, it just helps you find some inner peace.
Life lessons are never neatly packaged. They are messy and hard. If you can find a lesson to take from the event, you can let go of the emotion. The lesson will always pull you forward whereas the emotions will keep you stuck.
When it comes to healing after a traumatic event, be kind to yourself and know that it’s ok to have images of the event. It’s a piece of your history that will make it’s way into your past just like other things that have happened in your life that you’ve put behind you. If the images, flashbacks, nightmares or dissociations continue, seek help immediately.
If you need some help with PTSD flashbacks, you can book an appointment online when you are ready. We have appointments 7 days a week with no waiting lists.