Flashbacks
By Laurieann Chutis ACSW



What Are They?

	Flashbacks are memories of past traumas. They may take the form 
of pictures, sounds, smells, body sensations, feelings, or the 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 adolescent) we had to insulate ourselves from the
emotional and physical horrors of the trauma. In order to survive that
insulated child remained isolated unable to express the feelings an
thoughts of that time. It is as though we put that part into a time
capsule until it comes out full blown in the present. 

	When that part comes out the little one is experiencing the past
as if it was happening today. As the flashback occurs, it is as if we
forget that we have an ADULT part available to us for reassurance,
protection and grounding. The intense feelings and body sensations
occurring are so frightening because the feelings/sensations are not
related to the reality of the present and many times seem to come from out
of nowhere. 

	We begin to think we are crazy and are afraid of telling anyone
(including our therapist) of these experiences. We feel out of control and
at the mercy of our experiences. 

	We begin to avoid situations, and stimuli, that we think triggered
it. Many times flashbacks occur during any form of sexual intimacy, or it
may be a person who has similar characteristics as the perpetrator, or it
may be a situation today that stirs up similar trapped feelings,
(confrontations, aggressive people). 

	If you are feeling small...you are experiencing a flashback.

	If you are experiencing stronger feelings than are called for in
the present situation...you are experiencing a flashback. 


Flashbacks are Normal


	Vietnam vets have normalized this experience and have coined the
term as post traumatic stress syndrome. 

	Even the diagnostic category book for psychiatry defines post
traumatic stress syndrome as the normal experience of all people
experiencing an event that is outside the range of normal human
experience. 

	Flashbacks feel crazy because the little one doesnavailable to help.

What Helps


1.  TELL YOURSELF THAT YOU ARE HAVEING A FLASHBACK.

2.  REMIND YOURSELF THAT THE WORST IS OVER.  The feelings and sensations
you are experiencing are memories of the past. The actual event took place
long ago when you were little and YOU SURVIVED. Now it is time to let out
that terror, rage, hurt, and/or panic. Now is the time to HONOR YOUR
EXPERIENCE. 

3.  GET GROUNDED. This means stamping your feet on the ground so that the
little one knows you have feet and can get away now if you need to. As a
child you couldnaway...now you can! 

4.  BREATHE. When we get scared we stop normal breathing. As a result our
body begins to panic from lack of oxygen. Lack of oxygen in itself 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 can decrease. Breathing deeply means putting your
hand on your diaphragm and breathing deeply enough so that our diaphragm
pushes against our hand and then exhaling so that the diaphragm goes in. 

5.  REORIENT 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 of floor supporting
you. 

6.  SPEAK TO THE LITTLE ONE AND REASSURE HER/HIM. It is very healing to
get your adult in the picture so your little one now knows that he/she is
not alone that you are not in danger now that you can get out if you need
to, that it is okay, the feelings of long ago, without reprisal. The child
needs to know that it is safe to experience the feelings/sensations and
let go of the past. 

7.  GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR NEED FOR BOUNDARIES. Sometimes when we are
having a flashback we lose the sense of where we leave off and the world
begins: as if we do not have skin. Wrap yourself in a blanket, hold a
pillow or stuffed animal, go to bed, sit in a closet, any way that you can
feel yourself truly protected from the outside. 

8.  GET SUPPORT. Depending on your situation you may need to be alone or
may want someone near you. In either case it is important that your close
ones know about flashbacks so they can help with the process, whether that
means letting you be by yourself or by being there. 

9.  TAKE THE TIME TO RECOVER. Sometimes flashbacks are very powerful. Give
yourself the time to make the transition from this powerful experience. 
Donjump into adult activities right away. Take a nap, or a warm bath, or
some quiet time. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Do not beat yourself
for having a flashback.  Appreciate how much your little one went through
as a child. 

10. HONOR YOUR EXPERIENCE. Appreciate yourself for having survived that
horrible time as a child. Respect your body 11. BE PATIENT. It takes time
to heal the past. It takes time to learn appropriate ways of taking care
of self, of being an adult who has feelings, and developing effective ways
of coping in the here and now. 

12.  FIND A COMPETENT THERAPIST. Look for a therapist who understands the
processes of healing from incest (or sexual assault). A therapist can be a
guide, a support, a coach in this healing process. You do not have to do
it alone...ever again. 

13.  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 through. 

14.  KNOW YOU ARE NOT CRAZY...YOU ARE HEALING!