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A flashback is a sudden, involuntary re-experiencing of a past traumatic event as if it is happening now.

Trauma counselling near me

Flashbacks are always trauma-related and always involve involuntarily returning to a traumatic event and experiencing it again in the present. They can occur when you’re awake or sometimes in a dream, but are usually in response to a trigger, which you may be unaware of. The most common understanding of flashbacks is that they’re visual, and often they are; particularly if you have a complex ptsd diagnosis as it’s the easiest symptom to identify, but it’s not the only form.


With a visual flashback you ‘see’ the event happening in your head or maybe just a snapshot of it, or you might imagine you actually see the perpetrator. You might hear and even smell things you noticed at the time of the event and it can literally feel as though it’s real. Sometimes people describe ‘seeing’ their abuser when they’re out, and feeling overwhelmingly anxious about spotting them, even if they live nowhere near or are dead.

Visual flashbacks are usually the result of physical trauma and abuse which could have occurred in childhood or because of a violent act in adulthood, and can be as a result of one event or many. 


The other common form is an emotional flashback. This is harder to identify because it can  feel like hypervigilance, or repressed emotions that suddenly burst out, attachment issues, or even a panic attack. But the clue is that you feel compelled to react to a trigger because you can’t bear the emotions and terror it brings up. 


The situation could be something small such as a new partner not texting back; or feeling like you’ve done something wrong because they’re a bit distant; but it can trigger an intensely painful emotional flashback of rejection or ‘something terrible is about to happen’ that you react upon. For example sending lots of texts, keep asking if you’ve done something, or sabotaging the relationship by ending it to avoid further pain. But you’re not really responding to the present situation, you’re reacting to the past where you felt rejected, abandoned or abused.

Trauma counselling near me
Trauma counselling near me

Emotional flashbacks are common with children of narcissistic or emotionally unavailable/unreliable parents, with whom a child would have developed  an insecure relationship. 


People who’ve experienced trauma have the part of the brain that decides if a stimulus is a threat; the ‘smoke detector’ or amygdala; set on high alert to it happening again. The amygdala reacts in a fraction of a second and its’ only objective is to save our lives; so if it’s interpreted something as a threat to us it would make sense for us to re-experience the traumatic event in order to alert us to the perceived present ‘danger’; in the form of a flashback.


A flashback may be temporary and you may maintain some connection with the present moment or you may lose all awareness of what’s going on around you, being taken completely back to your traumatic event. Either way it feels horrendous, as if you’ve gone back to square one and the trauma has just happened; which in a way, it has. But what’s helpful to remember is that it’s your subconscious mind’s way of showing you that it hasn’t processed what happened; or your psyche showing you there’s a part of you that experienced the trauma that you’ve split off from that needs reintegrating.

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