The Many Faces of Flashbacks

In its’ simplest definition, flashbacks are defined as “a sudden and disturbing vivid memory of an event in the past, typically as the result of psychological trauma”. For most of my life, I thought I didn’t experience this. Based on this simple definition, it was one affect of incest and CPTSD that hadn’t gotten to me. I thought flashbacks were literally being stopped frozen in a moment while a whole experience/memory took you over and you thought you were physically right back in it.  I was ignorant.

Here’s another definition of flashbacks, the one that made me see just how much I have been experiencing it after all: “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.” Holy crap! Hello me!

Here’s more: “As a child, we had to insulate ourselves from the emotional and physical horrors of the trauma.  In order to survive, that insulated child remains isolated, unable to express the feelings and 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 were happening today.  As the flashback occurs, it is as if we forget that we have an adult part availabe 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 see to come form nowhere.”

http://www.mnwelldir.org/docs/mental_health/flashbacks.htm

OMG! This explains so much about me. My adult life has been filled with this! My flashbacks aren’t so much the actual memory of abuse, although that has happened a few times, but rather re-experiencing the thoughts and feelings of the abuse. For me, it was/is a problem with authority figures, like teachers or bosses. I am a perfectionist and when I mess up, even if it’s small and insignificant, and someone approaches me about it, I feel small and helpless and want to run away in fear. I feel like a failure and that they’ll think I’m not good enough. I can’t handle confrontation at all. If I don’t understand something new right away, the tears start to form instantly and I choke them back. I am very protective of a certain amount of personal space around my body – if someone I don’t want to gets too close to me or touches me, I freak out inside.  I step back or pull away and I actually feel dirty inside. I have OCD when it comes to my hands, feet and face – I can’t stand having them dirty. I definitely have to wash my hands immediately after shaking hands with someone – if I can’t, I am panicked until I can.  And my dreams and nightmares – I think they are run almost 100% by flashbacks.

A note on this: “As the flashback occurs, it is as if we forget that we have an adult part available to us for reassurance, protection and grounding.” – While this may be true, for me it feels more like the adult part of me is so damaged and insecure that she can’t possible protect or reassure the me going through the flashback.

I am curious how many other survivors have not realized that they are in fact experiencing flashbacks. It’s a tough realization, that I can tell you without doubt.

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8 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Flashbacks

  1. I also had a skewed idea of what flashbacks are. It wasn’t until someone explained the concept of sensory or somatic flashbacks that I realized I have them all the time.

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  2. I feel the same way. I can’t remember the first time I realized I was having flashbacks but I was stunned when I realized that the actual definition of flashback is just generic and encompasses all aspects of what a flashback could be. I still sometimes question if I’m actually having a flashback, wanting to grasp onto that definition and say “no, I’m not having them”.

    I get flashbacks sometimes when my eyes are closed and they are just pulses of light accompanied by feelings of panic. It took months for me to realize the reason this was is just because I closed my eyes when he abused me. I closed them tight, activating the optic nerve in the eye. Ever rub your eyelids when your eyes are closed and see colors and bursts of light?

    I hate flashbacks. And I also understand not being able to get to that adult, or the adult feeling too shaky.

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    1. Oh how I wish you weren’t going through this as well. It takes a lot out of us emotionally and even physically. I totally understand the “closing the eyes” – makes perfect sense. I actually see vivid colors sometimes when I close my eyes at night to fall asleep. Thank you so very much for sharing. Hugs to you sweetness!

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      1. No, you definitely are not alone! I wish “normal” people could understand the strength it takes to go through, survive and then deal with the things that we have. I think survivors have a strength that is amazing, even if we can’t see it for ourselves sometimes.

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