What Is A Flashback?

Flashbacks are one of those buzzwords that we throw around and often unintentionally misconstrue the meaning of. In trauma, flashbacks and memories differ quite greatly. When we talk about a memory, we are referring to the recollection of a stored thought/feeling/image/experience. However, when we use the term flashback, we introduce the element of reliving/re-experiencing. When someone is having a traumatic flashback, time and presence are temporarily paused. There is some level of dissociation with reality whereby the client is unable to discern their present from that which they are recalling in the past. Flashbacks can be visual, auditory, cognitive, emotional, behavioral. The person is unable to control the accompanying flooding of imagery, noises, sensations, thoughts, and beliefs. Flashbacks can be particularly unsettling because the individual feels like they are “back there” and endure the same fears and overwhelming emotions as though it were happening all over again. In the moment, clients are often unable to recognize any sense of safety as the threat from the past invades their sense of now. This can create accompanying feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness in the aftermath of a flashback.

Flashbacks are best managed with grounding exercises. The more a client can stay in the here and now, and utilize strategies to reorient to the present, the less power flashbacks have over them. Grounding can be as simple as picking an object in the room and using all of your senses to describe the item. In doing this, you are challenging your brain to be present and focused on the immediate moment. It is also important to introduce the sense of safety to reorient one’s mind to the reality of the here and now immediately following a flashback. Often a simple reminder of one’s age and autonomy can be helpful- Grabbing your car keys and saying aloud, “I am ___ years old, I am able to move my body and leave, and I am safe” is a quick and effective way to accomplish this.

Have you ever experienced a flashback before? I challenge you to increase your awareness around these occurrences, and to get curious about learning new, and more effective ways to manage flashbacks. Stay tuned for future blog posts about specific grounding strategies to try!Flashbacks are one of those buzzwords that we throw around and often unintentionally misconstrue the meaning of. In trauma, flashbacks and memories differ quite greatly. When we talk about a memory, we are referring to the recollection of a stored thought/feeling/image/experience. However, when we use the term flashback, we introduce the element of reliving/re-experiencing. When someone is having a traumatic flashback, time and presence are temporarily paused. There is some level of dissociation with reality whereby the client is unable to discern their present from that which they are recalling in the past. Flashbacks can be visual, auditory, cognitive, emotional, behavioral. The person is unable to control the accompanying flooding of imagery, noises, sensations, thoughts, and beliefs. Flashbacks can be particularly unsettling because the individual feels like they are “back there” and endure the same fears and overwhelming emotions as though it were happening all over again. In the moment, clients are often unable to recognize any sense of safety as the threat from the past invades their sense of now. This can create accompanying feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness in the aftermath of a flashback.

Flashbacks are best managed with grounding exercises. The more a client can stay in the here and now, and utilize strategies to reorient to the present, the less power flashbacks have over them. Grounding can be as simple as picking an object in the room and using all of your senses to describe the item. In doing this, you are challenging your brain to be present and focused on the immediate moment. It is also important to introduce the sense of safety to reorient one’s mind to the reality of the here and now immediately following a flashback. Often a simple reminder of one’s age and autonomy can be helpful- Grabbing your car keys and saying aloud, “I am ___ years old, I am able to move my body and leave, and I am safe” is a quick and effective way to accomplish this.

Have you ever experienced a flashback before? I challenge you to increase your awareness around these occurrences, and to get curious about learning new, and more effective ways to manage flashbacks. Stay tuned for future blog posts about specific grounding strategies to try!