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Flashback (psychological phenomenon)

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Main article: Hallucinations

Flashbacks a form of hallucination and reflect 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. During a flashback, the victim could have a sense of panic, being trapped, feeling powerless with no memory stimulating it. These experiences can also happen in dreams.

The relived memory could be from a childhood trauma, where we try not to show our feelings or emotions, and therefore, the memories are hidden away, and as such are like a ticking bomb, waiting to explode.

When that "bomb" explodes, the victim is experiencing the memory as if it were happening today. As the flashback occurs, 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 nowhere.

During these times, one can feel as if they have a lack of control, and hide away from telling friends, family, and even professional assistance.

When it occurs involuntarily, the flashback may be due to a disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as in cases of remembering a war trauma or sexual abuse trauma, or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder, and may be related to the use of psychedelic drugs.

If You Are Suffering From Flashbacks:-

-- Tell yourself that you are having a flashback.

-- 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 [younger] 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.

-- Get grounded. This means stamping your feet on the ground so that the little one knows you have feet and can get away if you need to. ([If the trauma occurred as a child]. . . you couldn't get away: Now you can.

-- Breathe. When we get scared we stop normal breathing. As a result, our body begins to panic from the 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 your diaphragm pushes against your hand and then exhaling so that the diaphragm goes in.

-- 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 [around you]: your breathing, traffic, birds, people, cars, etc. Feel your body and what is touching it: your clothes, your own arms and hands, the chair or floor supporting you.

-- Speak to the victim in you and reassure him/her. It is very healing to get your adult in the now, that you can get out if you need to, that it is OK to feel 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.

-- Get in touch with your needs 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.

-- 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 being there.

-- Take time to recover. Sometimes flashbacks are very powerful. Give yourself the time to make the transition from this powerful experience. Don't expect yourself to jump into adult activities right away. Take a nap, or a warm bath, or some quiet time. Do not beat yourself up for having a flashback. Appreciate how much your little one went through. . . .

-- Honor your experience. Appreciate yourself for having survived that horrible time [when you were younger]. Respect your body's need to experience those feelings of long ago.

--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.

-- Find a competent therapist. Look for a therapist who understands the processes of healing from [trauma: incest, rape, war.] A therapist can be a guide, a support, a coach in this healing process.

-- 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.

--Know you are not crazy, it is all part of the healing process.

By Garfield Wilkinson

Resources http://www.mnwelldir.org/docs/mental_health/flashbacks.htm - By Laurieann Chutis, A.C.S.W.

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