PTSD Flashbacks and How The Past Is Relived in The Present Moment

Keywords: PTSD Flashbacks.

The experience of time changes drastically when you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex Trauma.

Events, people or circumstances can suddenly trigger an emotional response that brings the emotional residue of your experienced trauma right to the surface in the here and now. Often, it is very difficult to distinguish that your trigger and the emotional responses that come with it relate to your experienced trauma of the past, as your brain projects the danger almost perfectly onto the situation or person(s) at hand in the present.

PTSD Flashbacks and Reenactment

If you can start to see where your emotional responses might be disproportional to the situation, this will help you to bring awareness to those responses of the residual trauma. Thereby, this awareness can give you the incentive to make a serious attempt to work through it.

Often, it is very difficult to distinguish that your trigger and the emotional responses that come with it relate to your experienced trauma of the past, as your brain projects the danger almost perfectly onto the situation or person(s) at hand in the present.

PTSD Flashbacks aren't always visual in nature. Very often it is emotional states that resurface and take over and seem to take you back in time to where that emotional state was dominantly present. The trouble is that your present state of mind gets hijacked by those PTSD Flashbacks emotions and become your reality in the here and now. This can happen through triggering circumstances or dealing with others, but can also happen on its own.

Ways towards Resolution and Working with PTSD Flashbacks

One of the important “safeties” a trauma therapist needs to provide during counseling sessions is to make sure that you as a client are able to tap into the past in order to carefully relive some of your experienced trauma, while at the same time keeping one foot in the here and now.

I often talk about this as holding a dual state of awareness.

The therapist can help you to keep one foot in the here and now by reminding you of the room that you are in, through voice and reassurance, and by drawing your attention to your body sensations. When the emotional responses of your traumatic residue do start to get too intense, it is wise to take a break and continue later on once you feel more regulated.

A good therapist should monitor you constantly, and consciously help you to move between activation, and safety and regulation. Through moving between activation and regulation, you are building up resilience to stay with what is. Resilience, and thereby containment, will help you help to process your emotional residue.

How are you dealing with PTSD Flashbacks? Leave your comments below.

  • Noel says:

    Roland, I always appreciate your information. It’s very pragmatic. Thank you for the work you do.

  • Julia says:

    Thank you for your Blog post Roland. I’m not really at my best at the moment. However I can identify the fact that the intensity of my feelings are not really in line with my present events. I seem to be passing an extremely long period of almost constant triggers and all the work that I have done over the past (many) years, albeit with very little professional help, seem to be flying out of my control. I am also aware that there is also a very tired and antagonistic voice in me that is encouraging my anger and behaviour with “what the hell… And other expletives” as if I am actually taking some kind of pleasure and relaxation of principles and allowing myself and even indulging myself with the excuse of “I’ve held this in for 38/39 years, nobody has changed, things are the same disfunctional ways, no body even gets me in the slightest, what is the %+&£#@ point!!! Please excuse the language, I only swear when neccesay.
    On the other hand, again trying to be honest my work has also given me long, happy, content, serene meaningful periods and opened me up to more possibilities about life than I ever would have dreamed… Right now it is so hard keeping the positive in the forefront of my mind.
    I am looking as we speak to have a break away from all connections to my pain and disconfort. Somewhere positive, pleasant and tranquil and even if its not really the right time I’m going anyway for My well-being.
    Thank you again for your post Roland, it has brought me slightly back into the realty.

    • Kim says:

      I understand your “What’s the point” inner voice completely Julia. I get this very often when I am triggered by my husband (he also has CPSTD. His is less managed than mine as I have learnt to build up my healthy adult schema.)
      I feel for me… that voice, is my inner child voice trying to keep up with the sabotage of all the good work I am doing. We all recognise how hard change is right? It is easier, but not nicer, to keep the old familiar patterns that have kept us “safe” (but not seen, heard, loved, understood etc.)
      Sit when you are triggered and challenge which schema or child mode is being triggered and ask… How is this response helping me to heal that trigger.
      A break is a great idea! Breath and release. Write your positives daily. Magnify the good. Know that YOU are doing the best that you can right now with the skills you have.
      Change is possible 🙂

      • Julia says:

        Thank you so much Kim, it is has been so nice to wake up with this feeling that I’m not all on my own with this, I have pushed anybody that means anything to me away right now…. I know that it’s not helping me and yet it seems that’s all I can do to get rid of the pain.
        I am going to look for a place close by now, even a bed and breakfast just to give me that space and change of scenery.
        Thank you for identifying with what I said, it means a lot… I’m sorry but on the other hand I’m so glad I’m not the only one. Your reply has been very helpful and has given me a bit more of a charge to keep things together, don’t panic and give myself a bit of pleasant “me time”. I do know inside that it does work and it will again as long as I can keep myself well and see it through.
        Thank you once more, my love to you, Julia

        • Kim says:

          You’re very welcome Julia and as Roland says, one step at a time (even half steps).
          I am now 51, so I’ve had lots of practice at pushing people away! My psychologist is concerned because my social isolation schema is off the charts. She is pushing me to connect with others, but I have found “overwhelm” is a big problem in the past. So maybe the pushing others away for you, is the same. There are only so many things we can deal with. So even if you explain to them that its only a temporary measure, but is where you’re at right now will pacify them?
          On the other hand, it may be that as you’re trying to push foward with your changes, the types that you attracted before, no longer suit!
          This was relevant for me. My psych said I chose friends that allowed me to continue the sabotage patterns. They were people that didn’t allow me to talk about me, so it kept me stifled. As I grew my healthy adult, these people no longer felt the right tribe anymore. I was advised to either learn to talk about myself or find new friends. I chose the latter as they were not the type to allow me to be heard… It was the best thing I ever did!
          This is your time now, time to care for yourself first.
          Sending big hugs to you X

    • Roland says:

      One step at a time Julia. You are doing well. Movement is preferable to staying stagnant, even if the going gets rough before finding your balance. Hang in there.

      • Julia says:

        Thank you Roland, I’m going to stick with these changes and as you said, ask myself why I am Still needing the affermation, recognition and understanding from these “loved yet at the moment harmful for me ones”. I don’t feel that I am strong enough as yet to be able to rely on my own rescources as yet when I am so turned around by my emotions. However I know you’re right and I’m working today to help that inner me that does need that emotional strength that right now and that it can only
        come from myself. I’ve done it before and I will do it again, it’s frightening how I can just loose it though. I need not to abandon myself which is what I seem to have done gradually over the past six months or so. I’m going to do some grounding work, and bring MYSELF back into MY LIFE until I feel stronger to give myself back over to recent events and people and hopefully rebuild the boundries that I have abandoned again!
        Thank you Roland for your input and support, julia

  • Stacey says:

    Thank you for recognizing and stating that ‘not all flahsbacks are visual’ but can be strictly an emotional flashback (with seemingly no other association to explain it). At least with a visual /image/event memory flashback you have context. When it is emotional alone there often is none. I have a very hard time being able to even find triggers. One day I just have slipped into my dark, abysmal depersonalized place, with no rationale. I have indeed been ‘hijacked’. I think this is one of the most frustrating and despairing facets of my CPTSD, and it, itself triggers something else in a second (or third) layer. So I am triggered once, uncontrollably and inexplicably into my DP hell, and then triggered again because I cannot explain, rationalize, predict or control that. I like to think that if I could identify my triggers, I could avoid them or at least predict them, and therefore head them off. Alas, I don’t have that ability. I know that, for me, many apparently innocuous things from daily, normal life can trigger me, because my abusive setting took place in a very ‘notmal, every day activity’ frame. So I have triggers, and layers thereof, that may not seem like they ought to be…what you would normally look for. I think that’s why I cannot ‘see’ them. They’re disguised.
    I wish more people (especially professionals) understood the dissociative foundation of (C)PTSD. It may not be listed in the bible (DSM) as a Dissociative Disorder, but it really should be in my opinion. Much more so than the over abundance of people who see it as an ‘anxiety’ disorder. Any sort of flashback is just that, a shift in time, awareness and connection. It is dissociation. Add to that even more ‘branches’ of dissociation (in my case bad depersonalization and multiplicity (OSDD)) and you have a hell of a lot of work even trying to ….well….figure out how to work.

  • kim says:

    Thank you Roland,that was a great post,yes i have alot of triggers,that trigger flashbacks,one by one im trying to deal with them,reminding myself that im being triggered by a past memory,sometimes the triggers sneak on you,especially if im in a overwhelm/overstimulated day which is often,sounds and even smells trigger me to,thank you for giving me a space to express myself and let this toxic crap out…

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