Do you too have those really vivid flashbacks, where your brain and body is hijacked and everything is just as intensive as it was back then? It is like you can sense it, hear it, smell it…
Do you also tend to freeze up, feel paralysed and maybe even drift off into dissociation? Have you ever lost track of the next few hours or maybe even the rest of the day?
When I was first diagnosed with cPTSD in 2006, I just went from one flashback to the next without a break in-between. I’ve been speaking to so many other survivors of childhood trauma, who have been telling me that this is a real struggle for them as well. So, I would like share with you one approach that really helped me.
These days I rarely have flashbacks and if I do they are very short-lived. I no longer lose large chunks of time afterwards. I’m hoping that you give it a go and hoping this is helping you as well.
1.) Let us start with a little background information, as to what is happening when we are triggered into a flashback.
Our body can’t distinguish between real threat or a perceived threat or a memory, so we have the same physiological response as if it’s real.
For example: a polar bear in front of you versus a perceived threat, like when something reminded you about a past experience. Both incidences trigger our fight/flight response and our body gets floated with chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline and cortisol are needed to supercharge our muscles with energy, so we can either run – flight response or fight and protect ourselves.
The problem is when we were children, it was never an option for us to run away or fight back. Therefore, we have all these incomplete fight/flight responses. And because we couldn’t complete them, those memories were never stored properly. This is why those memories now keep coming back up in form of flashbacks. We just keep reliving those memories over and over.
The ideas that really helped me are from Pat Ogden. She’s the founder of the sensorimotor psychotherapy and is a leader in the field of trauma research. She talks about how our trauma is actually stored in our body, in our muscles and in our cells. Therefore, she can see the trauma story in the way people move, their gestures, the way they hold themselves…
Do you too have memories in your head tormenting you, but you just can’t seem to get this memory into words?
She said that she doesn’t feel the need to hear people’s trauma stories in words, she can see it in our body and work through the trauma story with moving the body.
2.) Why is this important in terms of flashbacks?
Here is how I used this to minimise the number of flashbacks I have.
Immediately after I had a flashback I focus on, or try to work out what was it that I wanted to do in that memory that I just had. Was it that I wanted to run away, or was it that I wanted to yell out for help, did I want to push someone away….
Then I would actually do that action now. For example run (go out for a run or run on the spot at home) or standing in front of a wall pushing myself away from it…. so actually doing what I couldn’t do back then. This way I could complete or finish off all these incomplete fight/flight responses and so store those memories properly.
This also helps us to get rid of that feeling that “I am helpless” and train our brain to see our resourcefulness and feel more empowered.
Because once we can process, integrate and store those memories, they don’t seem to keep coming up in form of flashbacks anymore.
I really hope you give this a go, and keep reminding yourself that now in this moment I can move.
3.) Nightmares/night terrors
At the same time when I had all those flashbacks, I also had lots of nightmares. I used to call them night terrors, which meant that I woke up totally “frozen” and unable to move, soaked in sweat, disoriented, no idea who I am, how old I am, where I was…
Does it take you a long time too to reorient yourself again when woken by nightmares?
It is important that we are very gentle with ourselves here. Like using a kind voice when reassuring ourselves that we are safe and help ourselves to find the courage to move our body again. I know this will feel somewhat alien when you didn’t grow up in a loving supporting nurturing environment.
The way we treat ourselves now can make all the difference in our ability to heal and reach our full potential. So please give yourself permission to be kind with yourself.
When you lay there feeling frozen, it doesn’t matter how tiny the steps/moves are that you make, important is that you move one part of your body, for example, wiggle your toe, tap your fingers… so start tiny and then work yourself up
Gently keep reminding yourself that: I can get up now, I can move, I can walk out… whatever it is – move your muscles 🙂
Empower yourself again by doing those actions you couldn’t back then and so completing those fight/flight responses and in turn your flashbacks will reduce.
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