• Anna Belle Wood

Recovering from Emotional Flashbacks

Emotional flashbacks occur when old stuff--particularly old dysfunky thinking and feeling states--is triggered by present day events. For example, you perceive your boss as mad at you and you jump from 0 to 100 in terms of feeling derailed versus feeling like your usual self.

Some common dysfunky views:

-There's something wrong with me.

-I have to be perfect.

-I am shameful, stupid, or unlovable.

-I should have known better.

-It's not okay to feel (show) my emotions.

-I cannot trust anyone.

Some common dysfunky feelings:


-Isolation, loneliness



-Anger (rage)

-Disassociation (numb)

We typically talk about emotional flashbacks in the context of trauma recovery. Pete Walker describes emotional flashbacks in his book, C PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. Many of my clients have found this book helpful and I recommend it, if you're interested.

The function of an emotional flashback is to remind us what to look out for and how we survived, to keep us safe, so that it doesn't happen again. At the same time, emotional flashbacks can keep us stuck in the past, unable to respond to what's happening in the present in helpful ways. Emotional flashbacks can be hard on those around us when we project our feeling onto them.

In recovery, we can find new ways to respond to these old emotional flashbacks. And, in doing so, we allow our bodies to rest, reset, and find relief and healing from this old protective reflex.

Try this:

The next time you're triggered, in an emotional flashback, consider how can you respond differently. What new options are available to you, now, that weren't available then?

Some ideas:

-Loving, protective self talk

-Soothing music

-Calming lighting

-Pleasing smells

-Social support (reaching out)

-Imagining your supporters (what they would do/say)

-Restorative movement (yoga, dance, stretching, walking, running, weight lighting)

-Grounding textures/objects (weighted blanket, warm shower)

-Comforting flavors (foods, drinks)

The idea is to remind yourself that while you may be experiencing an uncomfortable feeling or thought, you're safe now and there are things that you can do to feel better.

With time, effort, and, for some people, with the help of medications and therapy, your body and mind can absolutely find what you need to feel better... In fact, better than ever! :)

Wishing you health, happiness, and peace on the journey...


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