Flashbacks

What is a flashback?

Flashbacks are an uncontrollable reliving of a memory, commonly a frightening, painful or traumatic one.  They are very intense and can make it feel as though the event is being experienced all over again. This can happen in a number of ways: some people have visual or auditory flashbacks in which they see or hear what happened as if it was happening again. It is also possible to taste or smell the same things that were tasted or smelled at the time. It is also common to re-experience physical sensations felt at the time. These are known as 'body-memories'.

What can I do if I am having a flashback?

Different techniques to manage flashbacks work for different people, but some things that may help are:

  • Looking around and trying to concentrate on what is happening in the here and now, perhaps by feeling what is under your hands, or focusing on a particular object.
  • Carrying something with you (such as a stone, or something familiar and comforting) that you can hold or stroke when a flashback occurs to help ground you in the present.
  • Trying to breathe from your diaphragm (put your hand just above your belly button and breathe so your hand is pushed up and down) to help prevent a panic attack.
  • If the flashback happens when you’re out, trying to get to somewhere you feel safe.
  • If you are woken up by a flashback, writing down what you have experienced and then doing something else like watching TV or listening to music can help you relax before going back to bed.
  • Try to notice if anything in particular triggers your flashbacks, and avoid it if you can. It is not ‘giving in’ to want to control where you go, what you watch or read, or what kinds of activities you do.
  • It can help to talk to someone about your flashbacks. Line workers at OSARCC understand flashbacks and are happy to listen.

Am I going mad?

People often feel that they are ‘going mad’ when they have flashbacks, but they are a completely natural response to a traumatic event. It is very normal to still experience flashbacks months or years after the abuse has occurred. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Many survivors experience flashbacks, and find ways to manage and cope with them.

There is more information about the emotional impact of sexual abuse and rape on our page about mental health problems.