For clients of mine who have struggled with flashbacks to traumatic times and feelings, this strategy has felt like a sanity-saver!
By flashback, I mean an intrusion from the past. It’s a sign that you’ve been triggered into a memory of a past event, and this memory may be accompanied by images, sounds, or other reminders from the past event. It’s possible to work through the effects of these memories with good trauma counseling.
But before working through them, it’s good to have a handful of ways you can pull out of them so that they don’t get in the way of your here-and-now. Here’s a way to get yourself out of a flashback, taken from page 133 of Babette Rothschild’s book, “The Body Remembers”.
By walking yourself through these steps and filling in the blanks, you’ll be showing your mind and body that the event is no longer happening so that they can calm down and get back to the here-and-now:
“Right now I am feeling ______ (Name the emotion here — usually fear)
And I am sensing in my body _____________ (Describe your body sensations — name at least three, if you can.)
Because I am remembering ________ (Just the name of the trauma or event — no details!)
At the same time, I am looking around where I am now in __________ (name the current year, even the month and day)
Here, ________ (Name where you are right now)
And I can see ___________ (Name things you can see right now, in the room you’re in
And so I know _________ (Name the trauma again, by title only)
Is not happening now/is not happening anymore.”
Write down these steps if they help you! You might bookmark this page.
Here are some additional tips for quickly getting out of a flashback:
1. Do you have a scent you like, one that’s associated with good things in your life now? You might find out how different scents affect you, and find one to keep with you so you can take a sniff if you need something soothing or invigorating to counter the flashback.
2. Feel the solidity of your feet on the ground. You might even press them against the floor with a bit of pressure — and just notice that sensation. This might help to ground you.
3. Give yourself a new sensation to focus on: Maybe a drink in your hand, hot or cold. If you need an intense sensation, hold ice!
4. Move around to some music. Some people find music that’s consistent with their feeling helps, and some find that playing music that’s the opposite is more helpful. Find out what happens if you play a happy or a calming song and let yourself move with that music.
5. If you’re struggling to move, be gentle with yourself, and just bring your attention to the present moment — sight, or sound, or texture. You may try making just a very small movement. Can you wiggle your fingers?
6. Keep in mind: This flashback will end. Remember that this is an indicator of past trauma that you haven’t yet resolved, and that, for right now, the main thing to do is to remind yourself, in as many ways as possible, that now is not then.