Your Flashbacks Can Ruin Your
by Laura Russell, Ph.D., MFT
February 11, 2001
is an old Ann Lander's column I hand out in my classes on this
subject. She printed a dream someone sent her, asking her readers
to respond with their explanations. Boy oh boy was that interesting!
people who wrote in were very judgmental. Other replies reeked
of sexual innuendo. Then there were the responses that were just
off the wall!
of them had any relationship to reality. People actually wrote
about themselves describing their thinking, motives and emotional
issues. This is officially known as projection.
the absence of information, people fill in the blanks with what
is in their own personal histories. This makes sense. We interpret
our lives based upon what we know. In my thinking, this is a minor
and subtle form of a flashback.
can take a variety of forms.
people have both subtle and severe flashbacks. Those of us with
histories of child abuse and horrid traumas relive our traumas
all the time.
think about what happened, we dream (nightmares) of what happened,
and we live our lives as if these terrible experiences are happening
right now. Again, this can be subtle or very dramatic. You might
see your memories as a photograph in your mind. Then there are
the physical reactions where you feel as though your trauma is
currently happening this very moment.
that even vaguely resembles our original trauma can trigger a
flashback episode. A time of year, song on the radio, driving
down a certain street, or someone's tone of voice are all examples
of the sort of thing that can trigger a flashback.
and Loving Relationships
flashbacks is vital to being able to see how they affect your
loving relationships. The very acts of loving and being loved
can and do trigger flashbacks. When you think about it, this makes
a lot of sense. After all, you were abused by your parents, guardians
or family members. You depended upon them. And loved them.
you are an adult. You met someone delightful and you fell in love.
Wonderfully, they love you in return. This situation is enough
to trigger both subtle and not so subtle flashback episodes.
you feel abused and unsafe. You become absolutely convinced that
your partner is abusive. They resemble your parents. Or your other
family members. Or your out of family perpetrator.
that moment, you really do not know if your partner is dangerous
to you or not. You cannot tell whether or not they are abusive.
You wonder if they hurt you on purpose. And you are utterly convinced
they did. And pretty sure they enjoyed it!
people run away from all relationships because of this. Other
people strike back, becoming too well defended. Then others just
withdraw from all intimacy. No matter what you do you are in danger
of ruining the vital nurturing intimacy you are building with
the one you love.
matter how you take care of yourself, you can ruin your relationship.
What do you do? How do you prevent your child abuse history from
depriving you of a loving relationship?
am only going to briefly mention the solution here. Learning how
to get unstuck from your past is much more involved than I can
write in one article. At this point, I just want you to know that
your flashbacks can color how you look at and interpret the actions
of your partner.
first step is to take ownership of your feelings and reactions.
You start the long process of learning when your reactions are
from your past, and when they are from your present. This doesn't
mean blame. You are not at fault for this. Flashbacks stem from
a natural process that happens to all people who have been traumatized.
often seems too simple. And from one perspective, it is. From
another perspective, taking ownership requires a great deal of
effort. Then there is the emotional pain. Learning to live in
your own skin, feeling your own feelings and personal history
is very painful.
second step is to get acquainted with what it feels like to be
you in a flashback. For me, it feels as though I am slightly like
a robot. Physically, my body feels heavy and my muscles are tight.
Emotionally, I feel compulsive and like I absolutely must take
action this very moment.
listening to yourself you get acquainted with your flashbacks.
This is the beginning of taking charge of them. Taking charge
of your flashbacks allows you to separate your past from your
present. Then, if you wish, you can process the painful feelings
from your traumas. A good trauma therapist can help you with the
Compliments of Laura
Russell, Ph.D., MFT
About this Contributor:
I am a Licensed Marriage and Family
Therapist in Torrance California and National Board Certified Counselor
with a Clinical Mental Health Specialization. I work most often with
the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults and children.
On a personal note, I have had CFIDS and Fibromyalgia for the past 10
years and have much to say on coping with these conditions. Additionally,
since the hospice care and death of my husband, I also write about grief