The Effective Guide To Cope With Emotional Flashbacks

Emotional flashbacks are nightmares of traumatic childhood experiences and an amalgamation of stressful and haunting memories of the past that one can’t seem to get rid of easily. How to cope with emotional flashbacks? Flashbacks are always associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which is widely known across the world as PTSD.

It is often observed that flashbacks are terrifying and people feel disassociated from reality. When a person experiences flashbacks of any kind, they often hear or see things right now, and sometimes a flashback is all about feeling an emotion that gets difficult to articulate.

There are various kinds of flashbacks, and the most commonly experienced are early childhood and flashbacks of traumatic experiences in life. These constant flashbacks often cause confusing episodes of fear that get difficult to manage and affect a person’s mental health.

Flashbacks are considered powerful as they can take over one’s present time and dive back into old, haunting memories.

Emotions that are intense and persistent are two key factors of flashbacks that indicate experiencing a certain flashback that one should pay heed to. Several studies have observed that people suffering from PTSD experience emotional flashbacks, mostly emotions, and not audio-visual memory.

1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

It is a mental health condition caused by either experiencing or witnessing some terrible or fearful event. The major symptoms of this mental health disorder take place gradually after a terrifying event, including emotional flashbacks, severe anxiety, depression, and recurring unwanted thoughts. Sometimes certain symptoms of PTSD are noticeable after a year or so which severely affects a person’s personal and social life.

Medically the symptoms of complex PTSD or only PTSD are divided into 4 kinds which different people experience differently. They are intrusive memories that include nightmares and flashbacks; avoidance of places, people, and unwanted thoughts; transformation of mood and behavior; and reactions.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - causes, symptoms, treatment & pathology

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is not much different from PTSD, but it is complicated to treat medically, and there are several reasons why a person has complex PTSD. Here are a few reasons for Complex PTSD, and they are as follows:

  • Neglect and abuse in childhood
  • perpetual domestic abuse and violence
  • witnessing abuse, violence, or terrifying event
  • experiencing war
  • kidnapping, slavery, or assault

People who have PTSD feel like they can’t go back to their normal lives, and there is a constantly recurring notion in their minds that they will never be able to forget or overcome those traumatic experiences.

But science in today’s time has been extremely progressing and helpful in treating every mental condition affecting human lives. There are certain treatments for PTSD which is widely available to people who have this mental condition, and they are as follows:

  1. Therapy
  2. Cognitive Processing Therapy
  3. Medications
  4. Stress Reduction Training
  5. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

2. Emotional Flashbacks

Emotional Flashbacks, Hyper Vigilance, and Avoidance in Complex PTSD

The term ’emotional flashbacks’ was coined by Pete Walker, a renowned Psychotherapist 1who described it as an experience of living the traumatic events in one’s mind again. It includes intrusive thoughts, vivid audio/visual memories, and complex emotions.

A person who has PTSD constantly experiences it, and it almost feels like reliving that traumatic event all over again.

2.1. Symptoms Of Emotional Flashbacks

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Emotional flashbacks are one of the common symptoms of PTSD, which people experience differently. The most common and important symptoms of emotional flashbacks to occur in people with PTSD syndrome are as follows:

  1. Detachment from everything ~ emotionally and physically.
  2. Excessive Sweating
  3. Constant Nervousness
  4. Anger Issues
  5. Feeling Overwhelmed
  6. Fear of isolation, abandonment, judgment, and rejection
  7. Fast heartbeats
  8. Disassociative nature
  9. Body ache
  10. Loss of hunger or upset stomach

2.2. Experiencing Emotional Flashbacks

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Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

Most of the time, emotional flashbacks occur extremely out of the blue and stay for a long time inside a person’s mind. The lingering flashbacks result in fear, confusion, disengagement, depression, and alienation.

People experiencing emotional flashbacks feel ashamed and extremely lonely, which somehow gives rise to unwanted or self-deprecating thoughts like something is certainly wrong with them for feeling the way they feel.

People experiencing emotional flashbacks do not recognize that they are about to go back to the memory and relive that traumatic event. Certain emotional flashbacks are caused due to one’s childhood experience, including assault, abuse, violence, abandonment, isolation, or others.

When a person has PTSD and suddenly has certain emotional flashbacks the first and foremost step he/she takes is to regress their emotions. Freud has said that regression has been the coping mechanism of human beings to avoid feeling complex emotions.

Childhood traumatic experiences make their way into a person’s mind during their early 20s or 30s. The emotional flashbacks are lingering inside their head for an unwanted time, causing them turmoil. In a scene like this, a person prefers to regress those emotions due to overwhelming shame, fear, and sadness that happens during the time, and choice to ignore in response.

3. Coping With Emotional Flashbacks

It is extremely challenging to cope with emotional flashbacks and unwanted thoughts and feelings inside the head. A few important steps are required in the coping process with emotional flashbacks, which help a person feel normal and better both mentally and physically.

Here is the list of coping mechanisms for emotional flashbacks:

3.1. Identification 

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The first step is to identify what is it that is triggering your mind and causing you trouble living peacefully. Memories, thoughts, and feelings identification is important to understand the sudden overwhelming emotional flashbacks.

A person should differentiate between the flashbacks, such as those personal flashbacks, and include only themselves and their feelings like loneliness, depression, or others, and other flashbacks that include several people, a particular location, or things that automatically make them revisit those flashbacks memories.

Awareness of flashbacks is important to prevent the occurrence of emotional turmoil. One should try and overcome their fear of visiting certain places, using particular things, or meeting those people associated with that traumatic event. This might sound challenging, but it is important to overcome the fear the toxic shame and prohibit emotional flashbacks from occurring inside your head now and then.

3.2. Self Talk

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Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

Pete Walker has suggested this method to people suffering severely from emotional flashbacks. This is one of the helpful coping mechanisms that help you control your mind and make you feel at ease.

He recommended to say to yourself, ‘I am fine. This is just a flashback. There is no danger.’ Self-affirmations work like magic in leading a positive life and having good mental health2. Speak to the inner child and reassure him that things are good, things are safe. It is important to make the inner child feel accepted and comfortable.

Remind yourself that now in the present, you have friends and family who love you unconditionally and who are extremely proud and supportive of you. The trauma of the past does not matter in today’s present.

Our mind is the powerhouse that helps us maintain a healthy life both~ mentally and physically. If one can control their mind and pave the way to thinking good memories instead of traumatic emotional flashbacks, then it is certain that they will overcome PTSD syndrome.

3.3. Therapy

cope with emotional flashbacks?
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The most common and highly recommendable method to cope with emotional flashbacks is therapy. People worldwide are going for therapy to let go or overcome the complex trauma of a wounded inner child, which causes intense and confusing episodes of anxiety and stress disorder PTSD3.

Cope with emotional flashbacks therapy helps a person to open up, be vulnerable, and share the emotional trauma without any fear of judgment and abandonment. The therapist helps identify your thought process, understand the wounded inner child, and give daily solutions to cope with recurring emotional flashbacks.

Often, people are confused about their feelings, and it gets difficult for them to deal with them. Therapists help them to identify the emotions and prevent them from lingering longer than usual by providing logical solutions.

4. Conclusion

Childhood traumas4 and memories often linger longer than usual, and it is important to let go of those stressful, emotional flashbacks that damage one’s social and personal life. In therapy, there is no compulsion to share everything. A person can share what he would like to share at his own pace and comfort. It is really a helpful coping mechanism for emotional flashbacks that one should definitely try.

The mechanisms to cope with emotional flashbacks are extremely effective. People worldwide have overcome their terrifying fears caused by particular childhood emotional flashbacks resulting in distressing thoughts and feelings in their present.

It is true that emotional flashbacks are traumatizing, haunting, stressful, create panic, and cause severe anxiety and depression. Still, these flashbacks are opportunities for us to understand what we have been and where we are right now in our lives.

It is not difficult to cope with emotional flashbacks and traumatic events. One has to be determined about their decision and should not let the emotions linger longer than usual.

These emotional flashbacks remind us that we have overcome stressful or terrifying events and do not define our present. We should validate the memories, try our best to heal from them, and always remember that there is always a bright morning after a hauntingly night.


1. Is it possible to recover from emotional flashbacks?

A: Yes, with time, effort, and support, it is possible to recover from emotional flashbacks. Therapy and self-help strategies can equip you with the skills to manage and lessen the impact of emotional flashbacks, enabling you to lead a more balanced and fulfilling life.

2. Can medications help in managing emotional flashbacks?

A. Medications might be prescribed by a mental health professional to manage symptoms like anxiety and panic that often accompany emotional flashbacks. However, they are generally used in conjunction with therapy and other coping strategies.

3. How do emotional flashbacks differ from regular memories?

A. Emotional flashbacks are not conscious recollections of past events; instead, they involve the re-experiencing of emotions and sensations associated with those events. They can be triggered by seemingly unrelated situations, making them confusing and distressing.

Read more

  1. Coltart, Nina. “How to Survive as a Psychotherapist.” (2020): 1-126. ↩︎
  2. Moreno, Carmen, et al. “How mental health care should change as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The lancet psychiatry 7.9 (2020): 813-824. ↩︎
  3. Martin, Alicia, et al. “Treatment guidelines for PTSD: a systematic review.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 10.18 (2021): 4175. ↩︎
  4. Alvarez, Adam. “Seeing race in the research on youth trauma and education: A critical review.” Review of Educational Research 90.5 (2020): 583-626. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Suchi



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