Coping with Flashbacks
People who have experienced trauma may experience flashbacks in their everyday lives. Flashbacks can be intense and bring back the emotions and senses experienced during the trauma. These memories are felt as if they are currently happening, rather than something that occurred in the past.
Coping with flashbacks is not easy. Some cope with self-medication, forming addictions to alcohol or drugs. Others may erupt in anger and violence and exhibit poor behavioral compulsions. Even though these unhealthy coping skills lead to more pain, they are effective at deadening the thoughts and emotions in the moment.
Developing healthy coping skills takes time and patience. A licensed counselor can be very helpful and has a wealth of knowledge about ideas to use. However, not everyone is comfortable with seeing a counselor. If you fall into that category, here are some ideas to help you deal with the trauma triggers you experience.
Mindfulness means that you know what your thoughts, feelings, and body are trying to tell you. This is often difficult because the abuse causes you to try and look away. It is an important skill to develop so that you can identify the early stages of being triggered.
Grounding can be extremely effective for survivors. Flashbacks cause swirling emotions that quickly get out of control. Grounding brings those thoughts and feelings back into the body and slows them down.
Grounding techniques are plentiful, and each person is unique in what works best for them. Deep breathing, reciting the multiplication table, and holding ice in a hand are all examples of grounding exercises. Google “grounding techniques” to find some that you feel will be helpful.
Keep one or two ideas with you and use them the next time you start to experience a flashback. Practice it several times while you feel calm, so you are ready to use it when needed. If, after several attempts, it doesn’t help, move to a new exercise. Remember to be patient with yourself; finding what works best for you will take time and practice.
A word of caution is needed here. Faith is not a “cure” for the pain you suffered. It won’t stop you from being triggered. This is important to understand because too often, a survivor is tempted to think that they must not have enough faith. That if they did, the abuse would no longer affect them.
God does not promise this in his Word. Rather, he tells us, all the way back to the first sin in the Garden of Eden, that this life will be difficult. He has promised to be near us and be a help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). He has not promised to take trouble away. He has promised, however, to be our refuge and strength. We may not feel strong. Sometimes we only see things when we look back, and sometimes we can’t see. We look to the cross and know that Jesus also suffered, but his suffering and death was for us, to give us a different life.
God’s Word is important to keep nearby. It keeps you grounded in his promises of heaven, where all pain will be removed, and you will enjoy eternal life with him. This life is difficult, but through Jesus, you have an eternal life of bliss waiting for you!