Flashback - - 2003-06-05 05:30:24
Many survivors of sexual abuse have flashbacks. These flashbacks are a reliving of the original abuse. This can happen visually in images one remembers of the abuse, or they can happen without any visual image. The abuse can be reexperienced with sounds, smells, feelings, or other such bodily memories. Flashbacks can either be very real or detached, like watching from a distance. Either way, flashbacks are usually a frightening experience for the survivor.
Some ideas for helping a survivor through a flashback:
1. Name it. Not everyone realizes what they're suffering is a flashback.
2. Tell the survivor that you know it feels real to them but that it actually isn't happening again.
3. If someone is in the middle of a flashback, help them to ground themselves. Encourage them to take slow, gentle breaths. Tell them they are remembering. Tell them that if they would like they can remember what they need to know without reexperiencing the physical pain. You may have them slowly, calmly look around the room to establish where they are (in their home, your office, etc.). You might want them to describe out loud where they are and the fact that the abuser is not present.
4. If someone is worried about future flashbacks and worried that they may not be able to sort out reality, help them prepare ahead of time. Help them select an item which can be a cue for their adult self. It should be something they did not own or could not have had when they were a child. Some suggestions would be car keys, a watch, a certain ring. or something else of special significance. This item is to become their symbol for their current reality. When they have another flashback, this item can be their touchstone. It reminds them to breathe slowly and deeply, ground themselves in the present, and remember that the abuse is not happening now. With this in mind, the flashback is just a memory and the survivor may have an easier time riding it out.
5. Inform them of the importance of flashbacks. They are an opportunity for an individual to learn and understand more about their particular abuse. They are often seen as an indication that the person is ready to remember; that the body has important information to share. Many people are extremely frustrated by lack of memory, flashbacks can validate a survivor's experience.
By Carolyn G. Halliday, M.A.
Edited by Lisa Engebretson, Sexual Offense Services of Ramsey