What are they?

Many women who have survived some form of sexual violence experience flashbacks at one time or another.  Flashbacks are temporary states of remembering something painful or traumatic which has been hidden in the subconscious mind.  During a flashback you may feel as though aspects of the rape or assault are actually happening to you now.  The duration of a flashback differs and could last from a few seconds to several hours.

When do flashbacks occur? 

Flashbacks can occur at unpredictable and unexpected times, anywhere.  They can be triggered by anything that serves as a reminder of the event or the perpetrator and can occur regardless of how you are feeling prior to them happening.

For many women, a flashback trigger can be a mannerism, a facial feature, a voice, a smell, a sound or a touch.

Flashbacks can be experienced in many forms and combinations which include some or all of the following:

Visual flashbacks

This is like watching a film or a slideshow of the event.  You may experience this as happening inside your head or it may be outside of you and involving other people.  This might happen if people around you remind you of the event or perpetrator.  You may find yourself watching and/or re-experiencing all of the scene or tiny fragments of it.

the images you see could be clear or distorted and you may see the same picture from different angles at different times. You may re-experience the feelings you had at the time or you might observe them from a distance and be cut off from any feeling.

This is described as hearing conversations or sound which are associated with the event.  You might experience these sounds as being inside your head or outside of you i.e. in the same room.  These sounds could be clear or distorted and may sound near or far away.

This is described as feeling bodily sensations associated with the event.  This type of flashback could manifest in the following ways:

You may feel as if you are being touched on any part of your body when in reality there in no one there.

Depending on the severity of this experience, you may feel anxious, frightened, confused or that you are going mad, particularly if you do not understand what is happening to you, or if you try to consciously stop it happening and are unable to.

During this type of flashback you may re-experience the physical sensations and/or pain that you felt when being raped or assaulted. This type of flashback can also include strong, overwhelming sensations of taste and/or smell.

If you have experienced one or more flashbacks, you may be feeling frightened, confused, disorientated and/or overwhelmed. These feelings are understandable and they are normal reactions to what can be a terrifying experience.  You are not going mad or crazy; you are remembering experiences, feelings, thoughts and images which were too frightening or impossible to deal with at the time they occurred.

Every reaction to a flashback is an individual response usually based on the ways in which you coped with the rape or assault.

Although they can feel very frightening, flashbacks are actually a good sign that you are unearthing the buried trauma and that you are on your way to recovery so it is important that you reassure yourself with the knowledge that it is a temporary state, it will not last forever and through time, the flashback will reduce in frequency and intensity.

While it is not possible to control the nature and strength of the flashback, you can do a lot to help lessen the power and impact that they have on your life.

Take yourself to a safe place, either physically or mentally.

Don’t fight the flashback

Ground yourself Grounding

Remind yourself that this is a memory

Give yourself space and time to recover

Write about your memory

Comfort yourself

Talk about the flashback

Be proud of yourself

For further information on flashbacks you can access a self-help guide Flashbacks Main Booklet


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