When there has been a ‘trigger’ setting off an immediate flood of overwhelming emotions, you may find that with these emotions, you may display a set of behaviours. Examples can be; shouting , hitting out, running away or storming out, laughing but feeling terrified inside, shaking, crying, freezing to the spot or unable to move or say anything, feeling completely shut down or disassociating, (as if you are not really there, leaving your body and looking down on yourself, becoming a different personality entirely). Usually the body starts to react in ways that make us feel out of control – such as fast breathing, heart racing, overheating, panic, feeling sick or completely numb and cut off from the body with the body slowing right down and breathing becoming very shallow or holding the breath.
THESE BEHAVIOURS KEPT US SAFE ONCE – and are the body and brain’s normal way of managing, surviving and keeping us safe during traumatic experiences. Our FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE response or a combination of these, has been triggered.
What to do:
1. Remove yourself, if possible, from the situation. If this isn’t possible and you are triggered by another person’s behaviour, if able, say ‘PLEASE STOP!’ or do or say anything that may alert the other person that you are emotionally flooded – your fight/flight response is happening right now.
2. Remind yourself that the original event – the assault/abuse is not happening now – even though it feels as if it is.
3. Notice your internal dialogue – self-talk e.g. ‘I am being attacked. I am being made to do things I don’t like’. (This makes the flashback and your alert response more real and tends to increase your alarm response).
4. To reduce the power and to calm your responses down – change the tense you use from the present to the past e’g’– ‘I WAS attacked in the past. I WAS MADE to do things I didn’t like then. I COULDN’T stop what WAS happening before’.
5. Hold your body. Right hand under your left armpit, left hand on right shoulder to reassure and hold your body, if this helps.
6. Practice the dual focus technique: Right now, I am feeling….and I am sensing in my body…. Because I am re-experiencing my trauma response…At the same time I am here in 2019 in …. And I can see/hear/touch……. And so, I know that the trauma isn’t happening now. Hold onto a comforting object, ping an elastic band around your wrist, look at the date on your watch
7. Practice aftercare – your energy will be completely drained – now is the time to really look after yourself – a warm bath, complete quiet or calming relaxing music, look out at nature, rest. When you feel you can, eat some good food. Be around or talk with someone you trust – do not try to analyse or overthink about what happened – just recover, keep yourself safe and comfortable and be very gentle with yourself PHYSICALLY, EMOTIONALLY AND MENTALLY. Most people experience shame after a flashback so remind yourself this shame does not belong to you but to the person who hurt you. It is no longer yours to carry – give it back mentally to the original person who traumatised or abused you.
8. Much Later when you feel able to – Record the event afterwards in your journal – What happened? When did it occur? Who triggered the flashback? What did they do? What situations? How did I respond? How did I feel? What helped me? How long did my flashback and process to recover take this time? What helps me get through this? What did I do as aftercare? How do I feel now?
Also write about WHY you want to work on your responses – what is my motivation? Remind yourself that each time this happens you are healing because you are dealing with the original pain of what happened to you in the past. Be gentle with yourself.