A flashback is an emotional return to trauma. It is a type
of memory so strong that it seems like you are actually back
in the time, place, and situation you are remembering. In your
mind, you may believe you are back at the scene of the assault.
In your mind you may have a picture of the assault. This picture
could seem like an image that is frozen in time, like a photograph,
or it could seem like you are watching a movie of your life.
Flashbacks happen when you are awake and can be triggered by
almost anything: a smell, sound, taste, or touch.
Flashbacks have a cumulative effect and tend to get worse
over time. Your brain believes each flashback is a separate
incident and a real situation. Some flashbacks are so confusing
that it gets hard to tell the difference between what is happening
in the flashback and what is happening in the real world around
Many survivors of sexual assault feel that counseling helps
them manage their flashbacks. Whether or not you choose to
get counseling, you may want to consider ways to keep yourself
safe during a flashback.
During a flashback, some survivors try to get to a place
where they feel comfortable and position themselves in a place
where they can see all entrances to the room. Try to think
of things that make you feel safe. You also may want to try
to journal immediately after a flashback to help you examine
your emotions and keep track of your recovery. Some survivors
also find that letting friends help makes them feel less alone
and more supported. You may want to talk to trusted friends
and family and ask them to help you when you are having a flashback.
You may feel better if someone holds your hand or gives you
a hug. On the other hand, you may feel best if someone leads
you from the room to a quiet, safe place.
Remember that advocates at your local sexual assault crisis
center and the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault
Hotline (1-800-838-8238) can also support you during a flashback.
Consider keeping the phone numbers handy so you can call when
you need to talk with someone.