top of page

Beyond the Triggers: Your Guide to Understanding and Managing Emotional Flashbacks

How it starts

You know how sometimes, the past just won't behave itself? Something small, a word, a scent, and suddenly you're swept up in a whirlwind of feelings that have nothing to do with the present moment. Fear, anger, a sadness that cuts deep...  It can be utterly bewildering, leaving you feeling shaken and powerless. If this sounds familiar, well, let's just say you're not alone in this. That relentless way old hurts can resurface like that – it's called an emotional flashback.   I've been there myself, and over the years, working with countless clients and through my own healing journey, I've developed some techniques that help me make sense of these overwhelming moments.  Let's explore how it all works...

Understanding Emotional Flashbacks

Imagine a cruel invention, a trauma time machine you never asked for.  With a simple word, a fleeting scent, or even just the way the light falls, the machine activates.  The dials spin wildly, and you're not just remembering a past hurt – you're hurled back to its epicentre. Suddenly, the fear, the rage, the crushing helplessness...  it's not a memory anymore, it's your reality in that moment.

Worse yet, you're not transported as the adult you are today.  Somehow, the time machine strips away the years, the coping skills you've fought so hard to learn.  You're back there as that frightened child, overwhelmed by an experience your young mind could barely comprehend.  It's utterly disorienting, to say the least. And if your childhood was marked by repeated traumas, those journeys on this infernal machine likely feel all too familiar.

There's a reason our brains sometimes betray us this way. When those deep wounds occur, especially early in life, the memory often ends up fragmented and unprocessed.  Landmines left scattered within your mind. Years later, a seemingly harmless trigger detonates one, and the past explodes into the present.

The Impact: Echoes That Linger

The thing they don't warn you about is that the worst part might not be the flashback itself. It's how it warps your sense of reality afterward. The exhaustion, the shame, the worry you're fundamentally broken...questions like, "How can I make good choices when I don't even know who I am anymore?" or "How can anyone love me when I'm this unpredictable mess?" swirl in your head.

Suddenly, trusting yourself feels impossible.  One minute you're okay, the next, a flashback detonates, and in its wake, every decision you've ever made seems suspect. Relationships suffer too. People you care about end up walking on eggshells, terrified of setting you off. Or you might lash out during flashbacks... and the guilt and fear of abandonment can become unbearable.

If Borderline Personality Disorder is part of your story, the chaos is amplified. That deep-seated fear of being left behind, the desperate need for reassurance... Flashbacks tap into those insecurities, making you doubt every connection, every flicker of love offered. And for many of us who carry the scars of childhood wounds, there's a particular loneliness.  Imagine that feeling of being a small child, surrounded, under relentless attack, like that boy I tried so desperately to help all those years ago. There's no escape, and it seems like no one truly sees how much you're hurting, how scared you are... That utter aloneness can seep back in during a flashback, even years later

Why This Works

It's time to rise up, to reclaim your power over those hijacking flashbacks. Think of it as a rebellion against the cruel forces of your own past.

Your 3-Step Survival Guide

  • Step 1 - Spot the uninvited 

  • Step 2 - Hold the Line

  • Step 3 – Compassionate Resistance

Step 1 - Spot the Uninvited Guest

The trauma time machine is a sneaky contraption. Not only does it drag you back to the past, but it can also bring unwelcome pieces of that past into your present moment. It's like a portal opens, and suddenly you're not just reliving an old hurt, you're sharing your present space with a rather rude guest – a fragment of that old trauma.

The key to taking back control is spotting these unwelcome visitors early on. The good news is, they usually announce their arrival with a fanfare – physical sensations in your body. Maybe your stomach clenches, your heart starts racing, or a wave of nausea hits. These are your red flags – a signal that a flashback is trying to crash your present party.

Making it Actionable

  • Your "Guest List": What are some of the most common physical signs that tell you a flashback is on its way? Let's create a personalised "guest list" of your own early warning signals.

  • Recognising the Disruption: When these signs appear, how does it actually feel? Is it like a sudden change in atmosphere, an unwelcome voice whispering from the past? Fleshing out that experience can help others better recognize it in themselves.

By pinpointing these early signs – the physical sensations, the emotional disruption –  you gain a crucial advantage. You can move on to Step 2, "Holding the Line," ready to prevent these uninvited guests from taking over your entire space.

Step 2 - Hold the Line: Reprogramming Your Time Machine

Think of it this way: your malfunctioning trauma time machine has dropped this uninvited guest from the past right into the middle of your present.  They're loud, disruptive, and frankly, they've seriously overstayed their welcome. But remember, you built this time machine. Maybe not consciously, but those neural pathways carved by trauma? That's part of the machine's inner workings. And with the right tools, you can rewire the circuits and send that unwelcome presence back to where it belongs.

This is where those grounding techniques come in – they're the tools you'll use to reclaim control of your internal time machine.  And yes, a well-brewed cup of tea can be a powerful piece of that recalibration process!

The Mindful Tea Ceremony: A Ritual of Return

Your tea-making ritual isn't just about pausing; it's about actively redirecting the time machine's malfunction. As you pick up the kettle, the weight and texture remind you of the solid reality of the present moment.  The gushing water and the hiss of the kettle serve as a soothing soundtrack, interrupting the negative loop of flashback thoughts.

Each step – the selection of tea leaves, the careful pouring of the water, the deliberate stirring – becomes an intentional act of reprogramming. You're reclaiming control with each mindful movement, focusing on the details of the present instead of remaining lost in those echoes of the past.

Repurposing Your Sanctuary

The walk to the fridge for the milk, the slow transformation of black tea to a warm, inviting caramel hue – these steps become more than just creating a safe haven.  They subtly reorient the time machine. And finally, that first sip.  Savoring the warmth of the cup in your hands, the richness of the flavor – it's a powerful declaration of "This present moment is mine!"

Remember: There's no time limit. Give yourself permission to fully inhabit this ritual, to breathe, and to truly center yourself before rejoining the world.  The uninvited guest might still exist somewhere within those old memories, but with each sip of tea, you reinforce a powerful message: Your time machine will not bring them into your present day without your permission.

Step 3 – Compassionate Resistance

The truth is, trauma time machines can be determined.  Even with all your defences in place, they might still manage to bring in an unwanted visitor.  When the storm has passed, when you're feeling a little less raw, it's time for a different kind of resistance – compassionate resistance.

Compassionate resistance means acknowledging the truth of what happened. Your flashback wasn't just a bad memory; it was your nervous system firing off old survival signals in response to a perceived threat that might not even exist anymore. It's real, it's exhausting, and you're not to blame.

Meeting Your Inner Child

But compassionate resistance goes beyond acknowledgement.  It's about reaching out to that wounded younger part of yourself – your inner child. Imagine this child: defenceless, hurting, deeply confused, and emotionally malnourished.  This child who once tugged at your arm, looking up with those big eyes, desperately needing food and drink. Remember how this child was treated – the growls, the shouts, the punishments, the loneliness, the abandonment.   And you knew this child intimately, a part of yourself.

What would you have done then? Walked away? Absolutely not. Your heart would have melted, tears of compassion welling up.  You'd have wrapped your arms around that child, vowing to protect them from any further harm.

Inner Child Work: Bringing Compassion Home

That's the essence of inner child work: making your inner child present, finally seen and heard.  It's about tending to their needs, offering the love and safety they craved but never received. It's about dismantling those false narratives, the distorted beliefs they were forced to adopt.

This Work Matters

Inner child work isn't about dwelling on the past. It's about rewriting the present story.  By offering your inner child the compassion and understanding they deserve, you break the cycle of self-blame and reclaim your power. You become the protector you always needed, the voice that whispers, "You are safe now. You are loved."

Hope Amidst the Storm

You've battled those malfunctioning time machines and wrestled with the unwelcome guests they forced upon you. Remember your 3-Step Survival Guide:

  • Step 1 - Spot the uninvited: Learn to recognise your flashback triggers and the early warning signs.

  • Step 2 - Hold the Line: Grounding and containment techniques are your shields, preventing hijacking.

  • Step 3 – Compassionate Resistance: Meet your inner child, defy those negative narratives, and embrace radical self-compassion.

The journey isn't easy.  Some days, just surviving a flashback feels like a victory.  But each time you use your tools, each step you take towards reclaiming your present, you gain a little more control over that time machine. It won't be a smooth ride at first – those dials are temperamental, and old habits die hard.  But there will be a day when you stand confidently in the control room. That day when the time machine isn't your enemy, but a powerful ally in healing your past and shaping your future.

Imagine using it to revisit those old traumas, armed with the wisdom and compassion you possess now. You can overwrite painful scenes with moments of strength, exchange feelings of helplessness for the knowledge that you survived.  Every journey on that time machine helps redefine your story – no longer a victim, but a warrior, an architect of your own destiny.

A Gift in Disguise

That malfunctioning time machine, with all the pain it brings, is also an extraordinary tool in your quest for healing. With courage, commitment, and the right tools, you will tame it.  Then, you'll have the power to not just survive your past, but to transform it, carving out a future where those echoes no longer control your present.

Jimi D Katsis


bottom of page