Emotional flashbacks and body memories can be confusing and scary— because we often don’t realize what’s happening at first.
In an emotional flasbhack, we’re suddenly feeling like we did once upon a time— often small, vulnerable, ashamed, unreasourceful.
What’s happened is that our nervous system has gotten triggered, and plunged us back into emotional headspace from the past— but it may not have been accompanied by the immersive sensory phenomena was associate with a post traumatic “flashback.”
In an emotional flashback, we’ve been plunged into headspace from “back there, back then”— often without even realizing it.
Body, or “somatic,” memories are similar: our nervous system has been triggered by something external, and in response our muscles and organs are reexperiencing things they did once upon a time.
Body memories can be painful or just strange; and they can impact a small area of your body, or they can overwhelm your entire physical being.
Both emotional flashbacks and body memories are way more common than many people realize.
Often we know something is wrong— we can feel a shift in either our feelings or our body— but we can’t quite put our finger on what’s happening.
What we need to understand is, when we have a complicated, painful history— whether or not we remember all of it— our nervous system is frequently on alert all the time for warning signs that we’re about to be plunged BACK into those complicated, painful situations.
When we get triggered, our nervous system has detected something that it’s interpreting as a danger signal— and it’s sounding the alarm bells.
Very often, we may not know what exactly has triggered us.
Sometimes a trigger won’t even seem to make sense— all we know is that, for whatever reason, it makes PERFECT sense to our sensitized nervous system.
We can argue all day with our nervous system about whether it “should” react to a trigger or not— but whether a trigger “makes sense” to us or not, when we’re triggered, we’re triggered.
We need to handle it.
As we learn to recognize what emotional flashbacks and body memories feel like, we can start to formulate strategies for dealing with them when the occur.
When we are triggered, we need to talk and visualize ourselves through it.
Our nervous system— that scared, overwhelmed kid that exists within all of us— needs to be reassured that things are safe, DESPITE whatever it has detected as a potential threat.
(Or, alternatively, if our nervous system HAS detected a legitimate threat, it needs to know that we’re actually DOING something to escape or otherwise deal with it.)
Recognizing emotional flashbacks and body memories as trauma responses can be essential when it comes to calming ourselves down and making ourselves feel better.
When we’re experiencing trauma responses, how we talk to ourselves and the resources we seek out really matter.
Trying to deal with an emotional flashback like a simple “bad mood” isn’t going to work well.
Trying to deal with a body memory like just a passing spike of physical pain isn’t going to work well.
When we accurately perceive that our nervous system is making a specific request of us— that is, it need to know that we are safe, and that we are here-and-now, instead of back-there-back then— we can meet our own needs with clarity and precision.
Lots of trauma responses SEEM to make no sense at the time— but when we take a step back, we realize that they actually do have at least a little rhyme and reason.
It takes patience and self-compassion to SEE that rhyme and reason, though— and to respond accordingly.
Ultimately all of this is part and parcel of learning to be on our own side.
We can work WITH our nervous system as we deepen our understanding of our own pain and our own needs.
We are, after all, all on the same side.