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Emotional Flashbacks - How to manage them

What are the Emotional Flashbacks in CPTSD Recovery and How to Manage Them

There are days we wake up the only thought that seems to materialise is: This is it. I cannot take it anymore. I just do not want to fight anymore. I am tired, so tired. There is no hope, there is no light. My human battery is simply dead.

Is it possible that a full range depression showed up out of the blue this morning?

Is it a sign that all our worst fears are about to come true and that our personal Apocalypse is here?

Hmm. Maybe.

But it is (a bit) more likely that what you’re experiencing is a CPTS induced emotional flashback, also called ‘the amygdala hijacking’. What they are and how to survive them is the core of the work of Pete Walker. His groundbreaking book ‘CPTSD: From Surviving To Thriving’ is the absolute core-text for anyone who wants to gain a full and complete understanding of this topic. This article is a comprehensive summary of the most visible telltale signs of a flashback.

Before we define a Flashback, let’s answer the more pressing question.

What is the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Pete Walker defines it as a more severe form of Post-traumatic stress disorder. It is delineated from this better known trauma syndrome by five of its most common and troublesome features: emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, self-abandonment, a vicious inner critic and social anxiety.

The most prevalent kind of CPTSD comes from growing up in a severely abusive and/or neglectful family and being subjected to verbal, emotional, spiritual, sexual and/or physical abandonment and/ or abuse. (ibid)
When abuse or neglect is severe enough, any one category of it can cause the child to develop Cptsd.

From: COMPLEX PTSD: FROM SURVIVING TO THRIVING P. Walker, 2014

CPTSD and Trauma are frequently at the core of our low mood and feeling of despair and hopelessness
CPTSD and Trauma are frequently at the core of our low mood and feeling of despair and hopelessness

What is an Emotional Flashback and how to identify it?

Emotional flashbacks are perhaps the most noticeable and characteristic feature of Cptsd. Survivors of traumatizing abandonment are extremely susceptibility to painful emotional flashbacks, which unlike ptsd do not typically have a visual component.
Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions to the overwhelming feeling-states of being an abused/abandoned child. These feeling states can include overwhelming fear, shame, alienation, rage, grief and depression. They also include unnecessary triggering of our fight/flight instincts.
It is important to state here that emotional flashbacks, like most things in life, are not all-or- none. Flashbacks can range in intensity from subtle to horrific. They can also vary in duration ranging from moments to weeks on end where they devolve into what many therapists call a regression.

Emotional flashbacks are also accompanied by intense arousals of the fight/flight instinct, along with hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system, the half of the nervous system that controls arousal and activation. When fear is the dominant emotion in a flashback the person feels extremely anxious, panicky or even suicidal. When despair predominates, a sense of profound numbness, paralysis and desperation to hide may occur.

A sense of feeling small, young, fragile, powerless and helpless is also commonly experienced in an emotional flashback, and all symptoms are typically overlaid with humiliating and crushing toxic shame.

Pete Walker’s Definition of Emotional Flashbacks ( Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A GUIDE AND MAP FOR RECOVERING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA Walker, 2014)

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A GUIDE AND MAP FOR RECOVERING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA

List Of Common CPTSD Symptoms

Survivors may not experience all of these. Varying combinations are common. Factors affecting this are your 4F type and your childhood abuse/neglect pattern.

  • Emotional Flashbacks
  • Tyrannical Inner &/or Outer Critic
  • Toxic Shame
  • Self-Abandonment
  • Social anxiety
  • Abject feelings of loneliness and abandonment Fragile Self-esteem
  • Attachment disorder
  • Developmental Arrests
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Radical mood vacillations
  • Dissociation via distracting activities or mental processes
  • Hair-triggered fight/flight response
  • Oversensitivity to stressful situations Suicidal Ideation
CPTSD Symptoms
Cptsd can also be caused by emotional neglect alone

From Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A GUIDE AND MAP FOR RECOVERING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA (Walker, 2014)

What to do when in a Flashback?

Pete Walker created an uber-useful list of steps to follow when you find yourself in a flashback. You can consult it on Pete’s website: www.pete-walker.com or download it below

If you need to speak with a coach or if you have any question about Flashbacks or CPTS Recovery, we are here for you.