Coping with Flashbacks: Techniques for Handling the Memories

An extreme closeup of a woman's green eye

Your Options for Coping With Flashbacks

Coping with Coping With Flashbacks simply means handling them, and there are actually three different ways you can handle the flashback. At the first sign of an oncoming flashback, you need to quickly determine which option you are choosing.

The techniques used for each of these options are the same, but how you combine these techniques and the intensity with which you use them will vary to bring about each of the three. It is important to note that not all Coping With Flashbacks can or will be Controlled or Escaped. If the triggering event is strong enough, the flashback may overwhelm every attempt made at Control or Escape. During these times, get yourself to the safest place you can and keep using the techniques to manage the Acceptance of the flashback.


coping with flashbacks Coping with Flashbacks: Techniques for Handling the Memories

Coping with Coping With Flashbacks: Accepting the full impact of a flashback is best done when you are in a safe space with a strong support person.

The first option is to Accept the flashback at full intensity, and everything that comes with it. At first glance, this looks like a ridiculous choice, but one of the reasons you have flashbacks in the first place is to help your mind process the information contained in the flashback. There are times that this is the best option because the information is going to come forward at some time anyway. So if the time and place are right, prepare yourself and try to control the flashback only enough to keep yourself safe.

How do you know if the time and place are right? Well, there are several factors that may help indicate when it is safe enough to Accept a flashback at full force. The first of these is a safe environment, by safe I mean comfortable and comforting. This may be your bedroom, living room, or even your therapist’s office. The second is the existence of a support person or someone you can talk to afterwards if you need to. This could be a significant other, close friend or therapist.

I have found that limiting the times I Accept a flashback at full force can significantly improve how I deal with the more devastating memories.


coping with flashbacks Coping with Flashbacks: Techniques for Handling the Memories

Coping with Flashbacks: Controlling your flashback can put off some of the impact until a safer time.

The second option is to Control the flashback, or rather to make an attempt to diminish the effects of the flashback. In order to Control the flashback, you need to increase the effort you put into the coping techniques you have (or those listed at the bottom of this article). I find it useful to also continue to remind myself that I am safe and that I cannot be hurt.

Controlling and Escaping flashbacks work by interrupting the thought processes involved in the flashback. Since flashbacks are basically electrical impulses within the brain, I look at this as short-circuiting the flashback process. When you have a song you don’t particularly like stuck in your head, the only way to get rid of it is to hear a song you like and replace the thought that is keeping that song in your head. Short-circuiting a flashback is the same thing you are attempting to replace one thought process with another.

Controlling is not the full replacement of a flashback but a redirection of the flashback onto a different and safer circuit. To do this, you will be using your coping tools to interrupt the thought process. You may need to interrupt the flashback several times to Control the impact, and it may take several efforts to cause a single interruption. Mixing your coping methods around and using them in combination are ways of intensifying the attempt at interruption.

If your environment is familiar and you can feel safe, or if you are with someone who can give you a measure of safety, then Controlling the flashback may be the best option.


The final option is the Escape of the flashback. Again, remember that this may not always be possible, but never give up your attempts. Mix up your coping methods and combine them, try the more intense methods and try new methods. Escape is both tiring and difficult for me, but it can be done.

One thing that you need to be aware of is that Escape is not permanent. By Escaping the flashback, you are simply putting it off until it is safe to process the information. You won’t get to select when that reprocessing happens either. Once you Escape, get yourself to a safer place and calm yourself down.

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Sean is the Editor of Mental Health Matters. His life changed in 1996 during a business trip to Southern California. After driving through the neighborhood where he grew up, he started recalling a series of traumatic events that eventually took over. After a four-month battle on his own to try and keep the memory buried, he finally sought help. During a series of voluntary stays in a local hospital, he was diagnosed with Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has been active in individual therapy and group therapy during his recovering, and he continues to cope with the recalled memory of childhood sexual abuse. Sean continues to recover daily, and is proud to be a part of a site that helps others.


  1. Realism Bites

    February 5, 2016 at 5:35 am

    This is a great post. I would like to add that Jessica Jones’ technique seems really helpful. She remembers the street she grew up on and visualizes the sign and then thinks of and visualizes the next street over and so on and so on. I think that might clash with the ideas here that say to change things up though. It might be a one time only thing.

    • Sean Bennick

      February 5, 2016 at 6:04 am

      I think it’s just a matter of finding what works for you. With me, changing things works. If I fall into a pattern, I can wind up deeper into the flashback.

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