When coping with flashbacks, 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 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.
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.
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.