When you’ve lived through prolonged trauma in your early years of life, it’s common to carry emotional baggage with you into adulthood. For folks with complex PTSD (C-PTSD), this “baggage” can sometimes look like emotional flashbacks.
An emotional flashback is when a trauma survivor or person with C-PTSD feels “taken over” by an emotional experience that typically stems from childhood. C-PTSD is the result of prolonged exposure to trauma, while PTSD occurs in people who have lived through a specific traumatic event or series of events of a time-limited nature.
Emotional flashbacks are different from typical PTSD flashbacks because they don’t have a visual or memory component to them. Emotional flashbacks usually last a few hours, but can sometimes last for days or weeks.
In addition to feeling an onslaught of emotion, a survivor might have thoughts like, “I’m a bad person,” or “I’m worth abandoning” or “I’m dirty.” The thoughts someone has during an emotional flashback are usually tied to things they felt as a child.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not the only one. We believe in the importance of sharing our stories to make others feel less alone, so we turned to our trauma survivor community to share their experiences. Below you can read what thoughts our community members have during an emotional flashback.
While these thoughts can feel so true in the midst of an emotional flashback, we want you to know they are not truths about who you are — not even close. You are valuable, worthy of love and not a bad person. The following post may be difficult to read if you are a trauma survivor, so please be mindful and check in with yourself about how you are feeling while reading.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. ‘I’m not safe.’
“My biggest thought during most of my emotional flashbacks is ‘I’m not safe.’ The most recent one was the same “I’m not safe” because I felt like a child and that the predator would come in my room any minute. I spent a good 5 minutes trying to calm myself down repeating over and over that I live alone and he’s not there. “I’m an adult and I live alone” just over and oper until I could get control of the emotional flashback.” — Tamasvi G.
“’I’m not safe.’ It occurs when I am around women who remind me of my mother: unpredictable, unstable, unkind.” — Megan B.
2. ‘I’m unworthy of love.’
“‘It’s my fault,’ ‘I’m unworthy of love,’ ‘I’m worthless…’ I usually have several thoughts during an emotional flashback and these are just a few. Was made to live with an uncle who despised me after my old man passed away when I was 9.” — Steve C.
3. ‘It’s all my fault.’
“I bear the shame of my trauma pretty hard during an emotional flashback.” — Kara D.
4. ‘I’m just like my mom.’
“My first thought is, ‘Run! You’ve messed up and it’s safer to leave!’ My second thought is ‘I’m awful and just like my (extremely abusive) mother.’ That, or I just freeze. Despite [having] a very loving partner, I still read into certain situations as dangerous, when in fact, they aren’t at all. I’m constantly afraid my partner hates me and wants to leave but feels obligated to stay because of all of the bad things I’ve gone through. I immediately start to feel like I’ve trapped my partner in this inescapable relationship. “ — Katy L.
5. ‘I’m not worthy of anything good.’
“‘I’m not worthy of anything good.’ On good (strong) days, I can argue with myself and try to stave off anything worse. But sometimes it’s a rougher episode and the spiral begins. I have to fight to find strength, to find hope. Or at least find the belief that ‘it won’t always feel like that. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope it will get better.’ It’s a daily struggle when I’m my own worst enemy.” — Michelle A.
6. ‘I’m not worthy of love.’
“‘I’m not worthy of love.’ It stems from people who I had a lot of trust in and a lot of love for leaving me and using me. Thankfully, I’m in a loving relationship with my boyfriend (of almost four years), but I still fear he’ll leave me because of my mental illnesses.” — Harley G.
7. ‘I’ll never amount to anything.’
“’My mom was right. I’ll never amount to anything’ Which is completely untrue. I’m a license EMT, and I work as a private police officer in the projects.” — Amanda P.
8. ‘I’m a bad person.’
“‘I’m bad,’ I’m a bad person’ ‘I’m the worst person’ — all because growing up I was labeled the ‘worst child’ like I’d done all this bad stuff that I never did.” — Kimmi K.
“I think I’m bad and I’m not safe. I feel scared and bad. My abusers used to tell me all the time that anyone who had to deal with me would hurt me like they did because I was such a bad girl. When I experience an emotional flashback, I feel like a kid again, hiding in the closet, crying, thinking I deserve what’s coming, but I hope they don’t find me.” — Kaitlyn R.
9. ‘I deserve the hard things I’ve been through.’
“‘I deserve everything I’ve been put through.’ ‘It’s not even worth it to keep trying.’” — Abigail L.
10. ‘The trauma will repeat.’
“When an employer says, ‘Can I talk to you?’ I immediately think, ‘It’s happening again.’ Takes me right back to the year-long harassment at a previous job that led to my breakdown and job loss.” — Elizabeth S.
11. ‘I’m damaged goods.’
“‘He was right.’ During a sexual assault, my attacker told me, ‘No one will want you now.’ I’m damaged goods. He took a part of me that night, and I’ll never get it back.” — Alyssa H.
If you live with emotional flashbacks, you’re not alone. There is a whole community of survivors on The Mighty who want to connect with and support you. To meet them, post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #TraumaSurvivors.
For more on emotional flashbacks, check out the following stories:
- The Chart I Made to Explain the 5 Stages of an Emotional Flashback
- 12 Life-Impacting Symptoms Complex PTSD Survivors Endure
- 2 Types of Flashbacks People With PTSD Can Experience