Explaining Flashbacks

Learn about what flashbacks are and what you can do to stop them.

Notice how you're feeling

If you are having a flashback you might feel as if you are back in your memory and see, hear, smell or feel what you felt at the time.

Touch your chair or the fabric of your clothes, and describe the texture to yourself (rough, smooth, etc.)

Touch a watch, wristband or piece of jewellery that you have now but did not wear back then.

  • How old am I now?
  • What is today’s date
  • Where do I live now?
  • How do I like to spend my time?

Focus on slowing your breathing. Count to 3 while breathing in and 5 while breathing out. Put your hand on your stomach so you can notice it rising and falling as you breath.  This encourages you to take deeper slower breaths.

You can practice this steady breathing while you feel fine so you have it ready when you need it.

After experiencing a flashback, you might want to rest or distract yourself for a while.

Have a sleep or a warm drink, relax and listen to some music, watch TV, play a computer game, do some gardening or just take some quiet time for you.

You could also do an exercise to help you feel positive.

  • Choose a time when you are feeling safe and steady, and think about your last flashback.
  • What was happening when the memory appeared?
  • Where were you?
  • Who was around?
  • What were you feeling/thinking, smelling/ hearing/seeing/sensing?

If you can identify the triggers, your reactions begin to make more sense and become less confusing. If you understand what is going on it can help you to put yourself back on track. 

Although flashbacks can be very unwelcome and distressing, sometimes they can contain information and feelings that fill in gaps in your memory. Some men have said they provided the ‘piece in the jigsaw’ that helped them make better sense of what happened, especially if their memories were foggy or unclear. 

It is not always helpful to explore what triggers your flashbacks by yourself if you are feeling unsteady, so try not to put yourself under pressure to ‘work it out’ on your own.  You might want to explore these questions with the help of a counsellor.

Psychologists have developed a practical technique called the Flashback Protocol which you can use to come back to the here and now.

Notice how you're feeling now