Anxiety & Emotional Flashbacks, What's the Connection?

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Is there a connection between Anxiety and Emotional Flashbacks?

Yes, there is. When you experience emotional flashbacks, you will have higher levels of anxiety and feel on-edge more often. Want to understand what emotional flashbacks are, and what you can do to begin experiencing relief? Read below.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are objectively doing fine but suddenly notice you’re feeling frightened, lonely, shamed or insecure?

Sometimes, there is something obvious, such as an explicit flashback, where a person is involuntarily transported back in time. For example, a Vietnam Veteran who hears a siren, and jumps out of his car and finds safety. He is pulled back in time to when he was in danger and reacts to that perceived danger. Explicit flashbacks involve feelings as well as facts, that are related to explicit memories and events.

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However, there are times where there’s no obvious “culprit” to the panic, fear and anxiety.

There is no present memory to pin the emotions onto, but there’s an intense emotional state that overtakes you.

These usually happen due to implicit memories.

What are implicit memories?

Implicit memories are carried on a non-verbal, unconscious level, and are often not recognized as “memories”. They hold pains, disappointments, hurt and traumas from the past; they aren’t stored with ‘images’, rather they carry emotionally intensity and are responsible for emotional flashbacks. These can come from not having enough emotional nurture, feeling left out, lacking support or being strongly criticized.

Implicit memories develop either if you were too young to put words to the experience, or if you’ve experienced something that you weren’t able to fully comprehend or process, so it got stored on a body-level, not on a thinking, narrative level.

Emotional Flashbacks And Implicit Memories- What are they?

Emotional flashbacks are when the psyche reverts back in time to a traumatic or fearful circumstance. It begins with a trigger, often subtle or unconscious, that reminds your mind and body of a pain you experienced in the past. This can be something in your childhood or recently. When this happens, your body pushes you into one of the survival responses; fight, flight, freeze or collapse.

If this happens, you’re not weak.

If you find that you’re suddenly feeling anxious, vulnerable or frightened, it’s simply your body is doing its job to protect you and make sure you survive…even when it’s a flashback, and there’s no real danger.

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What can trigger an emotional flashback?

Anything can be a emotional flashback trigger; a topic, a place, an item, a facial expression, a sound, a remark. If it unconsciously “wakes-up” an emotional experience that hasn’t been processed, it’ll trigger you. This is because there is a linking up of the past and current event that “reminds” your body of what happened, and the fear pops up.

How do Emotional Flashbacks present?

  • Depression

  • Relationship Issues

  • Disproportionate Reactions to a Situation

  • Feeling Invisible and Small

  • Shame Flooded

  • Inner Critic Attack

  • Feeling “crazy”

  • Overly Sensitive to Stimuli and Others

  • Low Self-Esteem

  • Extreme Anxiety

  • Helplessness

  • Judgement of Others

  • Flooded with guilt, sadness, or anger for no obvious reason

Examples of Emotional Flashbacks

Quiet Time- Reminder to Past “alone-ness”

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Your family is going out of town for the weekend and you’ll be having some alone time as it will be more quiet than usual. Instead of feeling relief, your body starts panicking, as it is reminded of feeling alone for many years in your younger years, when you desperately wanted company and someone to talk to, and didn’t have that “someone.” Your body forgets that you have supports as an adult, and even if there is some alone time, you’re no longer a child, but the body drops back into a child emotion-based-state and sends the panic signal.

Socially - Feeling like a “mis-fit”

You’re at a social gathering and woman makes a comment about your dress, an unkind comment, or a dismissive comment. You have been feeling confident, but suddenly start feeling uncomfortable in your skin and you want to go home. Your toxic friends from your earlier adult years used to criticize your sense of style, and, though it was 20 -something years ago,, you start feeling flooded with insecurity and are struggling to feel strong and confident.

Work Disagreement - Shrinking to Child Self

Your coworker presents an issue and you, in your knowledge and confidence, speak up sharing how you believe the opposite idea would produce better results. Your coworker looks at you with a look of disbelief. Naturally, you’d speak up and defend your point and explain your stance, but you suddenly feel your tongue freezing and you feel unable to continue talking. You step back and sheepishly agree to his idea even though you do not agree with the adult, professional part of you.

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You’ve come far, but you’re realizing that the look of disbelief reminded you of the disappointed face your father had whenever you spoke up or respectfully disagreed. You learned to agree with what he has to say to keep the peace at home. You’re taken aback that this happened at work since it’s been a while since you’ve had this kind of experience of shrinking back into this way of being.

Emotional flashbacks- A Silent, Delayed Response to Trauma or Abuse

Since there is no dot-the-dot event that triggers an emotional flashback, you may suddenly feel emotions that had no space to feel, express, talk about or understand in younger years, or in a recent unhealthy relationship or toxic environment.

Once out of the situation, your unconscious mind senses newfound safety and wants to resolve and process the emotional weights its been carrying.

These emotions are a non-verbal request for processing the fear or anxiety on a body-based level.

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Maybe your pain is from something recent, or it may be an emotionally familiar experience from your younger years. If you experienced pain and you had no one safe who you felt you can share it with, you repressed it to survive.

Repression is when you push anger, fear, and yearning for safety aside, and focus on surviving the pain.

Repression only lasts so long, at some point these emotions start expressing themselves in symptoms such as headaches, fear, acting-out, self sabotage, emotional drama, sensitivity, relationship issues or feeling stuck and depressed. These symptoms are often at the root of emotional flashbacks you experience.

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Every re-experiencing is essentially an opportunity for healing.

Instead of it being a reminder of the aloneness, abandonment and hopelessness felt back at the time of the event, you can help yourself use these moments to move forward in your emotional healing.

Want 10 Steps for Managing Emotional Flashbacks in Long Island, NY? Read here.

Read this article and are seeking some support in healing? At Integrative Psychotherapy we utilize latest scientific-based methods to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and emotional flashbacks. Our treatments aim to heal the core of the suffering, resolving not just the symptom but the overall person. Some of our method are EMDR, Somatic Therapy (sensorimotor psychotherapy) , parts work CBT and Expressive Arts.

We want you to experience relief that lasts.

If you’re ready to schedule your first appointment, reach out by clicking below.