Sometimes we let life guide us, and other times we take life by the horns. But one thing is for sure: no matter how organized we are, or how well we plan, we can always expect the unexpected. Brandon Jenner
Life is ironic. I have not published for a few weeks and was going to publish a new post to say that I had reached the end of my healing journey and that I was “healed” when out of the blue I was struck by an emotional flashback. Suddenly, I was experiencing feelings of anxiety, despair and helplessness. This was highly unexpected. I thought I would never experience such a thing again and did not recognise it at first. I was stressed and tired and attributed my reaction to these factors. Here I was, an elephant sitting on my chest, butterfly dancing in my stomach, shaking and crying uncontrollably for several hours. It was highly unpleasant and unsettling.
In his book How to Stop an Emotional Flashback, Richard Grannon explains that during an emotional flashback the mind flashes back to the emotions of the original trauma. “An emotional flashback is when we experience intense negative emotions when there is no external trigger or there is an external trigger, but we completely overreact to it. CPTSD is created by ongoing invisible traumas resulting from emotional abuse in a setting where the target cannot escape. Because there is no singular external event, there is no visual or auditory input to be recalled in the flashback. So, the flashback becomes purely emotional. This is uniquely bewildering and confusing to the target because they will not remember and will not know why they are suddenly feeling overwhelmed by feelings of terror, guilt, shame, depression.”
What had triggered this emotional flasback?
It had all started Friday morning. First, I had forgotten my gym kit at home and was annoyed that I would have to go home to get it before meeting with my personal trainer. Then, when I arrived at work, a member of staff greeted me with a snide remark, followed by a mocking comment. I was surprised because we usually get on and she had always been amicable. However, I had complained earlier that week, that a member of her team was upsetting the students during exams by being rude and insensitive and I guess, she was getting back at me.
I was irritated but went to class as I was covering for a colleague. A few minutes later, one of my students sitting the exam, told me that the groups had changed, and she was not paired with whom she should have been. I tried to find out what had happened. I was polite and courteous, but I was told – in a very uncourteous way – by the member of staff aforementioned that I was upsetting her staff and I had to get out. Now I was starting to get angry. I did not understand her change of demeanour. My students were upset, I was upset and then she went on to blame me for everyone being upset That is when I lost my composure and started shouting at her.
I wanted to go home but I had another lesson in the afternoon. My students were organising an end of term party, so I did not want to disappoint them. By then, I was starting to realise now that I may be experiencing an emotional flashback. The belittling, the mocking, the devaluing, the unfair treatment and the unwarranted blaming had transported me right back into the height of narcissistic abuse with all the terrible feelings that went with it. I felt very weepy and anxiety was quickly rising inside me.
I was taken by surprise by my feelings. I knew that the situation was not so severe as to generate such feelings, but I was unable to stop my flashback and therefore suffered the full force of it.
Two days later, I am feeling much calmer. Nonetheless, I am now feeling anxious about going back to work because I am afraid of being triggered again. Therefore, have decided to apply for another job. It may sound impulsive, but I am merely keeping my options open, so I do not feel trapped. If I decide to stay in my job – which I love, it will be because I want to, not because I must. I do not want to feel powerless. I want to be in control.
It might take me more time than I thought before I am completely “healed” and do not experience such flashbacks. With further understanding of the causes and triggers and some coping techniques, I know it is possible.
In the meantime, my healing journey continues…