Emotional Flashback (A Comprehensive Guide)

Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions (‘amygdala hijackings’) to the frightening circumstances of childhood. Emotional flashbacks are the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in which a person experiences some disturbing moments of the past in the present.

These emotional flashbacks happen in a way as if they are happening in that every moment.

The person feels as if he is experiencing that situation in reality. These flashbacks could be visual as well as auditory to the person. 

But sometimes it could only be a feeling instead of any visual or auditory experience as if that person is thrown back to that memory of a childhood.

This happens when a person has a threatening childhood history.

These emotional flashbacks are very painful for the person because he relives that moment again.

In this article we will discuss emotional flashbacks. 

Emotional flashbacks are mostly associated with a diagnosis of complex trauma or c-PTSD.

Complex trauma occurs when there is ongoing abusive behavior with the person in childhood.

It can also because due to abandonment and neglect towards that person. It can cause when the perpetrator is close to the child it could be parents or other relatives. 

Complex trauma is caused due to unavailability of emotional support to the child and when the parents are busy all the time and do not spend enough required time with their children.

Children can have attachment issues if they do not get unconditional love and attention when they want it and especially when they need it, this can really become traumatic for them and affects their adulthood.

Children are fragile in the sense that they can not cope with any harmful and disturbing situation by themselves.

If they are attacked by their perpetrator by being ignored, abused, and neglected they are not powerful enough to deal with those emotions.

Their often response is being frozen to that intolerable behavior. During adulthood people with past c-PTSD will re-experience those feelings again as if they are happening in the present, these are emotional flashbacks.

In this article, we will discuss emotional flashbacks and their types. 

What do emotional flashbacks feel like?

Psychotherapist Pete Walker has worked on emotional flashbacks and complex trauma, he says: “Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions (‘amygdala hijackings’) to the frightening circumstances of childhood. They are typically experienced as intense and confusing episodes of fear and/or despair – or as sorrowful and/or enraged reactions to this fear and despair.”

These emotional flashbacks usually happen when you face a certain situation or you are facing any even in your life or anything which reminds you of childhood traumas.

When a person experiences these emotions they are drawn back to those feelings with great insecurity of helplessness.

They can not find any parental guide figure or any other with whom he is close to help him get out of that situation.

When people have emotional flashbacks they feel as if they are alone in that situation they feel humiliated and ashamed.

Due to these emotional flashbacks they start to feel as if there is something wrong with them.

For example; a girl who has c-PTSD and has an insecure childhood in which she has attachment issues with her parents, whenever she has to go anywhere or asks them to take her to parks or any other amusement place often she ends up in disappointment because her parents have other priorities.

When her parents have to pick her up from school often they got late or sometimes even forget about picking her up.

She has a feeling of fear by being a second choice and being rejected by what she wants.

Now she is new in the relationship and has to go on a date with him.

But due to some reason he canceled on her at that time, she will have emotional flashbacks, feeling of being the second choice, rejected and abandoned.

She will start to feel as if like her parents he also abandoned her and she will think as she is unlovable.

These flashbacks will make her feel powerless and surrounded by all those emotions which she used to have in her childhood.

This event of her life will remind her of all the events of her past which made her feel like this way.

Short intense emotional flashbacks:

There are some short intense emotional flashbacks that cause emotional flashbacks and affect the condition of a person.

These areas follow:

  • Hearing any voice when you are alone in the house.
  • When anyone or anything passes behind that person. 
  • Breaking rules whether big or small.
  • Encountering any police officer or other ranked officers
  • While there is a need to kill an insect
  • When the person has to do bargaining or paying the fair payment.
  • When you don’t leave a tip
  • When the person is eating (emotional eating)
  • Being clumsy at most of the things and while making any kind of mistake
  • Hearing the sound of an ambulance
  • Loud noises of any type
  • Putting money in your saving accounts can also trigger that
  • Seeing a picture of someone’s closed with whom you are not in contact with 
  • When anything unfair happens
  • Specific insulting phrases
  • Physical pain
  • Physical contact
  • Waiting for somebody
  • Rejecting somebody for any reason or if you get rejected
  • Taking a stand for yourself
  • Asking questions in a room full of people


Here is the list of triggers of medium intense emotional flashbacks which a person may experience but the moment of flashbacks will go away when these triggers stop, these medium-lasting obsessive emotional flashbacks are as follow: 

  • When some people are fighting with each other could be two or a group of people
  • When you feel as if you are not in a safe place whether it is your relative’s house or any hotel etc.
  • Seeing any group of people who do not look decent.
  • Talking to any stranger in an open or an unknown environment.
  • When people laugh out loud and play music loud.
  • When you interact with anyone who is physically stronger than you.
  • When a person you spend time with earns more money than you.
  • Passing by some animals like dogs. Or any dangerous animals could be spiders, snakes, etc.
  • Some types of non-dangerous animals insects, red ants, etc.
  • When you go out for something a feels as if somebody could steal your possessions for example; phone and bag, etc.
  • When you talk to any moody person.
  • Asking for help for anyone
  • Passing by a block where I was raised as a child
  • When my birthdays come up.


Here is the list of triggers of short intense emotional flashbacks that affect a person and bring him to any past or childhood trauma.

These long term emotional flashbacks are as follow:

  • When you plan anything and it doesn’t go the way you have planned.
  • When you do not finish your work which you had added in the to-do list.
  • When something unexpected happens in a relationship.
  • Cheating on someone or if someone else cheats on you
  • When something comes to an end, it could be a job, relationship, studies, etc.
  • Getting reject in relationship or jobs etc.
  • Specific melancholic music.

How to cope with emotional flashbacks?

Emotional flashbacks can be overcome through different ways one of which is self-therapy and also through trained therapists.

Some of the important ways to cope with emotional flashbacks are given below:

Identify your trigger:

First of all you need to know what are the certain things, situations, circumstances, events, relationships, and people who trigger emotional flashbacks.

Keep yourself distance from such relationships and situations which trigger you.

Only when you know about your trigger point then you can help yourself to stay secure from those helpless feelings. 

Talk yourself down:

You need to be your own hero to save yourself from such situations.

Whenever you have an emotional flashback you should talk to yourself and make yourself realize that it is just a situation and you can deal with it.

Your present has nothing to do with your past.

You have control over you and you surely don’t need any parental guide figure right now to make you feel secure.

Be your words when you need to hear some.

Pete Walker recommends saying to yourself: “I’m just having a flashback. There is no danger here. I am safe.”

Take deep breaths:

When you experience emotional flashbacks take deep breathes.

Inhale form nose and exhales from the mouth. Put all of your concentration on taking deep breaths.

Repeat this until it makes you feel better.

Soothe your sense:

Sometimes just by merely looking at some things makes you have emotional flashbacks, it could be a picture.

Sometimes listening to music can also trigger emotional flashbacks.

When you are experiencing this try to divert your mind with something which makes you feel good or secure.

If hugging your teddy bear makes you feel secure do it right away.

Listening to any other music, talking to any friend, eating anything can help you relive the situation and soothe your senses than do it when you have these emotional flashbacks.  

Don’t beat yourself up:

When a person have emotional flashback often he fall into thinking that it is his fault that he keep thinking about the past memories which do not let him concentrate on his present.

Whenever you have these thoughts due to emotional flashbacks you need to remind yourself that it is not your fault.

It doesn’t make you a bad person.

The response you are giving to any situation due to emotional flashbacks is not exaggerated and you are not overreacting in that situation, do not blame yourself for this. 

Think about therapy:

Above mentioned ways are somehow self-therapy but if the situation is out of control and you feel like taking help then you should consult an experienced therapist.

A therapist can help you to cope with day to day challenges and how to deal with these emotional flashbacks and how to stick to the present.

He will help you to heal your wounds from childhood.

FAQs about Emotional Flashbacks 

How to cope with emotional flashbacks?

To overcome emotional flashbacks you can use self-therapy as well as can consult experienced therapists for who can help you through your day to day challenge.

What is the reason for emotional flashbacks?

Emotional flashbacks are the result of childhood traumas.

Do childhood traumas affects our adulthood?

Yes childhood plays an important role in a person’s life.

Any childhood trauma can put an effect on our latter life, emotional flashbacks are one of them


Theawaarnesscenter.com: Emotional Flashbacks: What They Feel Like, And How To Cope With Them

Agileleanlife.com: Emotional flashbacks – when your emotional response is out of proportion

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