Fast Exit

December 4, 2023 Dec 04, 2023 7 min read

Emotional Flashbacks: Manage Overwhelming Feelings


  • What are emotional flashbacks and how do they make you feel?
  • How awareness that you are having an emotional flashback can help you deal with overwhelming feelings
  • How childhood trauma and abuse create emotional flashbacks
  • Ways to manage emotional flashbacks and get more control of your state of mind

Do you sometimes feel flooded with emotions – anger, sadness, or fear? Do you suddenly start being very hard on yourself and overly critical of yourself? Or maybe you just feel a wave of bad feelings, and you can’t define exactly what you are upset about. You may feel like yelling at someone or crying when someone says something you don’t like, or even when a small thing happens, like forgetting or breaking something. 


This is what an emotional flashback can feel like. Although sometimes you have a specific visual memory of an event that sets you off, often it’s just an overwhelming mood that comes over you. You may feel small and weak, like a child who can’t defend himself or herself. It may feel like you are in danger when you really aren’t. You may just feel very sad and heartbroken.

But here is something that can help you right away: stop and tell yourself, “I am having an emotional flashback. What I am feeling is not about something happening now. Old, painful feelings have risen up, but I can calm them down. I can be here in the present.” 


Then you might recognize that you have felt this way before, sometimes many times. You can reflect on what you might be so upset about and realize it is actually from the past. It could be from very long ago. It has not left you because you were not able to feel and express your feelings at the time you had a bad, traumatic experience.


If you are attacking yourself, calling yourself names, and saying you will never do better, this may be the voice of someone who did this to you in your childhood. Children internalize the voices of the people who have authority over them. You grow up with the repeating echo of their voices in your mind, but they seem like your own. There wasn’t room for your own voice, and you took in a distorted and incorrect view of who you are. Emotional flashbacks throw you back into mistreating yourself the way others mistreated you.


In emotional flashbacks, the anger, fear, and heartbreak that you weren’t allowed to express overflow into the present. But if you find a way to talk about them or at least think about them in the present, you can release some of those harmful feelings. Then you won’t be so triggered by these painful, out-of-control flashbacks.


As you work with these flashbacks, it is important to be patient with yourself and not give up.

It may seem like you will never get them under control. But over time, you can reeducate your mind and release the pain you are carrying. You can discover your power to say no to the past. It is not too late to let your real feelings come out in a safe way. You have a right to be angry about being abused and neglected. Let yourself mourn how your needs were not met. You have a right to learn how to protect and take care of yourself. You can free yourself of the burden of the past. 

Let’s stay in touch

We’d like to be able to share more of our resources and support with you.

How to Manage Emotional Flashbacks and Be More in Control

The first step is the realization that you are having an emotional flashback. This is a big step. 


Then you can breathe deeply and take some time to calm yourself physically because there is always a physical element when you are emotionally overwhelmed. Now you can shift gears and take a more realistic look at the moment. You can stop attacking yourself or others. You can manage your fear and explore how to set your own boundaries about how you will be treated. 


As you become more aware that you are having emotional flashbacks and work on being kind to yourself, you will become better at managing flashbacks 


Also, once you are more aware of what triggers your emotional flashbacks, you may choose to prepare yourself for certain situations and try to avoid others. But don’t deprive yourself of things you need and want to do. The aim is to overcome your past, not to let it rule your present or your future. When you know what triggers you, there is always the opportunity to create an environment to succeed. It can take courage to go forward but it’s possible. You will discover that you have much more strength than you realize. Your triggers can subside, and you can have more happiness and success. 


Addressing emotional flashbacks often requires a multifaceted approach, and seeking support is crucial. Engaging in therapy, particularly with a qualified therapist experienced in trauma, provides a safe space to explore the roots of emotional flashbacks and develop coping strategies. Therapists can guide individuals in recognizing triggers, navigating overwhelming emotions, and fostering resilience. Additionally, mindfulness and grounding techniques, learned through practices like meditation, can be valuable tools for staying present during flashbacks. Building a strong support network, which may include friends, family, or support groups, allows individuals to share their experiences and receive understanding and encouragement. Self-care practices, such as exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy lifestyle choices, contribute to overall emotional well-being. Combining these approaches can empower individuals to effectively manage and reduce the impact of emotional flashbacks on their daily lives.


Steps to Manage Emotional Flashbacks

  1. Recognize that you are having an emotional flashback.
  2. Calm yourself by taking time to breathe slowly and deeply. Tell yourself that you are safe.
  3. If your physical or emotional boundaries have been crossed, respectfully ask someone to please stop their behaviour.
  4. Remember that you are worthy and capable and can control your negative thoughts.
  5. Try to take a broader perspective and stop exaggerating what is happening. Shift to a problem-solving position instead of feeling hopeless and stuck.
  6. Accept your feelings, but recognize that you cannot control everything or change the past.
  7. Think positive thoughts about yourself, and your good qualities, and keep a journal of your accomplishments.
  8. Stop punishing yourself for not being perfect or for making mistakes. Everyone does.
  9. Reflect on what happened to you that caused you harm, and be sympathetic and kind to yourself.

What a relief it will be to be able to let things go and not be overwhelmed by the past. 

About The Author

Susan Ellis studied psychology and anthropology at Barnard College and the University of Chicago. She has worked in many aspects of publishing, including editing and marketing scholarly journals, mainstream magazines, and books on psychology and psychoanalysis.

Navigating Emotions Journal

This journal is designed to help you manage emotional flashbacks and regain control over your mood. By consistently recording your thoughts and feelings, this journal serves as a guide to understanding triggers and navigating overwhelming emotions. Whether in print or digital form, dedicating a specific time each day to record your feelings empowers you to cultivate calmness and resilience. The structured sections provide a roadmap for self-discovery. The action plan and reflections offer practical steps and insights, contributing to your journey of emotional well-being.

Start your 14 day free trial today

We’d like to be able to share more of our resources and support with you.

Get started

Read more like this