“The subconscious mind cannot delineate between what is actually happening and what are your thoughts.” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer
This can be a radical concept to try to embrace. But if we can wrap our minds around it, it gives us release and understanding of our traumatic flashbacks.
I was listening to a recording of Dr. Wayne Dyer this week, when he spoke those words. It resonated with me, especially in regard to flashbacks. When we experience a flashback, our subconscious mind may think the trauma is actually happening, or about to happen, again. We may feel powerless to a flashback. But realizing that it is from our own thoughts ultimately gives us power over it.
Often when we are initially traumatized, the mind separates from the body. Psychologists refer to this as dissociation. It can occur again during flashbacks. When your body is not a safe place to be, part of you leaves. This is an innate survival mechanism we have, but it is also why people subjected to repeated, ongoing trauma, need specific healing modalities to re-join these fractured parts of themselves.
After the trauma, we sometimes have flashbacks when triggered by certain sights, smells, sounds or situations. Initially, triggers are common and frequent, growing less powerful as time passes, as we heal and move on from the trauma.
In an article entitled “Trauma and Dissociation: Nuerological and Spiritual Perspectives” in the Journal of Psychology & Psychotherapy, Jane A. Simington writes,
“In Shamanic belief, when the mind separates from the body, as happens during dissociation, the human soul can fracture. When this happens, a part or parts of the soul can remain at the scene of the trauma, as thought frozen there in that space and time. From within this perspective, a trigger is viewed as a signal to the person to pay attention to an unhealed soul wound. A flashback is acknowledged as a step on the healing journey, for it takes the traumatized person back to the traumatic scene where the fractured-off soul parts remain.”
This is a unique way to reframe triggers and flashbacks. If you are still triggered by a certain smell, it is simply a signal that you have more work to do. It doesn’t mean you are lacking in any way, or that you’ve been slacking on your healing process, it’s just a noticing.
And to think of a flashback as a step on the healing journey is a radical idea to most of us as well. But when we return to that scene, we have the opportunity to heal it, to observe yourself in that situation and love yourself. To take the Divine with you, and let the Divine hold you.
A couple of months after I was raped, I moved into a house with 3 roommates and got a dog. That was a good and natural response. I was getting better at sleeping, just knowing there were people around. My roommates didn’t know what had happened to me as I was not sharing it at that time. One of my male roommates thought it would be funny to sneak up behind me in the hall one night and grab my waist and scare me. The next thing I knew, I had left my body (again) and was staring down at myself, screaming loudly, in a fetal position on the floor. It took a few minutes for me to re-enter the present moment and re-enter my body. My roommate was, needless to say, shocked, but realized what had happened. He was extremely apologetic and asked me gently, “That wasn’t just from this, was it?” I could only shake my head, “No.”
How was this a step on my healing journey? Because during my initial trauma, I never got to scream. Being able to scream out all that fear was immensely cathartic.
The next day I felt lighter. I had got back a little piece of my power.
In this same way, therapists working with war veterans are now using simulators to go back to war situations and come back to their present reality, to reduce symptoms of PTSD and work toward feeling safe again. Therapists often also use hypnotherapy as a form of safe flashback to do the same kind of work.
So as scary as flashbacks can be, if we can reframe them as a healing step, we need not fear them. Not that we need to invite them, but when they do come, try to see what message they are bringing. Do I need more therapy? Do I need to journal more? Be with nature? Find safe places? What is Spirit trying to tell me? If you ask the question, you will know the answer.
While we don’t want to live in the past, sometimes we have to address it in order to heal it.
“I am as God created me. In this one thought is all the past undone; the present saved to quietly extend into a timeless future.” ~A Course in Miracles
You are Still Beloved –