Dewane (2010) states “Emotional flashbacks usually do not have a visual or memory component to them like a recurrent intrusive recollection of PTSD. Therefore, the individual rarely realizes [emphasis added] that he or she is reexperiencing a traumatic time from childhood. It may be seen as a descendent of dissociation, what Walker calls “a gross overfiring of right-brain emotional processing with a decrease in cognitive processing in the left brain.” The author further elaborates that
“The symptomatology of complex PTSD includes a conception of emotional flashbacks—emotional and intrusive recollections of overwhelming feeling states of childhood: fear, shame, alienation, rage, grief, and/or depression. Walker (2009) calls these sudden and often prolonged emotional regressions to the frightening and abandoned feelings of childhood “amygdala hijackings.” The amygdala performs a primary role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events, suggesting that prolonged fear may result in permanent changes in the brain, with lingering synapse hyperreactivity. The tendency to overreact may be rooted in permanent fear conditioning, both emotionally and physiologically, with a number of resultant sympathetic nervous system responses (e.g., rapid heartbeat, respiration, cortisol production, immobility). The psychic imprinting of PTSD results in changed brain chemistry; the amygdala triggers the nervous system and panic, and prolonged panic may result in permanent panic.”
Dewane points out that “emotional neglect is suggested as the primary cause of complex PTSD. Emotional neglect occurs when a supportive caretaker is unavailable to provide comfort or protection. Adults who were neglected as children never felt special, loved, wanted, or important…No one answered their cries for help, literally or figuratively, giving way to emotional flashbacks in which defensive reactions are used throughout life.”
Walker (2013) explains “Flashbacks are at the deepest level painful layers of reactions – physiological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral – to the reemerging despair of the childhood abandonment depression.” Walker outlines the layered process of an emotional flashback as “A complex PTSD sufferer wakes up feeling depressed. Because childhood experience has conditioned her to believe that she is unworthy and unacceptable in this state, she quickly becomes anxious and ashamed. This in turn activates her Inner Critic to goad her with perfectionistic and endangering messages” which causes her to react with one of the 4Fs (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn; outlined in my previous post Trauma Typology and C-PTSD.
Walker (2013) makes a salient observation by pointing out that it is “especially noteworthy…how the inner critic can interact with fear and shame in a particular vicious and escalating cycle.”
Dewane, C. (2010). The legacy of addictions: A form of Complex PTSD? Originally published in Social Work Today, 10(6), 16-x. Retrieved from http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111610p16.shtml
Walker, P. (2013, March 31). Managing abandonment depression in Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). Weblog entry. Retrieved from http://abusesanctuary.blogspot.com/2012/01/managing-abandonment-depression-in.html