Emotional Flashbacks and C-PTSD


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


11 thoughts on “Emotional Flashbacks and C-PTSD

  1. Yes our brains have been molded in childhood, in fact certain parts get stuck in childhood to survive our ordeal. Maybe anger, shame, guilt, unworthiness.

    The good news is that all this can be reversed, fixed, integrated till present time, amygdala emptied of trauma and back to normal.

    We have to get below the ego, judgments, thoughts and emotions to observe, integrate and build our focus on the breath.

    Mindfulness practiced daily along with affirmations repeated out loud to engage more of the brain will replace the negative self image and ego with a positive, free accepting self.

    • Stuck in childhood…yes.

      I tried to explain the process of emptying trauma, etc., to my H but he truly looked at me like I was absolutely crazy and/or hiding behind some lame excuse for needing to “find myself” [sarcastic descriptor]. I’m not worried about what he thinks on this topic because I know what I am doing is the right thing. It does, however, making things more complicated. It really doesn’t matter if he constantly questions my “treatment” and self work. Occasionally, this realization causes me to feel bad, but it passes.

      Recovery is a very lonely endeavor sometimes.

  2. Maybe work on accepting the loneliness and explore deeper. You know healing is exploring our inner world which is lonely well no not lonely at all but it is with just us.

    • Yes, the breath. It’s amazing how easily I can forget that.

      In most ways, I am very comfortable with being alone and rarely feel lonely. I suspect what I wrote above is the exception in which I actually do feel a little lonely. The part of me that won’t say no to myself when I backslide to comfort is the precise part of me that needs to grow up and make better choices.

      Oh this is a very productive blogging day indeed! Thank you for your input!

  3. First I would like to thank you for finding me here on WordPress. I did not read all of our blog but I plan to because it appears we are in similar situations and degree of emotional distress. The only different I see so far is our age. In only proves abuse can effect any one at any age. I definitely am following you and maybe together we can find an answer.

    • Thanks for your kind words, they mean a lot.

      As to answers, my research background has just prompted an internal reminder that something cannot be studied if the questions are not well-defined up front. Lacking solid questions leads to misinformed judgments disguised as answers.

      By George, I think I’ve got a thread here…I need to define the questions – not the issues.

      See how you’ve helped? You prompted a mini-brainstorm that might be fruitful. Yay!

      Glad to “know” you and thankful you’re here!

      • Thank you for your open nature about different ideas, sometimes our strengths are our weaknesses

        In the zen center I attended for five years the level of intelligence was astonishing. PHD. Types everywhere

        Their strength was their minds but it was their weakness also. It kept them from meditating very deep.

        Have you tried to just accept everything, you, your life situation as exactly where it should be. U r perfect right now, need to do nothing at all

        That is hard I know.

        Maybe your research background is that for you. I was the same way and defined everything and got worse because I was thinking about my trauma and it grows with attention.

        I healed not thinking at all about my trauma but gave all that energy to practice, mindfulness.

        You are trying, have energy and take action, you will heal when you let go, my path was very similar to yours

      • You are spot on regarding the benefits/detriments of my research background. No doubt about it.

        I have accepted that where I am is exactly where I am supposed to be – it was essential for me to see what was in front of me vs. long-standing delusions. It’s an incremental process and in order to accept something, I have to be aware of it. So, your point about mindfulness and practice are critical to keep in my forefront.

        I earned my PhD when I was in my 40s and saw right away that intellect and education have *zero* to do with emotional intelligence. In fact, I comfortable saying that many of the PhDs I’ve encountered had tremendous capacity for acting like toddlers at times because they hadn’t “grown up” certain parts of themselves because they compensated with big brain achievements.

        That’s never gonna work.


        Letting go…well…there’s the hitch. I really struggle with this and have to focus more on my own resistance. I’ve seen it work a few times when I’ve applied myself to the task of letting something go so I know it is possible. I also know the relief that follows and yes, I want more of it.

        Thanks for the reassurance. That seems to be some of what I am seeking at the moment. 🙂

  4. Letting go…well…there’s the hitch. I really struggle with this and have to focus more on my own resistance. I’ve seen it work a few times when I’ve applied myself to the task of letting something go so I know it is possible. I also know the relief that follows and yes, I want more of it.

    It is awkward at first but following the breath without engaging the ego lets us I serve all of those thoughts and opinions without the bias of the ego, in present time.

    When you sit remember we are doing nothing, no matter what thought or emotion arrives we follow the breath, no reactions none let go.

    Try for three minute periods during the day, it will grow and grow

    Good luck

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