Identifying The Triggers of Emotional Flashbacks (With Tips to Manage Them)

Last Update on April 13, 2023 : Published on April 13, 2023
Emotional Flashbacks triggers and coping

“Trauma in a person decontextualized over time looks like personality…” – Resmaa Menakem

Once you’ve lived through a traumatic experience, you begin to look at life and all that comes with it from a different lens. Thoughts change; feelings twist; and emotions become perplexing. Dealing with post-trauma can be challenging in itself, but throw in emotions and you’ve got an intricate cocktail, too strong to pick apart.

When this concoction presents itself, you experience a myriad of emotions that make you react excessively more than what the present situation demands. If you are familiar with this sensation of reliving the trauma through your emotions, then you might be experiencing an emotional flashback.

Flashbacks are often a common symptom of post-trauma stress, but despite the normal expectations, flashbacks can manifest in the form of emotions, not just an image or a memory. Such flashbacks occur without visual aid but with mental or emotional ones.

Knowing what triggers an emotional flashback can help you find effective ways to stop them from happening or at the least, learn how to manage emotional flashbacks without losing too much of yourself in its throes.

What Are Emotional Flashbacks?

Emotional flashbacks, as the term suggests, are experiences that remind you of your traumatic experiences wherein your mind and body respond by recreating the emotions you experienced during the time the traumatic event took place.

The symptoms that accompany an emotional flashback can include;

  • Feelings of fear
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Feelings of abandonment
  • Feelings of insecurity
  • Feelings of impending doom

Due to its unpleasant and misunderstood nature, identifying an emotional flashback can be challenging. They can occur without notice and do not always have a noticeable trigger.

Because flashbacks are primarily a symptom of PTSD-related panic attacks, there is a lot of confusion between an emotional flashback and panic attacks. It’s important to understand that experiencing an emotional flashback is not the same thing as experiencing a panic attack. While both of these distressing experiences may involve intense and sudden emotions, panic attacks occur without a noticeable cause.

Emotional flashbacks, on the other hand, can lead to a panic attack as they have the power to have you mentally live through the trauma of your past.

Emotional Flashbacks: Some Examples!

To help you understand, here are some common emotional flashbacks examples;

1. Your basic needs are unmet as a child or you’ve been neglected by your parents or caregivers at a young age; this experience might make you live through an emotional flashback when you’re an adult and are – for some reason – unable to meet your basic needs.

2. As a child, you received criticism from your parents, siblings, or friends all the time, so now as an adult, when someone criticizes you – or gives you constructive feedback – you become emotionally overwhelmed and instantly feel unsafe and insecure, even if you’re in a safe environment.

What Triggers an Emotional Flashback?

What triggers an emotional flashback may vary from person to person as well as from experience to experience. You can’t compare your emotional flashback triggers with others. Any kind of trauma – from childhood neglect, abuse, narcissism, or an accident – can trigger an emotional flashback.

To identify if you’re experiencing emotional flashbacks, here are some signs to keep a look-out for;

  • You feel small and helpless
  • You feel ashamed or hopeless
  • You constantly feel that something bad is going to happen
  • You have a black-and-white thinking process
  • You self-criticize a lot
  • You are judgmental toward others
  • You have negative coping mechanisms (such as workaholic, staying busy, love addiction, etc.)
  • You have negative responses to emotional regulation (such as binge-eating, binge-watching, substance abuse, etc.)

Unlike other trauma-related responses, emotional flashbacks are neither auditory nor visual. Because of this, they can be hard to detect and identify. This kind of reaction may often make you feel like it’s your fault for overreacting or feeling overwhelmed.

More often than not, the common flashback triggers can include sights, smells, people, events, or situations that remind you of the past traumatic event.

signs of Emotional Flashbacks

Moreover, emotional flashbacks can often to link to other trauma-related conditions such as;

If you feel that you’re experiencing frequent emotional flashbacks, then it is recommended you speak to a professional for an appropriate diagnosis.

Quick Tips to Manage Emotional Flashbacks

1. Recognize Them And Practice Self-Soothing Techniques

The first thing you can do to manage emotional flashbacks is by recognizing the triggers, identifying them, and then practicing self-soothing techniques to calm your distress. Here are some steps you can take to stop emotional flashbacks;

Step 1: Remind yourself that you are having an emotional flashback. Also, remind yourself that you are safe and that what you’re feeling is something that has happened in the past and cannot affect you now.

Step 2: Know that you can walk away from the situation or person if needs be. You can also try to reassure your inner child that “It’s OK, you are safe and loved”

Step 3: Take deep and slow breaths to control your emotional response. Then, find a safe place where you can self-soothe or comfort yourself. Here, you can take a nap, soak in a warm bath, or hug yourself tightly.

2. Exercise Grounding Techniques

Grounding exercises are another way to stop emotional flashbacks and bring your emotional awareness to the present moment. Grounding techniques such as the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and movement exercises can also help you calm your emotional response.

3. Seek Professional Help or Social Support

When you live through an emotional flashback, it can make you feel isolated. Here, having a support system can come in handy. Being able to lean on your trusted people to provide love and comfort can be a good thing and help you deal with an intense emotional flashback.

If you’d rather reach out for professional help, then that’s great too! Make sure the therapist you reach out to specialize in trauma healing for better and more thorough results.

Advice from the Author’s Desk…

Emotional flashbacks can be quite intense and distressing. They can make you feel emotions you’d rather not. What triggers your emotional flashback can differ from mine so be sure not to compare your experience with others. The above-listed signs may help you identify your triggers and the tips may help you manage them with ease.

I would recommend that you speak to a professional trauma therapist before trying out anything on your own. To speak with a trained professional, you can click on the link below or contact SAMHSA Helpline at 1800-662-4357. You can also connect with your local healthcare provider for more information.


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Don’t let the overwhelming emotions of your past cloud your emotions of the present. I hope this blog will help you learn how to identify and manage emotional flashbacks. For more, feel free to connect with us at or leave us a message on our social media.

You are not alone! Keep fighting and keep going!

Take Care.

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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