Flashback Halting Protocol


Flashbacks can be a terrifying and debilitating symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Controlling them can be difficult and those who experience them can feel helpless and out of control.

Essentially, flashbacks are the superimposing of the past traumatic experience on the present. You are attacked in a parking garage on July 12, 2004 in Tampa. Why are you experiencing the same terror, anger, shame, and helplessness in a parking garage on February 23, 2010 in Scranton? The sensory input from the current situation is just similar enough to ‘trigger’ emotional memories from the past. These memories are drawn from the Amygdala region of the brain. It is here where the darkest of emotions lie that are linked to memory: shame, fear, pain, despair, terror, helplessness…”

This protocol helps to ‘reground’ the individual to the present. This is where we are safer and in control.

At the beginning of a flashback, start here:

  • Right now I am feeling
(describe your current emotion, e.g. ‘terrified’)
  • And I am sensing in my body
(describe your current bodily sensations, e.g. ‘pounding heart, tight chest, shaky legs’)
  • Because I am remembering-name the trauma by title only (e.g. ‘being hurt by my mother’). Do not go into detail.
  • At the same time, I am looking around where I am now in
(the actual current day/month.year), here (name the place where you are), event (what you are doing/experiencing)
  • And I can see
(describe some of the things that you see right now in this place),
  • And so I know
(name the trauma by title only again, e.g. ‘being hurt by my mother’) is not happening now or anymore.
  • Therefore, I do not have to feel (terrified, guilt, shame). Instead, I give myself permission to feel (content, safe, happy) emotions that match what I am experiencing at this moment.

Tip: The final step should be true to the event/experience you are having in the present. Don’t reach to replace ‘terror’ with ‘happy’ if the current situation doesn’t warrant it. Instead, if you are watching the presidential debates and this makes you feel…bored…state that. If you are waiting in line behind a slowpoke at the bank, don’t replace ‘helplessness’ with ‘peaceful’. If you are feeling ‘annoyed’ at your present experience, state that as well. The purpose behind this protocol is not to reach for the unrealistic. Rather, it is to ground you to the present reality. As boring and annoying as that reality might be.