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Emotional Flashbacks and CPTSD

Emotional flashbacks are one of the clearest signs of Complex Trauma or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An emotional flashback feels like an overwhelming emotional reaction out of left field that puts you in a childlike state reacting in the 4 F’s: Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn (more specifics below). Basically, your animal brain can’t differentiate between the past danger and the present moment.

Flashbacks can be caused by an event triggering the same emotions, anniversaries to traumatic events, or even experiencing the same intense feeling that dominated a traumatic life transition at a completely unrelated moment can cause a flashback.

For example: you’re getting flashbacks from years ago of a time when you were in a dangerous relationship whenever you were running late for work. If running late for work, especially if it’s a job that doesn’t feel like the right environment for you, causes intense feelings of shame or worthlessness, they might call back to that time in the relationship when you felt similarly.

Unlike PTSD which typically has visual components with flashbacks, CPTSD can be missing the visual flashback altogether and manifest by emotionally and physically arresting your body. CPTSD tends to result from experiencing painful emotions over a prolonged period of time rather than one specific memory like PTSD.

Shame, helplessness, and a screaming inner critic are common mental notes many share that experience CPTSD. Those thoughts that something in you is or has always been broken, less than, not worthy of love or connection that kicks your nervous system to automatically respond with the 4 F’s. Realizing which of the 4 is most often your reaction pattern is the first step toward managing emotional flashbacks.

4F Patterns:


Scrolling on phones, snacking to numb out, disassociating/daydream state, isolating themselves, difficulty making decisions.


Workaholics, overthinkers, can’t sit still, distract themselves with projects rather than deal with emotions, or substance abuse, and taking risks to flood senses.


Focuses on solving other people’s problems or channeling emotions into people-pleasing, codependent tendencies with a lack of boundaries.


Emotions are expressed with aggression, pushing people away, seeking out or causing unrelated conflict, explosive behavior.

When a small behavior like scrolling to numb out or overworking can begin to be noticed as signals toward our own mental health state, we can begin to work with the trauma before it erupts into a flashback. We didn’t ask for trauma, but we’re forced to deal with it anyway, or it’ll deal with you.

If you’re experiencing emotional flashbacks, see the link below for 13 steps to manage it.

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Sam Nabil is the founder of Naya Clinics and is a Cincinnati therapist and a Cincinnati Marriage Counselor.

Sam offers therapy in Cincinnati and Cincinnati Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety.

Sam was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English And Cornell university , Yahoo News, USA Today,,

Naya Clinics is a top-rated Marriage Counseling, therapy and Life coaching practice.

Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world.

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