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"One year ago, I locked my door and went to sleep; like we all do on any given night. Unfortunately, this night was like no other before and was one I will never be able to forget. I woke up that night to a co-worker who had undressed himself, crawled into my bed and raped me. "
Kathleen, rape survivor

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       There are times when survivors of a severely traumatic event feel as though they are actually back in that place and time, experiencing the trauma all over again. These experiences are called flashbacks. Flashbacks can materialize in a number of ways to victims of trauma including certain images, smells, sounds, dreams, overwhelming emotions, and body sensations. When survivors of sexual violence have a flashback, they are reliving the past experiences much as though it is happening all over again, at least in one form or another.

       Most flashbacks last no longer than a passing moment but others can be long and arduous as well as very powerful. Survivors of rape may not even know that they are having a flashback at the time and may simply appear to be "out of it" or unresponsive.

       If you have been the victim of a traumatic event like of rape, sexual assault, incest, sexual abuse or molestation and are experiencing a flashback here are some helpful things that you can do:

  • Remind yourself that what you are feeling is not real and that it will pass in due time.

  • Remind yourself of how strong you are to have survived it the first time and that you will survive it the second time.

  • Breathe in and out slowly and deliberately. Place your hand on your stomach and make sure your breaths are deep enough to move your hand back and forth. This will keep you from panicking and hyperventilating.

  • Establish where and when you really are by utilizing your senses to bring yourself back. If your hearing is unaffected, listen out for familiar sounds. If your sense of touch is unaffected, feel something close to you and think about it to bring yourself back.

  • Choose another place or activity that would make your feel more secure, whether it's wrapping yourself in a blanket or lying in a bed in a closed room.

  • If there is someone you trust nearby, do not hesitate to ask for help.

  • Give yourself time to recuperate and recover. It may take some time to become aware of your surroundings once again. Do everything that you can to give yourself the feeling of safety and comfort.

  • There is nothing wrong with you and remind yourself of that if you have doubts. You are not crazy and this is a normal emotional response.

© 2007 After Silence: rape and sexual abuse survivors web-based support group, message board, and chat room - This article may not be reprinted or reproduced without express permission.

This site is offered for support of other rape and sexual abuse survivors. It is not meant to be a substitute for any kind of professional help.
If you are in a crisis situation we urge to contact your local rape crisis center or health care professional.

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