In an earlier post (Attachment Styles), I shared information regarding individuals with insecure attachment styles who may be anxious or avoidant in relating closely with others as adults. While growing up, one or both of their parents may not have been consistent in attending to them, nurturing them, guiding them, and encouraging them. Or they may have even neglected or mistreated them. One or both parents may have been preoccupied with problems of their own that undermined their parenting and compromised their relationship with their children.
The discomfort these individuals may experience in relating with others as adults can be situational, but for those whose dependency needs in childhood were neglected, the emotional pain, when it is triggered, can be very intense and disparaging.
John had prepared a surprise for his wife. But when, in place of the enthusiasm for which he had hoped, her reaction was subdued and low-spirited, he was suddenly dejected and felt abandoned. Though he didn’t realize it, he was re-living the same emotions he felt when his father repeatedly downplayed his dreams for the future while growing up.
During a flashback, individuals may begin second-guessing everything. They may start thinking about all the mistakes they have ever made. They may start feeling guilty and begin accepting blame for everything. They may start blowing everything out of proportion and begin feeling fearful, inadequate, inferior, small, flawed, and defective.
For individuals in this situation, it is helpful to recognize that you are having an emotional flashback in which thoughts and feelings from past experiences have been intensely stirred. You can relax your body, breathe deeply and slowly, speak reassuringly to yourself, and resist the inner critic’s attack. You can learn to support your own self-esteem and to and address your feelings in the present situation more comfortably and confidently as you learn to recognize and manage flashbacks.
For individuals who missed out on the affection, encouragement, and guidance they should have been provided while growing up, it is helpful as an adult to accurately understand your experience in childhood, to grieve your losses, and to provide yourself with the support you need now in relating calmly with others. Therapy can be very helpful in working through the wounds of childhood and learning how to stand by yourself through emotional flashbacks with kindness and compassion.