With an estimated one-third of children experiencing sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18 (www.aaets.org), it is not surprising that many young people carry the emotional and physical memories of those traumas into adulthood, often without knowing it. Underlying the ultimate physical abuse is the trauma of being hurt by someone we were supposed to be able to trust. A child’s mind has a very hard time processing this contradiction, and for many abused children they erect barriers around that realization and the related psychological pain, until some point later on in life when the mind simply can’t carry that weight anymore, or until such time that a person is better able to deal with those emotions.
A flashback is the mind’s way of releasing some of the pressure that’s build up over time.
Tremors and Volcanoes
Think of a flashback as a volcano.
Sometimes there are tremors before the explosion of memory. Things that happen in a survivor’s life that can give her a hint that something was not right in her past, or that perhaps get her thinking very clearly about someone or some occasion in her past are tremors and can be a warning of what might come; that the mind is about to release a tidbit or long flow of memories.
The release is actually the explosion from the volcano. The emotional pressure builds to such a point that one particular experience, or sometimes a combination of external experiences, triggers the eruption. It could be a scene in a movie or a book, a touch, or the smell of cologne. In the blink of an eye, the survivor is transported again into the body of her younger self and into the hands of a sexual predator. Repressing the memories of abuse isn’t exclusive to children, though. Adults who experience traumas may experience these tremors and explosions of memories as well.
Like volcanic eruptions, there’s no way to really anticipate what will set it off, or when it will actually go off. There is no way to predict what will “trigger” the tremors off or the actual onset of the memory. When does the mind ultimately decide it needs the release?