Emotional flashbacks, aka, reacting to ghosts from the past (Narc traits, 3)

So, what the heck are these ’emotional flashbacks’ I keep talking about?

Understanding what flashbacks are, what causes them – and how to stop them – are crucial parts of the ‘overcoming narc traits’ work we’re undertaking, here.

Let’s dive straight in, and discover what’s really going on with these ‘flashbacks’.


Sometimes, you might notice that I get a bit ‘whiny’ or despairing-sounding here on the blog.

I would say that 90% of the time when that happens, I’m actually going through some sort of ‘emotional flashback’ – but usually, without realising that’s happening.


EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS are part of a bigger package called ‘COMPLEX PTSD’, or C-PTSD.

You can read a reasonably good description of what C-PTSD is HERE,where the emphasis is on how this links to ‘narcissistic abuse’.

For the purposes of this post, C-PTSD is what happens to a person when they experience emotional neglect or danger on a long-term, ongoing basis. Usually, it starts in childhood, when the small child feels either ‘endangered’ or ‘abandoned’ by their primary caregivers – but, that’s not the only time you can develop C-PTSD.


Anyone who is around a serious narc for any length of time – with all the gaslighting, selfishness, hypocrisy, control-freak-ism, impossible-to-meet-expectations and harsh, soul-destroying criticism – is at high risk of developing some form of C-PTSD.

Narc colleagues and bosses at work can do this to you…. Narc ‘friends’ can do this to you…. Narc ‘rabbis’, mentors and influencers can do this to you…. Of course, Narc teachers can do this to you (and often, they are the worst of the bunch).

And all the narcs on social media can also do this to you. In a nanosecond.


In other words, in our ‘narc-shaped world’, most of us are probably dealing with some amount of unresolved and unrecognised C-PTSD, even if our childhoods were just peachy.

(Big if….)


If one, or both, of your primary caregivers had a heavy dusting of ‘narc’, (and this can happen even when the parents are really NOT ‘narcs’, just they got fooled into following the parenting norms of the ‘narc-shaped world’), or other family members, or teachers, or ‘significant others’ in your life had pronounced NARC traits, a person can develop C-PTSD from a very young age.

It happens whenever a small kid feels like they have no-one to rely on, no-one who has their back, no-one to help them, no-one who really cares about them, no-one who will protect them, no-one who really sees and understand ‘the real them’.

(This is ‘emotional neglect.)

And it also happens whenever a small kid feels they are in serious danger, in some significant way, and there is no-one to help get them out of it (usually, as a result of abuse.)


A word about ‘emotionally-absent’ parents, before we move on.

Even the most loving parent will be ‘emotionally-absent’, too much of the time, if they are plugged into their smartphone 24/7, as is unfortunately the case for so many of us, today.

I’m not going to belabor the point, but it’s obvious that when there is a screen grabbing our attention, it’s not going to the kid.

We don’t have to be paying attention to the kid all the time – and Rabbenu actually encourages parents to ‘ignore their kids’, and to let them grow up and blossom by themselves, as much as possible.

But, if we are stuck in a screen too much of the time, we will probably be missing a lot of the little warning signs that our kid might be going through some tough times, in some way, and also failing to ‘connect’ to them enough, emotionally.

Just something to think about, that’s all. And it’s a problem we are all stuck with today, one way or another.


So, to return to our topic of EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS.

‘Emotional flashbacks’ are what happens to a person when something triggers a past memory of being in a super-stressful situation – a situation so stressful, EMOTIONALLY, that it sent the person into one of the four physical ‘STRESS RESPONSE’ states.

The four STRESS RESPONSE states are:






Of course, these stress responses also kick in when the danger is something obviously physical, like a runaway tiger, terrorist attack, car accident or mugging,

When the stress response is stuck in the body from a purely physical, usually ‘one time’ dangerous experience, this is called PTSD, or POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER.

PTSD is a very difficult thing to experience – but it can be cured relatively fastly, and permanently, by addressing the stress response at the level of the body, or viscera.


Watch this, on how the EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUE, or EFT, was successfully used within six one hour sessions, to, to reduce veterans’ PTSD that was so bad, many of the volunteers were on the verge of committing suicide BY 65%:


Why something like this isn’t being offered for free in Israel, to all our soldiers returning from Gaza, I have no idea…..

(If you have loved ones coming back from Gaza etc with PTSD – maybe give some sort of tapping technique a try. It’s got a long track record of working to take down serious PTSD in army veterans, fast and effectively. And there are many other ‘body based’ therapies that also work fast to remove visceral trauma.)


So, if someone gets mugged by a person wearing a red shirt, and they experience PTSD from that experience, on the subconscious level, if they catch sight of someone coming close to them wearing a red shirt in the future – that could very well instantly plunge them back into the ‘stress response’ they experienced when they were mugged.

Until that particular red shirt ‘trigger’ is defused.

And the same mechanism also holds true when we’re suffering from C-PTSD – although it’s much more subtle, and so much harder to catch hold of, in real time.


So, what happens with C-PTSD is that people walk around feeling overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, depression, people-pleasing behaviours and anger a great deal of the time – especially if they haven’t yet figured out what’s really causing the problem.

Emotionally these EMOTIONAL FLASHBACK stress responses are usually triggered by interactions with Narcs – both externally, but also internally, when our INNER CRITIC NARC starts beating us up.


I’ll walk through a real example of this in a moment.

But before I do, let’s just drill this down as simply as possible:

When we grow up around narcs, or people with ‘narc fleas’, even if they aren’t actually unfixable narcs themselves, or even, just in our ‘narc-shaped world’, where so many of the interactions we have with others are based on negative ‘narc traits’ and ideas, including non-stop criticism, abuse, bullying and control – we are constantly ‘stressed’, emotionally.

And we probably aren’t even realising what’s going on, with all these toxic exchanges we have with others, and the toxic way we relate to ourselves, because it just feels natural, normal and ‘what we are used to’.

But in the meantime – our STRESS RESPONSE is being constantly triggered, by stuff and people which are under the radar.


And that means, most of us probably have some form of C-PTSD, until we start to figure this stuff out more, and to disconnect those hidden emotional triggers.

When a person has C-PTSD, not only is our FIGHT /FLIGHT /FREEZE /FLATTER response (or responses…) to ‘stress’ more intense than for other people, the stress response also lasts much longer, because it’s kind of ‘jammed on’.

Bottom line: The stress response is much more easily triggered for a C-PTSD person, than for someone who wasn’t previously traumatised in the same way.



I know this is a lot of information to digest.

But we need all this groundwork to understand what an ‘emotional flashback’, or a C-PTSD flashback actually really is, and how it can affect us.

Let’s turn to a real example.


(This example is actually something that I used to struggle with myself until six years ago, when I read Pete Walker’s book called: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A GUIDE AND MAP FOR RECOVERING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.)[1]


Say, you’re trying to get the lid off the spaghetti sauce jar, and you just can’t.

Until you take the time to really pin it down, this small problem is enough to trigger a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness that immediately segues into a ‘flashback’ feeling of when you were small and felt so abandoned, useless and powerless.

Typically, the INNER CRITIC NARC, aka the yetzer hara, now kicks in, telling you stuff like this:

“You’re useless!”

“You’ll always be a failure!”

“You can’t do anything right!”

“What sort of loser can’t even make pasta for supper?!”



Often, the INNER CRITIC just regurgitates the same sorts of things we were actually told in childhood, either by other people who were ‘rebuking’ (i.e. criticising) when they weren’t on the level to do that helpfully, or by our own yetzer.

Point is, the INNER CRITIC goes all-out to paint the situation in the worst possible colours, and is programmed to keep turning molehills into mountains.

In turn, this kicks off more huge feelings of fear, shame, anger, depression, overwhelm, guilt etc.


Now, everyone has one, or perhaps two main ‘STRESS RESPONSES’ that is their go-to emotional reaction.

(You can read a whole lot more about that in a book I put out literally the week ‘Covid 19’ erupted into the world, back in 2020….. It’s called PEOPLE SMARTS. My book launch fizzled, and all the time, effort and money I put into it came to nothing, BH. But, it’s still a good book.)


Depending on what your ‘go to’ STRESS RESPONSE, this is how you’ll typically respond when you get ‘FLASHBACKED’, trying to open that jar of sauce:

FIGHT TYPES – will get furiously angry at the jar, at themselves, at the people they’re trying to make supper for.

FLIGHT TYPES – will suddenly remember they have something else urgent they need to do, and will find a way to duck making the pasta.

FREEZE TYPES – will head to the couch, and do their best to ‘escape’ the problem by zoning out, feeling terribly depressed, going to sleep, turning on the TV, aimlessly surfing the net, downing a whisky, popping a pill.

FLATTER TYPES – will leave the pasta sauce to spend the next 2 ½ hours being a shoulder to cry on for their suffering friend.

Of course, I’m generalising wildly, but you get the idea.



What happens next is that if we don’t work out what’s really going on, we will now add ‘opening bottles of sauce’ to our long list of subconscious things that should be avoided at all costs, if we don’t want to feel really bad about ourselves again.

And this is the way that more and more very mundane ‘triggers’ accumulate, that can really start to have a huge impact on the daily life of someone who is experiencing C-PTSD / EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS on a regular basis.


OK, so now we get to the really  useful part of this post:


This is my own riff on the advice in Pete Walker’s book.

When I was doing the real work of starting to figure out what was triggering off my own EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS six years ago, following these steps helped me tremendously.

Print this out, and stick it on your fridge, in your car, next to your PC at work – anywhere it will come in handy.



1) NAME THE PROBLEM: Say out loud: “This is a flashback, it’s from the past, nothing ‘bad’ is happening now.”

2) REASSURE YOURSELF: Tell yourself that you’re not in danger, and that you haven’t done anything wrong.

3) ACKNOWLEDGE THIS IS A PASSING PHASE: While the feelings of fear, shame, anger, panic, guilt and overwhelm used to seem as though they would last forever when we were small, as adults we know that these feelings are temporary and won’t last forever.

4) IDENTIFY THE FEELINGS UNDERNEATH THE ‘FLASHBACK’: This is crucial for reconnecting to that small, terrified ‘lost’ part of yourself that you’ve actually just ‘flashback-ed’ to, and for helping him / her to start feeling better. Here’s some common examples of the real feelings that are hiding underneath a flashback: small, overwhelmed, scared, ‘no-choice’, powerless, stuck, petrified, sad, heart-broken, lonely.

5) COUNTER THE ‘INNER CRITIC’: Again, this takes some practise, but as soon as the INNER CRITIC yetzer starts trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, and paint the situation in the worse possible colours, or make out like you are the most disgusting, awful person in the world – close it down! Tell yourself: “This is my INNER CRITIC yetzer talking, and it’s literally trying to kill me…”

6) GET ANGRY AT YOUR ‘INNER CRITIC’: When you were little, you couldn’t stand up for yourself, or put things in the correct perspective. As an adult, you don’t have to accept the insults and lies that INNER CRITIC yetzer is telling you! Fight back and defend yourself! Insults and abusive comments are completely unacceptable – even when they are coming from yourself!

7) ASK GOD FOR HELP, AND FOR EMUNA TO KNOW THAT EVERYTHING IS COMING FROM HIM, AND IS REALLY OK: While I’ve put this down here at 7, you can, and probably should, return to this step this at every stage of the process. Connecting to God like this can instantly stop a flashback in its tracks all by itself.

8) FOCUS ON YOUR BODY AND YOUR FEELINGS, INSTEAD OF YOUR THOUGHTS: This will bring you back to the ‘present’ and get you out of your flashback mode. Take a few deep breaths, stand still or sit down and stop rushing around, if you feel scared, or ashamed, don’t fight it. Accept that feeling these feelings is part of your healing process, and that they won’t last forever.

9) ASK GOD TO SHOW YOU WHO OR WHAT TRIGGERED YOUR FLASHBACK, AND WHY: This is another crucial part of the healing process. Once you figure out what set it off (in our case, the feelings of powerlessness that came from being unable to open the jar of spaghetti source), just knowing that means that you’ll be able to do things differently or better next time around.

10) BE ON YOUR OWN SIDE: Reassure yourself that you are really good, and that all those negative feelings you were feeling in flashback mode – like something terrible is about to happen to you; like you’re the most disgusting person in the world; like you are the biggest waste of space on the planet and don’t deserve to be alive, God forbid – aren’t real, or true.

Be on your ‘small kid’s’ side, and tell yourself that you are allowed to make mistakes, that you’ve struggled mightily with so many things over your lifetime, often through no fault of your own, and that with God’s help, it’s all going to turn around for the good very soon.


Remember, this is not going to get fixed in five minutes.

This is long-term work, so please give yourself the time and space it requires, and relate to yourself with as much compassion, caring and love as you can, if you catch yourself reverting to ‘flashback’ mode.


Most of this post was actually written back in 2017, when it was still so fresh for me.

But I can tell you that seven years on, knowing this information about ‘EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS’ has helped me so very much to calm myself down – and also, to relate to others with more compassion.

For example, when I was on holiday last week, I suddenly ‘flashed back’ into a towering rage, when my poor husband decided he wanted to stop for an extra five minutes to find a restroom.

I snapped at him, then apologised, because I knew I was being totally unreasonable.

It took me a day or two of hitbodedut to figure out what really just happened, there?


In hitbodedut, and because I’d dug out this old post to start refreshing it, I realised I’d had a ‘flashback’ from when I used to get stuck on long car trips as a kid, where my dad just used to refuse to stop for toilet breaks.

What can we do, we all have our meshugass.

Once that penny dropped, I told my husband what I’d realised, and apologised to him again – but without feeling unnecessarily ‘bad’ about myself.


Even today, family holidays can still trigger off a whole bunch of otherwise ‘hidden’ flashbacks from my childhood.

That’s why we limit family holidays to three days max – because that’s the limit I can handle, before the flashbacks start overwhelming me, and I just feel angry, irritable and ‘trapped’ most of the time.


Tov, that will do for today.

In the next post, we’re going to return more to Rabbenu’s teachings, and take a look at the so mis-named ‘CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM’.

It’s one of the biggest Trojan Horses used and abused by narcs.

No ‘criticism’ is ever constructive, unless it’s coming from the Tzaddik HaDor, who knows how to ‘rebuke’ without weakening a person’s soul.

So instead of ‘constructively cricitising’, we need to move into the mode of ‘positively encouraging’ ourselves and others, instead.

And we’ll start to explore how we do that, tachlis, in the next post.

See you then.



[1] Like so much of the secular stuff on this subject, Pete Walker’s book on C-PTSD is very good at dissecting ‘the problem’, and describing what’s going on. But the solution part of the equation is usually limited to cutting all narcs out of your life, and never speaking to your parents ever again, while continuing to hate them for ‘ruining your life’.

Unless parents are physically endangering your life, you can’t just ‘cut them out of your life’.

There is a Torah commandment to honor and respect the parent, and as we’re exploring here, the real work to be done is to work on our own INNER CRITIC, following Rabbenu’s advice of Azamra – and to adopt a no-tolerance policy for all narc TRAITS, internally and externally.

At the same time, narcs who can be avoided should be avoided whenever possible, including at work.

And those who can’t be ‘avoided’ should be ‘minimised’, so they don’t keep flashing us back into unhelpful and unhealthy emotional states.

The less time we spend around ‘narcs’, the better it is emotionally. But God is the one who puts all these narcs in our lives, and the more we uproot ‘narc traits’ in ourselves, and turn off our own INNER CRITIC NARC, the less narcs we will attract into our lives. And the less damage they will be able to do to us, because they won’t be able to operate ‘under the radar’ in the same way.

Ein od milvado, ultimately. Everything is from God, and just a prompt for our own teshuva process.

9 replies
  1. Daisy
    Daisy says:

    Is that you, Rivka? Which Rivka? Part of it sounds like you, our dear Rivka!!!! But not the part about Chabad, I have to say; and as far as the rest, I have no clue, I HOPE it was not you, if you know what I mean – regarding the illness…..


    What do you say about this video of Rav Elmaliach?

    Wishing you the very best, with great love; because you really are doing his work, the way he describes it at the beginning of the video.

    If not you, then who would it be????


    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      Daisy – I had no idea what you were saying in this comment, initially.

      Now I am listening to it, and this ‘Rivka HaTzaddika’ is not me – halavai, I am nowhere near being a ‘Rivka HaTzaddika’.

      There is a Rivka that is very well known in the chareidi world, and in many chareidi mosdot, who is known to have ruach hakodesh.

      For years, she’s been giving over messages to the chareidi world, and was helping to heal people, miraculously, from cancer etc, and giving messages making teshuva etc, and was very well-respected by a lot of the big rabbis.

      Until a few months ago, when ‘Rivka HaTzaddika’ revealed that she was getting all her ‘koach’, spiritually, from Rav Berland.

      And then…. it kind of got a bit more complicated.

      Thank you for sharing this video, I’ll put it up as its own post.

          • Hava
            Hava says:

            I watched that video — and the thing I like about what she’s doing there is that she (or whoever produces her videos) makes the video show every word she says in Hebrew; it helps me understand what she’s saying better.

          • yosef d.
            yosef d. says:

            that video seems to be in the same dialect of lashon qodesh as the nevua read by rav elmaliach shlit”a.
            i’m not surprised at all about chabad.
            gideon with the wheat and the grapes: grapes go to a person’s head, and wheat fuels the heart and in turn the rest of the circulatory system.
            chabad has an idea that chabad is the head and breslev and other hassidus is the heart. both groups are working on both, it seems.
            seems the true tzaddiqim in all hassidus and klal yisroel – including ‘those who live among the arabs'(not to mention those past the river sambatyon) are working on reconnecting the heart and the mind in a healthy way.
            there’s an idea of mindfulness in cognitive behavioral therapy – to use the mind to temper the emotions.
            there is the idea that the eating from the etz ha.da`at disconnected the heart from the mind, making a heart of stone, and the heart of flesh a tiqun for the heart of stone.
            agree that the subtitles are really useful.

          • Rivka Levy
            Rivka Levy says:

            Wow…. this is genius.

            Also, your comment made me think about how Breslov’s approach is for everyone to ultimately develop a ‘lev basar’ (anagram of BRESLOV) – while the Chabad approach is mamash to disconnect a person’s head from their emotions and heart.

            There’s the famous story of the ‘Chabad spy’ who was working in Napoleon’s camp:

            The spy, Moshe Meisels, is accused by Napoleon of being a spy….

            Here’s how it’s described he ‘saved himself’:

            “It was Napoleon himself who appeared in the doorway. The Emperor’s face was dark with fury. He stormed into the room and raged: ‘Has the battle been planned? Have the orders to form the flanks been issued?’

            ” ‘And who is this stranger?!’ he continued, pointing to me. In a flash he was at my side. ‘You are a spy for Russia!’ he thundered, and placed his hand upon my chest to feel the pounding heart of a man exposed.

            At that moment, the aleph of Chassidism stood me by. My mind commanded my heart to beat not an increment faster. In an unwavering voice I said: ‘The commanders of His Highness the Emperor have taken me as their interpreter, as I am knowledgeable in the languages crucial to the carrying out of their duties…’ ”


            V.v. interesting….


            If you look Moshe Meisels up on geni, here, it gets even more interesting:


            He was one of the nearest to HaGr’a and the Tanya sang his praise. For a few weeks he was imprisoned, with the Gr’a and other heads of community of Vilna when they tried to save Jews from missionaries.


            I never heard of the GRA being imprisoned from trying to ‘save Jews from missionaries’….

          • yosef d.
            yosef d. says:

            there is much good about the GRA that is not publically known, same for Chabad.
            one of the functions of the da`at in neurobiology is in fact to inhibit the chokhma or binah, to slow things down to let one side or the other work on things.
            above the top levels of netzach and hod are the adrenals whose epinephrine can cause the heart to quicken from above the kishkes.
            lhavdil, the same dialectical behavioural techniques for helping with a bad c-ptsd flashback were used by napoleon to hypnotize his forces to stay calm in battle.

      • Daisy
        Daisy says:

        You are very welcome, Rivka. I am glad you liked it – and a bit sorry it wasn’t you, at least at the beginning of the video.

        But I think you qualify – after all, you are doing so much wonderful work for the Rav, really. Kol Hakavod!


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