Dancing in the Shadows by Laura Bryannan

Chapter 20


There is a always a possibility that one or more women in your group will undergo a profound physical-level healing experience during the course of your work together. I call this kind of healing a body flashback. The odds of this occurring increase as the weeks go by, and it is always a sign that your group is doing something right: you have generated enough love, intimacy and safety for the woman to get in touch with some stored pain and let it go. Body flashbacks can be a bit scary for the facilitator and other group members if they don't understand that this a normal part of the healing process for many abuse survivors.

What happens during a body flashback? Sometimes a woman will suddenly go rigid and begin to moan, scream or wail. She may begin to hyperventilate and feel unable to stop. Her arms, legs, head, or even her whole body may flail around out of her control. She may double over in apparent pain. If you try to ask her what's wrong, she may not be able to talk. Any number of other behaviors may be exhibited, so don't be surprised.

If a woman begins flashing in your group, the first rule of thumb is stay calm! I have never seen a flashback last more than twenty minutes and, believe it or not, the woman usually feels wonderful afterward! If the woman doesn't seem to be doing anything that may harm herself (such as throwing her arm into a mirror or window) let her be. Don't let anyone touch her or hug her unless she asks for it. However, if she is in a position to break something or hurt herself, gently guide her to the middle of the floor and let her lie down.

Speak slowly, soothingly and softly. Tell her it's alright, she is safe, and everything will be okay. If she's gasping remind her to breathe (if she doesn't respond to this, try taking loud deep breaths yourself; she'll often match you). If you and/or the group can quietly speak to her--even if it's nonsense, or singsongs--it may help her stay attached to the present and not get pulled downward too far.

Eventually, the woman will quiet and come back to herself. She may be embarrassed by this experience, so you and the group will have to reassure her that what happened to her is very normal. Explain the dynamics of a body flashback if she is unaware of what has happened. On a spiritual level, women who experience body flashbacks are not only healing themselves but the entire group as well. The hearts of the other group members will go out to her during this experience and empathize with her pain. Even though it was an unconscious decision on her part, you should thank her for being willing to provide this kind of healing to the group, and she should be proud to have accomplished this level of healing for herself.

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Last Updated: 1 feb 99
Laura Bryannan