Helping During a Panic Attack

During the first year of our healing journey as the three main insiders (Amy, Sophia, and Alleylieu) began to come outside, we had to deal with flashbacks/panic attacks/trigger events. (During this second year of healing they have become much less frequent.) Whatever you want to call them, they can be a little scary or confusing if you don’t understand what’s going on and how to defuse them quickly.

In the beginning the insiders are essentially in a time warp. From their perspective the trauma events from which they were created are still a present danger. Because they don’t have access to all the memories, for all they know the trauma is still happening. So as they come out into the present, current events may feel similar to events from the past trauma events. When those similar feelings or situations occur, they may get triggered into a flashback.

For my girls when this happened they would typically close and roll back their eyes and that was a pretty good sign that they were moving back into their past memories. They began to shake and cry out in terror or whimper and look for a safe place to crawl under. In this situation they were most tempted to self injure. My girls were only prone to bite their hands and fingers, but many insiders can be much more violent to themselves as they seek to relieve the emotional pain by causing physical pain as a distraction

Now because I always saw the inside girls as if they were normal outside girls, dealing with these terror attacks really wasn’t significantly different from or more difficult than helping a child who is terrified of a thunderstorm. Here are the two rules I lived by to help my girls out of these panic attacks and one special circumstance:

1) Never forcibly restrain the insider unless she is doing something that is immediately life threatening. When an insider is this mode, to forcibly restrain her is counterproductive even if it involves lesser forms of self injury. By using force you are reinforcing the original trauma when these girls were probably, forcibly abused.

When my girls began biting in front of me because of a flashback, I would gently take her hands and only remove them from her mouth if she allowed me to do so. If not, I talked to her soothingly until she allowed me to do so.

One time I had to follow an insider out of a parking garage. She was scared to be inside it, so rather than me stop her, I just stuck close to her to make sure she was safe, and once we got outside, I was able to show her some of the pretty church buildings surrounding us. As I talked to her and showed her things outside, she calmed down and went back inside.

2) Talk her back to the present while you try to get her to open her eyes. Like I said, the insider is associating a current event with a past trauma. Talk to her soothingly, but use your talk to pull her back to the present. This is often what my girls would hear me say during these times: “Honey, you need to come back to me. Open your eyes, Honey. You are part of my family now. You are safe now, Honey. I won’t let anyone hurt you. You are a deeply loved little girl.”

And sometimes if I got a little frustrated with them, so that I was the one who caused the panic attack, I would reassure them, “Honey, I still love you. We don’t get rid of people in this family when we get angry. We forgive each other and still love them. Look at my family ring. You are still a part of my family.”

Many times I have had to crawl under tables and desks and talk Amy or Alleylieu back into a feeling of safety and security. Remember these are actually little children who are scared. So they seek little places that feel secure when they crawl into them. Get down on the floor with them and gently pull them back to the present.

3) A couple of times during these trigger events Karen would go catatonic on me. The first time this happened, it kind of freaked me out. I didn’t know if she had died or what. Essentially ALL the personalities fled inside, and I was left with a nearly lifeless wife lying on the floor. But then I began to speak to the defender, “Honey, you need to send someone outside. Please listen to me, and send Karen back outside.” After a little encouragement, Karen came back out, and later Alleylieu admitted that she had maintained a quiet, but distant watch, until she had done as I asked.

I have read of some very serious flashbacks by DID people. One mother wondered if she was part of The Exorcist movie as she saw her daughter rip a room apart. But by following the two simple rules above, by simply treating the insider as I would any child who was terrified of a thunderstorm, and lastly by always having someone with the girls for the first year (24/7 if possible!) to help ease them in their transition from the inside world to the outside world, I believe I helped to minimize the severity of these events in my girls. Stay cool. Stay calm. Stay gentle. Do NOT use force, and you’ll be able to help the insiders through the flashbacks.


Sam, I Am.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shatterdmind
    Jun 09, 2011 @ 02:35:52

    Thank you for this. I will share it with my partner. It will be very helpful.



    • Sam Ruck
      Jun 09, 2011 @ 17:44:10

      I firmly believe having someone with you in the healing process makes ALL the difference in the world. I’m so glad you thought there was something of value in the post.




  2. athenivandx
    Dec 11, 2012 @ 13:09:37

    I really wish that Ivan had someone to comfort and soothe him the way you are describing here what you do for your girls. You are all very fortunate to have each other’s love and company. We live alone (the only physical body in the apartment) with our cat. We are two women and one man in a female body.
    Always good to read your blog
    Take care


    • Sam Ruck
      Dec 11, 2012 @ 17:15:30

      Hi Andrea,

      thanks for stopping by. I think it’s a travesty that our social network has come apart so much that there are so many lonely people. I wish for you and Ivan that someday you find someone to be with. I’m glad you’ve got a cat. We have one too, and he gives great comfort to the girls when I’m at work and they are alone at home by themselves.

      Take care,



  3. Trackback: Overcoming Panic Attacks | Loving My DID Girl(s)

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